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The Defensive Mindset of Gregg Williams

Not X’s & 0’s but the mental philosophies

New York Jets Minicamp Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

We see him on the field. We see him in press conferences. We saw him on Hard Knocks. Yet do we have any idea who Gregg Williams really is? I would like to take the time to teach you about Gregg Williams. Actually I’m going to let Gregg Williams teach you about Gregg Williams though his own quotes and quotes from his players. Many of these players would run through a wall for him, even today 5 or 10 years after they have retired.

Williams is a coach who has been to the pinnacle in his profession and a pariah as well, all with the same team. Williams won the Super Bowl as defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints following the 2009 season. He was also suspended on March 21, 2012, for his role in the “Bountygate” scandal then became defensive coordinator of the Rams the following year. The Williams coaching history is as follows (head coach and coordinator jobs only)

Defensive Coordinator Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans 1997-2000 (lost Super Bowl XXXIV)

Head Coach Buffalo Bills 2001 -2003 (compiled 17-31 record)

Defensive Coordinator & Assistant Head Coach Washington 2004 - 2007

Defensive Coordinator Jacksonville Jaguars 2008

Defensive Coordinator New Orleans Saints 2009 - 2011 (won Super Bowl XLIV)

Defensive Coordinator St. Louis Rams 2012

Defensive Coordinator Tennessee Titans 2013

Defensive Coordinator St. Louis/LA Rams 2014 - 2016

Defensive Coordinator Cleveland Browns 2017 - 2018

Interim Head Coach Cleveland Browns 2018

Defensive Coordinator New York Jets 2019

Gregg Williams is a man who is supremely confident in all aspects of his football life. He can be harsh, loud and near abusive in his teachings as a coach and mentoring to young players. He enjoys the challenge of game day, matching wits with some of the best offensive minds in the NFL who compete with him on the opposite sideline. Yet he can be old fashioned, even philosophical in the way he looks at football.

He is a often brusque, with a surly attitude yet he approaches his craft like a painter who deeply appreciates his art. He truly loves what he does. You can see it in his desire and passion for the game.

“I love what I do. I’m a competition-aholic,” says Williams. He will at times sound like Confucius and other times sound like Sgt. Hartman (played by R. Lee Ermey) in the movie “Full Metal Jacket, “What is your major malfunction?”

So Gregg what type of defensive scheme do you play do you play?

I have 42 words that add up to the 11 that trot out to the field. You guys that have studied me before, we’ll play 4-3 and 3-4 in the same game. 3-3, 3-2, 4-1, 4-2, bear, big on five down, big on six down, big on more linebackers, little on more DB’s. I have 42 packages of defense. Now everywhere I go, I don’t do them all. What it is, coaches sit in a room and we waste so much time wondering what the word is. I have the words already. I’ve been doing it for so long. So boom, this 11 guys, boom this 11 guys trot out there. Then, what you all will see is, how much we play those types of schemes or packages is based on the AFC North. It’s based on what the offenses are pulling out there and we have to play defense on. I’m also not afraid to make sure all of the other people are going to have to work on things that I’m never going to call. They’ve got to practice all week long on 4-3, 3-4, 2-2, all of that kind of stuff, and I’m not even going to do it next week. So that’s ok too.” Williams said.

Well thanks Gregg. I’m totally confused, can you simplify that?

Sure here it goes. “It’s find ball, see ball, get ball,” he said.

You have worked with some legends of the game; who do you pattern your defense after?

“I took George Allen, I took Buddy Ryan, I took Dick LeBeau. I took Bud Carson. I put them all together and now it’s kind of a Gregg Williams way that we do things. “But there’s more Buddy Ryan in everything I do defensively, schematically, than anything.”

Hue Jackson often mentioned how Williams gets the most out of his players. ESPN’s Jeff Triplett wrote about how he used Roman Harper in New Orleans, “One example that stands out most was the way he made safety Roman Harper into a two-time Pro Bowler by using him as a frequent blitzer and pseudo-linebacker. Williams would also mix and match between a 4-3 and 3-4. His most famous example (of creativity) was the Super Bowl win over Indianapolis and Peyton Manning when he had different plans for the first half, the third quarter and the fourth quarter.”

The Jets defense and Jamal Adams should love the way Williams coaches. Adams himself is eager to play for Williams. “He’s the best in the business,” Adams said. “I’ve had so many players hit me up to tell me how much I’m going to love Coach Gregg.” Former player (safety) Matt Bowen wrote, “It can be exotic with the disguise, or he will have his guys line up in a blitz look and dare the offense to stop it. If he could, Williams would blitz fans out of the stands. A great scheme. And one that is fun as hell to play.”

Bucky Brooks of wrote about the attacking mode of Williams defenses, “On passing downs, Williams certainly isn’t afraid to mix in a variety of blitzes from exotic looks including some Okie fronts (3-4 or nickel 3-3 packages) - as well as the standard 4-2-5 nickel front. He will order up Cover 0 all-out blitzes in any area of the field, which makes him the ultimate gambler as a play-caller.”

Bowen described Williams as a methodical teacher and he expected you to know every portion of the defense, not just your own part of it, “His meetings reminded me of college-level courses that combined chalkboard sessions with film work. I still have the notebooks from my time in Washington, and they are filled with concepts, blitzes, coverages and so on. The meetings were no joke, and we were tested every day when the film started rolling. Williams had no problem putting you on the spot to answer questions, identify concepts or offensive schemes.”

Williams want his defensive captains to adjust to what the offense is doing so he expects his defensive leaders to make changes. When he was with the Rams he had James Laurinaitis as his defensive captain. “I tell everyone all the time when they ask what defense we’re playing, we’re playing the defense James calls, not what I call,” Williams said.

Former linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who played for Williams in New Orleans and St. Louis said of Williams, “He’s not here to make you feel comfortable. He’s willing to ruffle your feathers. Anytime a ball hits the ground, he wants you to pick it up. Anytime a ball is overthrown, he wants you to act like it was an interception and return it.” It is a way of getting players conditioned to go after the ball.

The Keys to a Gregg Williams Defense

The overall theme of the Williams defense is accountability.

It’s simple. Be accountable for your actions on every play.

The three rules on the chalkboard of the Williams defensive meeting room are:

Be on time

Touch all the lines

Buckle your chinstrap

If you blow assignments, miss tackles, or have busts in coverage you are going to sit. It doesn’t make a difference if you are a 1st round draft pick or a UDFA. The players who play the best will play. There are no favorites. If you produce you play.

The defensive meeting room will have a production chart for everyone to see with ackles, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles etc. There is no hiding in a meeting room or film room.

Every Day Is an Interview

You are not just evaluated on game day. You are evaluated on everything you do in the meeting room, training room, weight room, and practice field. Conditioning drills are after warm ups yet before practice, and they are filmed then watched in the meeting room. If you skip a rep or shorten a drill; you will be called out and everyone will see.

Williams likes to practice fast with attention to detail. You are expected to play within the ideologies of the defense without glory seeking. If you are supposed to cover an area you better be there. Williams likes to overload certain areas of the defense so if you are out of position, it could lead to a big play for the offense.

Pressure, Pressure, Pressure

Williams believes that limiting time and forcing QB from their spot increases the chance for a mistake by the offense and decreases an its efficiency. Pressure disrupts rhythm passing games and speeds up the entire offense, taking it out of the comfort zone. When you make an offense do something they are not accustomed to doing the success rate drops precipitously.

“It is about defending every blade of grass, whether it be in run or it be in pass. It is about field position. It is about doing what you have to do on defense to play the game the way it is supposed to be,” Williams says.

Former Jet Bart Scott likes the hire of Williams, “They need a guy that can come and crack the whip, teach them football but also be very demanding. He can teach them and give them the tools to be successful in different situations.”

Williams is the antithesis of the former coach Todd Bowles who was more stoic. Whereas Bowles would eventually get around to talking to a player, Williams won’t just get into his face immediately. He will jump down his throat.

Culture beats strategy any day of the week

It is the mantra of Williams, “The reason I keep getting hired is culture and culture beats strategy any day of the week.” This just means that your mindset is more important than some zany strategy. If you play hard, with determination and play together it beats any scheme of teams who don’t play that way.

Jordan Jenkins put it simply, “Between those whistles, it’s a dog-eat-dog mentality.”

“It’s about how you find ways yourself to be tougher. How you find ways to play harder, play smarter for longer than any opponent you go against. And, all the scheme is, is a way to surround the ball, surround the formation and just find ball, see ball, get ball. But it comes from an attitude. It comes from a personal understanding of what it takes to play this game at this level; at the highest level,” Williams said.

Williams made an impression on his All Pro safety, he told Adams, “You know, I’ve coached a lot better people than you before.” Adams could only just smile and say, “I love him, It’s like an uncle, really. He’s coaching us hard, he wants the best out of us and you could run through a wall for a coach like that.”

“It’s aggressive, obviously, we talk our noise and we fly around the ball. I know we’re going to compete every down, every play. That’s what it’s about.” Adams added.

Williams has been around a long time, “Players can smell and feel and know whether you’re conning them, faster than coaches do because they see the personal side of it. So, yeah, I push, prod. And attitude does come first and I tell them attitude is everything.”

Williams is a amateur psychologist, “Second time around, I married a shrink so I gave her a full-time job of trying to keep up with my mind I guess. That is one of my passions to do that, and I’d love to do all extra studying on those things because it helps not only me. It helps other people.”

“You know, it’s the honesty part of it every day’s an interview, them to me and me to them. People ask me all the time how much longer am I going to do this? When I walk into a room and nobody will pay attention anymore, it’s time to do something else.”

Williams seems ready. Are you?