There’s a lot of familiarity between Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Saints head coach Sean Payton. Ultimately, Sunday’s game will come down to which coach makes the right moves in a strength-on-strength matchup.
Yet again this season, the Saints strength in their offense will be matched up against another team whose strength is defense.
In many ways, the Rams are the NFL “mirror image” of the Saints, down to the fact their struggles are reversed. Both teams have endured some heartbreaking losses en route to their (4-6) records.
In the case of the Rams, all too often dominant performances on the defensive side of the ball have been squandered by comic ineptitude on offense.
Oct 2, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Markus Golden (44) attempts to tackle Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum (17) during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Rams won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
The Rams problems on offense are even more frustrating for fans, given the fact that they have one of the best running backs in the game today in Todd Gurley; and they took quarterback Jared Goff with the 1st overall pick in this past year’s draft — after breaking the bank in picks to move up to get him.
Defensively, the Rams are currently allowing just 18.7 points per game, which is good enough for sixth best in the NFL. They are also allowing just 318.3 yards per game, also good enough for sixth in the league.
On defense, the Rams are led by a familiar face: Gregg Williams, the Saints defensive coordinator during their Super Bowl run, and the infamous “Bountygate” scandal that derailed the Saints franchise.
After going against each other for years in practice and training camps, it’s safe to say that Gregg Williams and Sean Payton are quite familiar with each other.
Nov 13, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton during the second quarter of a game against the Denver Broncos at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s what Sean Payton had to say about Gregg Williams earlier this week,
“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.”
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In typical Sean Payton fashion, he didn’t say all that much about the prospect of matching up against him on Sunday, choosing to downplay that element and simply complimenting Williams.
Gregg Williams was also rather reserved in his comments, stating that he had a lot of good memories in New Orleans and was looking forward to returning. When pressed about matching up against Sean Payton, this is what he had to say.
“It’s not about that, it’s about these guys playing, it’s not about me.”
However, don’t let the quotes taking us down memory lane and deflecting the match-up /chess match between them, fool you. Both of these coaches are EXTREME COMPETITORS and this match-up means something to both of them.
Ironically, perhaps Drew Brees had the most enlightening things to say about what is at stake heading into tomorrow’s contest.
“I know his attitude, I know his demeanor and his approach. He is going to have those guys ready to play — and we’ll be ready to play, too […] 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.”
Nov 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) calls out before receiving a snap from center Max Unger (60) against the San Francisco 49ers during the second quarter at Levi
While he may not have said it outright, it’s easy to see how personal this match-up is for many members of the Saints organization. After all, how many times has Brees said, “I know his demeanor and approach” about another another team’s defensive coordinator?
The last time a Gregg Williams led defense went up against a Saints team led by Drew Brees and Sean Payton, the match-up went in favor of Williams. In 2006, the Washington Redskins defeated the Saints 16-10, in the Superdome. The Redskins defensive coordinator was Gregg Williams.
A decade has passed since then, with the highest highs achievable in the NFL, followed by what can only be described as the lowest of the lows.
The histories of Gregg Williams and the Saints will forever be linked. However, on Sunday, one team will effectively be eliminated from any sort of playoff hopes.
In a desperation game, familiarity will play a role, and the coach who makes the right moves might very well be the deciding factor……..