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Coordinator Assumes Old Defensive Crouch

The Other Side of the Ball

gregg williams - washington redskins
The Redskins defense built by Gregg Williams, above, struggled greatly this season. With the decline came accusations of arrogance, also heard when Williams was head coach in Buffalo. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

When the Redskins hired Al Saunders to run their offense last winter, one NFL assistant said Williams was troubled by the move, not from any dislike for Saunders but because he worried that Saunders's frenetic offense, which often produced touchdowns quickly, would put pressure on Williams's defense. With the pace of the game accelerated, the defense would naturally give up more yards and points and its ranking would suffer.

"I can't do this," the assistant said Williams told him. The assistant asked that he not be identified by name because he considers both men to be friends.

When asked about this, Williams said he has a high regard for Saunders going back to Super Bowl XXXIV, when Saunders's Rams beat Williams's Titans. In fact, Williams is convinced he's the reason Saunders is with the Redskins, having gone through his file on the coach while he himself was on several lists for head coaching openings last January. He decided if he were to be offered a job, Saunders would be his first choice for offensive coordinator, a fact he said he mentioned to Gibbs one day.

A few days later, Gibbs walked into Williams's office and said he had hired Saunders, shocking Williams, who never knew the Redskins were courting him.

"I hired him because of what you told me about him," Williams remembered Gibbs telling him.

Williams smiled. "He's here because of me bragging on him to Coach" Gibbs, he said.

Either way, to outsiders, Saunders's offense has in fact affected the Redskins' defense -- a lot. Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells mentioned as much in a New York Times magazine article in the fall. While watching game tape of the Redskins, he noted how little regard Saunders seemed to have for his defensive coordinator. The NFL assistant who said Williams fretted about the hiring has watched the Redskins this season specifically to see how Williams would deal with the faster pace of the offense. He agreed with Parcells's assessment, adding that it was the biggest reason for Washington's defensive collapse.

The same league assistant who spoke of Williams's stubbornness has broken down the Redskins' game tapes and said defensive players weren't getting time to rest because Saunders's offense was not putting together sustained drives, as it did in 2005. Either Washington scored fast or the complex system stalled, pushing the offense off the field after three plays. Neither was conducive to defensive dominance, the assistant said.

"Scoring points in this league is great," the assistant said. "But sometimes you can score too quickly."

Williams did not want to discuss the subject, saying he would never criticize another coach publicly. "We have a responsibility to play our defense," he said.

He said he has other beliefs as to why the Redskins' defense didn't work this year. Twice in a 1 1/2 -hour talk, he pointed out that the other teams in the NFC East made big offseason acquisitions that helped their teams become more explosive. And because his team has to face those defenses twice a year, the challenge was greater. The statistics support this, as Philadelphia and Dallas are among the top five offenses in the NFL.

In fact, seven of Washington's games this year were against the top six offensive teams in the NFL.

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