clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

From Gary Gibbs to Gregg Williams: Two Extremes, Too Extreme

During the Gary Gibbs era, most Saints fans believed, "If we only had an average defense, with this offense, we'd win a Super Bowl." The bend until you break, prevent, predictable, cautious defense was maddening. Where's the pressure? Where's the coverage? Where's the talent? 

In 2009, we got our wish: a reputable defensive coordinator known for his aggressiveness, exotic blitzes, multiple "versatile" defensive packages and in your face style coaching. That magical year, Gregg Williams changed the attitude of the defense, got some secondary help that Gibbs never had and took the ball away from opponents in part because of Williams' coaching style and in part due to a Saints offense that came out of the gate clicking on all cylinders and building a multi score lead, thus making the opposition one dimensional. Having a slew of rookie quarterbacks to start the season against helped a lot, too

We wondered how a Williams led defense would improve over the next few years with talent additions and players having multiple years under his tutelage.  We hoped for upgrades that would give his scheme versatility and take it from masking weaknesses to dictating what the opposition could do.

So...has that happened?

In the 2010 off-season, the Saints were handcuffed during free agency and picked last in the draft. No notable moves were made to improve the deficiency at pass rush from the front seven. During the season, the Saints' offense dealt with multiple injuries at the same position, as did the defense in the secondary.

To make up for a lack of a pass rush from the front four defensive linemen, Gregg Williams blitzed more than just about every other team. The blitz was ineffective - in part because the guys blitzing lack talent and in part because the secondary was banged up and not getting those turnovers. On the other side of the ball, the offense was not getting multiple score leads as quickly and the opposition became less predictable. This led to big plays in both the run and pass game as the defense was out of position very often.

This season, the Saints made a few moves to improve the front seven. I'd argue they damn sure didn't do enough at linebacker, and they should have made a play for DE Andre Carter, who is leading the Patriots in sacks on a cheap one-year deal. It's a moot point now.

The real point is that the Saints 2009 championship year was an anomaly. You simply can not count on leading the NFL in turnovers. Exotic scheme can only mask a weakness for so long. Sooner or later you either need better talent or a change in scheme. I understand the want and need to send pressure, but if you lead the league in sending pressure on passing downs but don't come close to leading the NFL in pressures and sacks, then the correct conclusion is that what you are doing is an inefficient use of resources.

What good is it to send the house and leave yourself exposed if the house doesn't flatten the wicked witch? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. The opposition caught on after 2009 and now expects what Williams is going to bring. If the players have shown that they lack the talent level required to execute complex and exotic schemes, perhaps the answer is toning it down.

It seems that from Gary Gibbs to Gregg Williams, the Saints have gone from one extreme to the next; from someone ultra conservative to someone too aggressive. Both too stubborn to change scheme to fit players.

Some might compare Gregg Williams to the defensive version of Mike Martz -- Mr. Ego whose scheme is ultra superior and will work, if this square peg would just act like a round one. Perhaps Sean Payton needs to take a pointer from Lovie Smith and reel in his coordinator. Martz's play calling now better fits the personnel he has to work with, but only after Lovie Smith and Jay Cutler demanded him to make changes.

I believe this defense has enough talent to be successful now. I believe in blitzing. But instead of 500 different alignments that take forever to learn, how about focusing on doing a few things well and adding wrinkles, like a delayed blitz or even some old fashioned stunts. How about simplifying the defense?

The bottom line is that there exists only so many resources, and currently all of the Saints resources are invested. The talent Gregg Williams has to work with isn't going to drastically improve or change this year, but the way he employs that talent can certainly be more effective. I'm not smart enough to give everyone the answer, I only know that Gregg Williams needs to move away from one extreme and get back to basics, like tackling and ball catching. The concept of trying to confuse an offense is good, but only if your defense can still properly execute their base assignments.

When controlled chaos looks only like chaos - when complex assignments leave mediocre players out of position, being forced to try and make arm tackles or diving saves - what is missing is the control. How about we just remove the chaos and focus on the control? Specifically, controlling the chaos named Gregg Williams.