Payton, Williams show signs of moving on as Saints host Rams
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints coach Sean Payton and Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams sound a touch sentimental when their time together in New Orleans comes up.
Perhaps they don’t see the point of revisiting the disenchantment, anger and betrayal surrounding a sequence of events which included Williams’ firing from the Saints; his subsequent cooperation in the NFL’s bounty probe; and both coaches’ season-long suspensions in 2012.
Maybe this isn’t the best week to air old resentments, given Payton and Williams will coach in the same game for the first time since they were on the same staff. The Saints host the Rams in a crucial game for both clubs Sunday.
Or maybe, nearly a half-decade later, they really have moved on.
“No. 1, I think he’s a real good defensive coordinator,” Payton said of Williams. “He’s done a great job and is doing a great job in L.A. right now. When you win Super Bowls, those are important things and obviously he was a big part of that with our program and our team.”
When Williams was asked Friday about his return to New Orleans, he said he’s “really looking forward to it,” adding that he’s “got a lot of great memories, a lot of good feelings, a lot of good people there that I still stay in contact with.”
His reception by fans in the Superdome could very well be mixed. Some will appreciate his contributions during the best three-year run in Saints history, when the team won 37 regular season games and four playoff games, including the 2009 NFL championship. Others might never forgive him for his role in the bounty probe, since which the Saints have made the playoffs only once and won only one playoff game.
“It’s not about that, it’s about these guys playing,” Williams asserted. “It’s not about me.”
And yet, there’s no avoiding his imprint on both defenses.
Rams offensive coordinator Rob Boras referred to Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen as a “Gregg Williams disciple.”
“There’s a lot of similarities there,” Boras said. “We know they’re aggressive.”
Allen was New Orleans’ secondary coach during Williams’ first two seasons with the Saints. While Allen didn’t exactly embrace the term, “disciple,” he did not hesitate to acknowledge Williams’ influence on his own approach to directing a defense.
“There’s certainly a lot of elements to the things that I learned when I was working here under Gregg. A lot of the things that we do defensively both from a philosophical standpoint and from a schematic standpoint are similar,” Allen said. “Those were obviously good times for us as far as playing defensive football here. ... So I don’t know what word I would use to describe that, but I’d certainly say that there’s a lot of things that I learned during that time.”
Allen said he remains in touch with Williams “every now and then.”
“I’ve still got a lot of respect for Gregg as a defensive coach,”. ... We pay close attention to their tape and what they do schematically and things that they do well that we can maybe incorporate into what we’re doing, you know, we try to incorporate some of those things. I just think there’s a certain style to playing defense and I think it’s fun to watch.”
Both Williams and Allen preach more of an aggressive than reactionary style. They blitz and don’t shy away from taking risks with one-on-one coverage. They urge their players to play fast, attacking, hard-hitting defense with the goal of instilling some measure of fear in opposing skill players.
Brees said he is sure it would mean a lot to Williams to have his defense play a role in beating the Saints.
“I know his attitude, I know his demeanor and his approach,” Brees said. “He is going to have those guys ready to play — and we’ll be ready to play, too.”
Williams said he is eager to test his scheme against Brees in a game for the first time since 2006, when Williams’ Redskins beat Brees’ Saints 16-10 in New Orleans.
Brees “presents challenges because of his understanding of the game,” Williams said, adding it was “always fun to compete in practices with him and now in a game.”
And Brees made it clear the respect is mutual — at least as far as X’s and O’s are concerned.
“I choose to focus on the positives and not the negatives,” Brees said. “Obviously, (the bounty probe) was a tough situation. The positive is Gregg Williams was our defensive coordinator from 2009, ’10 and ’11. We won a lot of football games together and he did a great job here with our defense, and we share a Super Bowl together from that 2009 season. I choose to look at that and I appreciate that.
“As far as what’s happened since then, coaches go to different places,” Brees said. “He is a very talented defensive football coach and I know his defense has played extremely well this season, especially the last four weeks. I know that we will need our best to beat them.”
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.