On Gregg Williams: Character, Attack, and other things

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These are actual Blitzes from a Gregg Williams defensive playbook.  Not the Jaguars, of course, this is from the 2002 Buffalo Bills. 

Who is Gregg Williams?

When Mike Smith left for the Atlanta Falcons, the Jaguars were faced with a dilimma as to who would lead their defense.  Internal hires were considered, but eventually the former defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins would take the helm of what was a generally dissappointing Jaguars defense.   With Gregg Williams, the Jaguars would inherit a man with high standards, huge expectations, and a fair share of emotional baggage from his engagements with other teams.  This was the coach who created a number one defense in Washington in 2004, this was the same coach who felt that his system was so above the players that he dissuaded Dan Snyder from resigning key players like Antonio Pierce.  Gregg Williams brought a terribly aggressive man-to-man defense to the 1999 Tennessee Titans but went on to be a numbingly timid play-caller in Buffalo from 2001-2003.  He is a man of dichotomy, a man of great confidence, and one who's whole story is marked with contradictions.  Some players love him, others would rather leave the team than stay under his watchful eye. 

Coaching the hard way:

When Gregg Williams was hired by the Buffalo Bills in 2001, he was asked to bring a hard-line disiplined approach to a team that needed it.  A dissappointing loss in the 1999 playoffs (to the Titans, no less)  and a mediocre 8-8 season in 2000 forced Wade Phillips out.  When replacing the very player-friendly Phillips, the Bills front office insisted on creating a change in culture within their team.  Gregg Williams had already established a hard-line reputation with the Titans, the Bills asked him to intensify his approach and turn it to results on the field:

He already had a reputation for being a taskmaster with the Titans, but in the new job he was supposed to be extra brutal. "They wanted me to be hard," he recalled.

Reading about Gregg's first months in Buffalo reminds me of the first Jaguars training camp in 1995.  Rules, yelling, intensity, all the things we look back on with Coughlin stand out when looking at Williams:

He barked out orders, swore profusely, laid out a list of rules and had everyone awakened at training camp to the blasts of a bullhorn. He made everyone run laps when somebody made a mistake. "Gregg did everything that was asked of him. He was a team player," said Tom Donahoe, who was the Bills' president at the time and hired Williams.

This was the dream job for a guy who wanted nothing more than to be an NFL Head Coach, yet when he got there, it was nothing like he expected.  Within a month of moving to Buffalo he was accused by his neighbors of being drunk and fighting with his wife at a welcome to the neighborhood party, a charge that Williams completely denies :

In his hand, he said, he held a can of beer from which he insisted he took no more than about two sips. He stayed for close to three hours, never leaving the corner. Nonetheless, two days later on sports radio, he said, it was reported that he was drunk, embarrassed himself, got into a fight with his wife and fell into a nearby pond.

This, according to Williams is why he shut himself off from the City and the Fans.  Despite nearly taking the Bills to the playoffs in his second season, Gregg would find himself on the hot-seat, accused of being arrogant and difficult to work with.  There was, of course, the 20 million dollars in dead cap money that Gregg inherited, which qualifies as a "mitigating situation", according to Donahoe, the man who both hired and fired Williams.

Attack Style Defense:

As the Jaguars dance with Gregg Williams began, no phrase was more overused than "attack style".  The images of blitzers began dancing in our heads as we slept off the hangover of Tom Brady's playoff pass completion percentage that ruined our January.  Gregg Williams would be the antidote to an otherwise vanillia defense fielded by Mike Smith.

Scouts and sports-pundits would explain that Gregg liked to attack, that the Jaguars would be more aggressive, and that 2008 would look light years away from 2007.  What is unclear, as far as I'm concerned, is what exactly that will look like.  The actual history of Gregg's defenses reads differently than what we're told.  Reading through the history, I see a defensive coordinator who makes the most out of what he's given, but despite the "system", he still builds a defense around his players:

"My motivation comes from knowing how to place athletes in the best possible positions. I work at putting my defense under heavy stress in practice. Producing under stress is the best measure of a person."

The defense fielded by the Tennessee Titans under Williams should be very familiar to Jaguars fans, it's the one that ruined the 1999 season, twice:

The Titans play a hybrid version of Buddy Ryan's old 46 defense but with a lot more intelligence, probably as much quickness and not quite as much recklessness. Their comers talk about wanting to be left man-to-man, but rival coaches say most times at least one corner gets safety help... Guess wrong and put the ball into double coverage, and that is when the Titans pounce.

This is a frustrating defense, with its movement and quickness and willingness to try to force mistakes. "They did a good job of mixing up the blitzes, putting the pressure on," Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell said after Sunday's loss. Brunell's first lesson came in the second quarter, when he thought he had tight end Damon Jones open in the end zone only to have Robertson step in front of the 6-yard throw for an interception.

The 46 defense is best known for the 1985 Chicago Bears.  It is not a four linemen, six linebacker formation, rather it took it's name from Doug Plank's jersey number.  He was the Bears safety and would line up as a linebacker (4-4) might be a better description.  The defense requires defensive ends that can bring great pressure as it is deigned to quickly collapse the pocket and attack the quarterback.  Cornerbacks are left in man-to-man coverage, as there is usually only one deep safety to provide backup.

I highly doubt the Jaguars will use a regular 46 formation, though as a now-and-then sort of thing, it could work.  In it's pure form, the formation uses a nose tackle, two defensive ends, two linebackers and a rush backer (designated pass-rusher), all on the line of scrimmage.  The Jaguars lack a serious candidate at nose tackle, though something could be improvised for a trick play or two.

The challenge in attacking this defense is getting the ball from the quarterback to the single covered receiver before getting sacked.  It's largely a "Dead Defense" now because of the quick timing routes of the West-Coast offense, though the Baltimore Ravens have used it from time to time. Which makes sense, considering that Rex Ryan, Buddy's son, coordinates their defense.

Returning to our subject, Gregg Williams "attack style" defense is typically a reaction to the type of players on the field.  Attacking the quarterback when Javon Kearse is in his prime makes perfect sense.  When lacking the pass-rushers, Gregg Williams has used the Cover-2/Tampa-2 made famous by Tony Dungy.

What made Williams a defensive legend is what he did in his first year with the Washington Redskins:

"I'll give Williams his credit. A lot of us were surprised by what he got out of them, but there is not a lot of talent there," said one general manager who did not want to be quoted by name because he was speaking about another team. "They kind of did it with smoke and mirrors."

Smoke and Mirrors should sound familar to Jaguars fans, it's what Mike Smith did a few years ago when our defense performed far better than it should have.  Greg adapted around the talent and put a season together with less than top shelf talent.  With this high bar, Gregg struggled in later seasons in managing talent.  Letting players go like Antonio Pierce, struggling to work with the late Sean Taylor, the entire Adam Archuleta debacle.  All of these things are indictive of a coordinator that roamed a little to far in his job description. 

What will he bring to Jacksonville:

Gregg Williams has dabbled in a little bit of everything.  4-3, 3-4, 46, Cover 2, name drop just about any system and you'll find tape of Gregg Williams running it.  It certainly leads credence to the idea that despite his reputation, he's a player not plays type of coordinator.  Vic Ketchman describes him like this:

He’s a 4-3 guy who believes in a gap-control scheme, which means he likes his defensive linemen lined up in the gaps instead of head up on the offensive linemen. As I said yesterday, it’s what you do up front that defines a team’s defensive philosophy. What you do in the back in the way of coverages is dictated by your ability to control the line of scrimmage. If you’re dominating up front, you can be as aggressive or as soft as you’d like in the back. In fact, most coordinators would mix aggressive coverages with soft coverages in an attempt to disguise what they’re doing and confuse the quarterback. I repeat: It’s all about what you do up front. If you can stop the run and rush the passer, you can play anything you want in the back.

Williams ran a lot of “46 defense” when he was the Titans’ defensive coordinator. Jeff Fisher, of course, played in the “46” and was the impetus to the Titans’ use of it, but Williams likes the “46” and all forms of getting pressure on the quarterback because he knows that the best pass-defense is a pass-rush.

Of course, Gregg Williams refused to give any hint his his OTA press conference:

What defensive scheme are you going to play?

“We’re going to play everything that’s ever been played in football before,” Williams answered.

Williams needs to sort through a multitude of position battles, identify expectations, and decide what approach to take through training camp.  The rookie defensive ends will have to be evaluated as to how much they can handle and to determine if they're situational players or if they're ready to participate fully right out of the gate.  No discredit to Derick Harvey, but Quentin Groves seems perfect as a guided missle in a Williams pass rush.  Pinching a quarterback between the two ends with a linebacker going up the middle or crashing around one side is a dream play for the Jaguars defense.

But it all depends on how things play out up front.  If the Jaguars are unable to show a serious pass-rush, Williams is just as likely to drop into safe and soft zones and play like Mike Smith did in the playoffs.  You simply cannot send multiple blitzers into the offensive line if you cannot get to the quarterback.  If our defensive line fails to win the battles in the trench, there's no need to send in the Mike, Will, or Sam. 

Expectations for our defense should be high.  The Jaguars were defined by their defense two seasons ago, now it's a point of critique.  While there's nothing wrong with putting the ball in David Garrard's hands and expecting him to win the game, the combitnation of the "Grindhouse" offense with an effective 3 and out defense reduces the times an opposing offense has the ball, and eliminates their gameplan right out of the gate.  The only time the Jaguars have stopped Peyton Manning is when they've kept him on the sidelines.  Beating Tom Brady requires the same thing.

Conclusions:

Some think that Gregg Williams is a one-and-done defensive coordinator. If the Jaguars do what they're expected to do, and that's compete for a Super Bowl, Gregg might very well receive another phone call inviting him to interview for a head coaching job.  Then again, he might recall what happened in Buffalo and the fiasco in Washington and decide to roll with the hot hand in Jacksonville.  One thing is clear, the Jaguars have very little contractual leverage with Williams.  They are splitting the final year of his Redskins contract with Washington and leaving Gregg as a free-agent next year. 

Will he bring the Blitz to the "teal curtain"?  I think so.  But it will not be from a clever scheme or design, rather it will emerge from identifying what players will excell and putting them in the position to win the battles.  Riddled with cliches, no doubt, but the way a tough football team plays.  The Jaguars do not need fancy schemes, they need players that can run, hit, and tackle consistantly.  They need opponents to feel like they have to tape up twice as much because they know they'll get pounded for 60 minutes.  They need the swagger that comes with aggressive play calling, and that play calling can only happen when the defense shows they can do the fundamentals consistantly well.

Remember, above all else, sending the blitz means someone else has to step up in coverage.  Calling the blitz means having absoulte confidence in the entire defense to cover the offense like they're a man down.  Can the Jaguars put Rashean Mathis on an island with Reggie Wayne?  Until Williams feels comfortable doing dangerous things like that, I'd expect a little less attack and a little more careful probing out of our new coordnator.

-Chris

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