With Gregg Williams and the Saints defense, the pressure is on

Gregg Williams, right, will try to counter Peyton Manning on Sunday.
Gregg Williams, right, will try to counter Peyton Manning on Sunday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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By Michael Wilbon
Thursday, February 4, 2010


The game should simply be called "Quarterback" the way professional football is played now. You get/develop a championship-caliber quarterback if you can. Then it becomes a matter of whether you can protect yours and pound theirs. The New Orleans Saints have a great quarterback in Drew Brees.

But the greater mission than scoring points in Sunday's Super Bowl is getting enough pressure on Peyton Manning enough times to make the difference in the game. And to do that, Saints Coach Sean Payton hired Gregg Williams, one of the NFL's leading practitioners in quarterback harassing.

If Williams's defense can force Manning into a couple of interceptions and perhaps a fumble, if his defense can hit Manning early, or better yet early and often, the Saints can win. That's the formula; either get the ball back for Brees to score, or have the defense score itself. If his defense is successful Williams will be Buddy Ryan to Payton's Mike Ditka. And that will likely put Williams back on the short list of head coaching candidates.

It will give him feelings about the Super Bowl that can replace the memories of coming up one yard short in 2000 when his Titans nearly stopped the Rams and The Greatest Show on Turf. Though Williams has said here all week he bears no ill will toward Redskins owner Daniel Snyder for passing him over for Jim Zorn -- I can't imagine how Williams keeps the smirk off his face over that decision -- the fact is it'll underscore how bad a call the Redskins made.

Of the Redskins, Williams said this week, "At that point and time, Dan Snyder was not looking for a dominant personality like me."

And Williams is certainly that. His mouth, not one of the players', is the one Sean Payton has worried about this week, which is why the coaches joked about sending Williams peanut butter and sand before Tuesday's media day.

When asked to tell a story or two about his coach's motivational techniques that were safe for mainstream viewers and readers, Saints safety Darren Sharper said, "All the ones I've got are X-rated. Maybe some are R-rated. I don't think I have anything PG-13 from Gregg Williams."

Sharper thought for a while and said, "Wait, I've got one. One of his favorite sayings about hitting a guy is, 'We want a guy to bounce twice when we put him down.' "

Some sensibilities were hurt early in the week, before the Saints even arrived in Miami, when Williams seemed to hint that he wanted his guys to hit Manning right through the whistle, damn the consequences.

These, above all else, are times that lead the NFL to protect the quarterback at all costs. Those enormous TV ratings the league is getting now speak partially to an even more television-friendly product, one in which the famous QB puts up 40 points a game and risks less than ever. The QB shall not go down, and he certainly shall not go down hard. Count me as one of the people who hates the new No Defense Football League, but it's here to stay. Williams, like Jets Coach Rex Ryan and whoever seems to be coaching the Ravens' D, are the dinosaurs, the holdouts, the absolute last people on earth who think it's okay to slam a quarterback to the ground.

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