Forecast: Gregg Williams was right to blitz at end of game
Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
After watching the most heartbreaking loss in Saints history, media and fans have done a fantastic job of tossing a Molotov cocktail made of anger and hypocrisy at Gregg Williams as he heads out the door to St. Louis.
If you are a fan of western novels or movies like me then you know the expression, “Die with your boots on.” The Saints unfortunately did it with style Saturday in San Francisco.
Sean Payton brought Gregg Williams to the Saints to deliver an aggressive attacking defense. In 2009, he delivered a truckload of turnovers, a Lombardi trophy, and in case anyone forgot when Tracy Porter intercepted that Peyton Manning pass the Saints blitzed everybody including Gumbo and Sir Saint. Check the tape. In 2010, Williams’ defense finished ranked #4 before getting steam rolled by Marshawn Lynch and a Malcolm Jenkins injury.
If you love the Saints aggressive style, the onside kicks, and the relentless attack when it works, you can’t complain when it sends them up in flames. It’s who they are and what they do. As long as Sean Payton is coach it’s, as the kids like to say, “How they roll.”
To every fan and columnist who said the Saints should have been in a safer defense on the 49ers final drive I have a question, “Why did you want the Saints to change from a defense that had allowed only one significant Alex Smith completion since the first quarter?”
The Saints defense was masterful for about 54 minutes blitzing the 49ers so often and well they had created four sacks and San Francisco was so desperate they ran a trick play in the fourth quarter which very nearly blew up in their face.
But some sort prevent defense would have been better right? The 49ers only had 40 seconds to get a field goal. Everyone knows you shouldn’t blitz in those spots you say. You are asking the Saints to be and do something they aren’t. They are borderline reckless because it lets them be brilliant.
Williams was probably thinking, “We’ve already forced two Alex Smith fumbles and I’m dialing up a blitz and getting number three and we are wrapping up the most exhilarating win in team history.”
Didn’t happen but it doesn’t mean Williams strategy was wrong. He made Alex Smith beat the Saints with two fantastic throws. We are in year six of tight ends murdering the Saints though and Veron Davis’ was the most brutal. My kingdom for a linebacker capable of pass defense. I’ll settle for the return of 2010 Malcolm Jenkins, the guy who could create turnovers and not get torched in coverage.
Saturday was really two separate events: A football game lasting 56 minutes and then some strange out of body experience.
The football game involved a first quarter meltdown that included three turnovers and losing Pierre Thomas to a concussion and was so horrifying the 2008 U.S. economy found it disturbing. The Saints broke fast from the gate and were on their way to an early lead when Pierre Thomas got hit so hard I think he was out cold before he hit the ground. The ball came out and the 49ers had momentum. After a Smith to Davis TD, San Francisco tricked Brees and an interception led to 7 more points. Then Courtney Roby fumbled the kickoff and a tourist after a long night on Bourbon Street looked more composed than the Saints.
The Saints then began the long slow climb back. First a Jimmy Graham touchdown and then Brees hit Marques Colston on as good a throw and catch, as you’ll ever see. They would gift the 49ers two more turnovers and it ended 49ers 23-17.
Then some sort of wild spectacle happened in possibly a parallel universe. I’m not sure it was real because there couldn’t possible be a playoff game where four touchdowns would be scored in the last four minutes. It was every emotion a human could possibly have crammed into 240 seconds of game clock.
Darren Sproles, who was the Saints de facto running game with a playoff record 15 catches, exploded and suddenly despite a start that should have buried them the Saints were alive.
The 49ers answered by remembering Frank Gore was indeed still on their team and he ripped off a huge run. Instead of simply managing the clock and kicking the game winning field goal they tricked the Saints with an Alex Smith quarterback sweep. 29-24.
2:18 in Drew Brees time is a week and a half. He only needed 34 seconds of it. Jimmy Graham simply went up between two 49ers, came down with the ball and 66 yards later the Saints were up 30-29. Payton goes to the only two-point play they have (because it works every freaking time) and it’s 32-29.
It’s ok to admit you thought the Saints had it. I know I did. I fully expected Roman Harper to get loose, sack Alex Smith, and then we’d all party well into next week except Smith played exactly like a #1 overall pick should and was perfect on two throws.
NFL Films will make two-hour specials on those four minutes. It was so insane Friday Night Lights show producers would call it unrealistic if you pitched it to them and they had playoff games in cow fields, fire works, aliens and puppies falling from the skies to end games.
The Saints under Gregg Williams lived the high life with the blitz in 2009 and died a fiery car off the cliff death in 2011. If you loved it in 2009 but rip him as he walks out the door then I guess hypocrisy is something you enjoy being filled with. Hyper aggression isn’t a bug with Sean Payton’s Saints it’s a feature and I just learn to live with it even when it nearly kills me.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/MilneMalbrough or download his podcast at Itunes.