This is the third of a three-part series asking which Saint or Charger you would rather have.
The Saints and Chargers have two of the best offenses in the NFL, and have for the past few years. But both need their defense to step up this season if they are going to take the next step and become realistic Super Bowl contenders.
Both defenses have different men leading the group than at the beginning of 2008.
Ladies and gentlemen...In one corner for the New Orleans Saints, Gregg Williams. And in the other corner, for the San Diego Chargers, Ron Rivera!
While these two are certainly not going to be battling one another, both need to bring a boxing type of attitude to their defenses.
First, let's look at the new defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints, Gregg Williams.
Williams is a disciple of Buddy Ryan, who was best known for creating the "46" or "Bear" defense. It is a defense which played with eight men in the box on almost every snap, and blitzed like madmen.
It is not surprising, then, that Williams, while not committing to run the exact same system, has run pressure-filled, attacking defenses in his time as a defensive coordinator in multiple stops throughout the league.
While in Tennessee, Williams was the defensive coordinator who helped lead the team to the Super Bowl in 1999. He largely held down one of the most explosive offenses in the history of the NFL—as Kurt Warner and Co. only scored 23 points—in that excruciating loss to the Rams.
He then went on to become the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, where his defenses improved each year, but his offenses did not.
Not to worry, though, as he quickly obtained a defensive coordinator job, this time under Joe Gibbs in D.C. Williams' units improved each year, with the exception of his final year. That, however, was largely due to the loss of Sean Taylor in the middle of the season.
The defense never recovered from that tragedy.
In one season in Jacksonville, the Jaguars defense struggled to 17th in the NFL. Williams did not have his personnel needed to run his system.
Now in New Orleans, the Saints have made all efforts to improve the defense and give Williams the personnel he needs in order to make this defense excel.
He has said he wants to use multiple looks, hybrid defenses, where he'll play 4-3, 3-4, perhaps even a 46 look. Malcolm Jenkins is the perfect player for this flexible, versatile, aggressive defense.
Will Smith, Charles Grant, Bobby McCray, and the other defensive ends should be aided by the amount of pressure coming from linebackers and even safeties. Sedrick Ellis should improve in year two, as he will be called on to stuff the run, and get after the quarterback.
And Williams will play man-to-man coverage a good portion of the time. However, he's not afraid to play cover-two, cover-three, or cover-four. Basically, Williams wants to confuse the other offense. That is the way this team will excel on defense (if it does).
My question is whether this is all too much, too fast? It is easy to understand why his defenses improve year by year. It's possible that early on, there will be many a play where there is miscommunication, because there are so many different looks.
Williams has also said his main goal is to make this a physical, aggressive defense—which he believes may help make up for some confusion at times. Saints fans better hope so, or else it could be another long year on the defensive side of the ball.
As for Rivera, he took over the Chargers defense in the middle of 2008, immediately after the Saints offense put a whooping on Ted Cottrell's enigmatic defense.
Rivera's biggest adjustment was to simplify. Instead of using a thousand different coverages, blitzes, games, stunts, etc., he chose to stick to those that his defense could execute well.
This should come as no surprise,given his background of coordinating a Tampa-Two defense, in Chicago, which he did very successfully.
Of course, the philosophy behind the Tampa-Two is not to trick the other offense, but to out-execute them. The theory goes, that in run defense, if each member simply plays his assignment—fills his gap and tackles—that you will stop the other team most of the time.
When covering the pass, the idea is to allow the other team to throw short, and to then come up and make the tackle. You CANNOT allow a receiver to beat you deep. That is the ultimate sin of the Tampa-Two.
So while Rivera is sticking with the 3-4, which fits the personnel, and is the system the Chargers have used for the past six years, he clearly will thread the two philosophies together.
He is going to take advantage of Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips, and Larry English (too bad his first name isn't Sean) by coming up with some intricate blitz packages. But behind that, he'll probably call some cover-two, or some other conservative coverage scheme to protect his backside.
He'll probably use some zone blitzes—blitzing all three, but having a DE drop into coverage, or putting one down in a three-point stance and having him drop.
My point is that Rivera is going to integrate his assignment-based run philosophies (which fits very well into the way the Chargers run the 3-4) with a keep-the-ball-in-front-of-you pass defense philosophy, but still put a tremendous amount of pressure on the quarterback.
Frankly, this is probably the best combination of defensive philosophy I've heard of (about three years ago, I thought about how to implement the 3-4 with the cover-two). More and more teams are using hybrid 3-4/4-3 defenses with cover-two, but also man schemes.
Both men are going to implement change in the philosophy of their respective defenses. Both teams are taking new approaches to stopping the other team in 2009.
But will both work? Will either one work?
My personal preference is the style Rivera is going to use. I am biased, though, as I have always loved the 3-4 because of its run-stopping nature. Add into it the pressure of three explosive pass rushers, and the ability to keep the ball in front of you, and this scheme is almost flawless.
I like the concepts that Williams is going to use. I just feel it will work better in 2010 than this year. I think we'll see an improvement, but I think the bigger improvement will come a year from now.
Of course, I think the Chargers are Super Bowl-bound this year, and the Saints likewise in 2010.
So there you go.
Which coordinator would you rather have running your defense?