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Doug Farrar

The Road to Lombardi: Gregg Williams

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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He's famously brash and outspoken; when he coached in the nation's capital, Washington reporters used to say (with perhaps a note of sarcasm) that the extra "g" in his name stood for "Genius". After Williams made some rather pointed comments about how his Saints defense would treat Peyton Manning(notes) in the Super Bowl, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton tried to prevent a repeat performance during yesterday's Media Day -- by controlling Williams' breakfast.

"(The waiter) gave me two big jars of peanut butter, saltine crackers and a jar of sand to wash it down with," Williams said. "And maybe if I took all of that stuff down I'd be able to keep my mouth shut and not say something that will haunt him all week like I did last week."

Admittedly, it doesn't reflect the height of wisdom in today's quarterback-friendly NFL to come right out and say that your intent is to "make sure (Manning) gets a couple ‘remember me' shots when we get there." But overlooked in the uproar about Williams' comments is what he said later in that same interview -- it's a revealing look at why Williams succeeds wherever he goes.

"We're going to have to mix up zone, we're going to have to mix up pressure, we're going to have to mix up man and we're going to have to do as much as we can to make Peyton figure it out after the ball is snapped as before the ball is snapped. So it's going to be an interesting chess match. Our guys are going to play hard, I know that ..."

Williams is among the most blitz-happy defensive coordinators in the NFL -- it's a trend that has followed him through recent stints in Washington and Jacksonville. But what he's shown in New Orleans is a stunningly effective ability to dial up fake blitzes that turn into zone coverage concepts, seemingly without a single tip-off. As much as Williams' defense went after Brett Favre(notes) with everything they had in the NFC Championship game, that's how much they brought five or six to the line and then backed into coverage against Kurt Warner(notes) in the divisional round win. He's been the difference in getting that high-flying Saints team with the always-great offense where they are today. Payton knew it would be so, and that's why he gave up $250,000 of his own money to make sure that no other team would outbid his for Williams' services.

New Orleans' defense made Warner look out of sorts and eventually wore Favre down, but Manning is the strictest challenge any defense will face. If you blitz him and you don't get there, he'll riddle your man coverages with successful plays. If you back into coverage and give him too much time, he'll pick your zones apart -- no matter how talented your players are. And when you bring disguised coverages, Manning's ability to uncover those looks with hard counts is unparalleled. It's not hyperbole to say that the winner of Super Bowl XLIV will be the winner of the chess match between Williams and Manning.

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