Return to Superdome a breeze for Rams defensive coordinator

New Orleans was home to some of Gregg Williams’ best coaching triumphs, including overseeing a defense in 2009 that helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV.

New Orleans also was where Williams was implicated in the infamous “Bountygate” scandal that led to an NFL-imposed,  indefinite suspension of the coordinator three years later.

On Sunday, the Rams’ defensive coordinator will be in familiar environs when the Rams play the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

It will be Williams’ first game coaching in New Orleans since 2011.

 “Really looking forward to it,” he said Friday after practice. “Got a lot of great memories, a lot of good feelings, a lot of good people there that I still stay in contact with.”

No bittersweet feelings?

 “No, no, no, no,” he said. “That’s just part of it, that’s part of our league. You guys see the stories year after year after year. It’s just part of what we do.”

Williams is in charge of a Rams defense that ranks sixth in the NFL, giving up 318.3 yards per game. The Rams rank sixth against the pass, 16th against the run.

On Sunday, the Rams will try to neutralize Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who directs the NFL’s top passing offense.

Brees practiced daily against Williams-coached defenses for three seasons.

“You’re always in a position where it’s kind of expect the unexpected a little bit with him,” Brees said of Williams during a teleconference this week. “Just because he’s capable of a lot of different things within the scheme, it’s going to be pretty multiple at times.

“They’re very good at what they do.”

Said Saints Coach Sean Payton: “Really, when you follow his career as a defensive coordinator, he’s always had good defenses. You watch what they’re doing; in a short period of time, he’s been able to turn around a number of teams’ defenses.”

That includes the Saints.

After Williams joined Payton’s staff before the 2009 season, the unit helped the Saints win their only Super Bowl title. But an NFL investigation after the 2011 season found that Saints players participated in a “bounty” program from 2009-2011, earning cash for “knockouts” or “cart-offs.”

Payton was suspended without pay for a year.

Williams issued a statement of apology and regret.

“It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it,” he said in the statement. “Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it.”

Williams was reinstated by the league in 2013 and coached for the Tennessee Titans,  and then joined the Rams’ staff before the 2014 season. Williams had worked under Rams Coach Jeff Fisher with the Houston Oilers and Titans.

Fisher does not anticipate an emotional factor for Williams in is return to New Orleans.

“No, not at all,” Fisher said. “Obviously, he won a Super Bowl down there with them. I’m sure he’s got a lot of friends, but no, he’s focused on what we’re doing.”

The Rams’ defense dominated for most of last week’s game against Miami, but fell apart in the final six minutes of a 14-10 defeat.

Now it must try to slow down an offense that averages a league-best 316.8 yards passing per game.

That means controlling Brees, a 16th-year pro who has passed for 64,180 yards and 454 touchdowns.

“There’s nobody I’ve been around that’s more precise in what they do,” Williams said.

Williams recalled the eve of the Super Bowl, when shortly before curfew he found Brees in an empty room rehearsing the Saints’ first 15 plays to video.

“Nobody around, chairs out of the room and he’s playing the game the night before the game,” Williams said. “He presents challenges because of his understanding of the game.”

Williams said he has been to New Orleans several times since his last year with the Saints. His oldest son, he said, lives north of the city, and he planned to see him during this trip.

Asked how he thought the fans in New Orleans would receive him, Williams said “it’s not about that,” adding the focus was on the players.

 “It’s not about me,” he said.

Quick hits

Running back Todd Gurley did not practice because of what Fisher described as illness. He said Gurley was expected to play Sunday. … Center Tim Barnes (foot) did not practice but he also is expected to play. Defensive end William Hayes, who was absent Thursday because of a family situation, returned to practice. ... A day after he declined to speak to reporters, left tackle Greg Robinson said he needed to improve his overall play. When asked to evaluate his season, he said, “I feel like it’s been decent.” Robinson has struggled with penalties, including a block-in-the-back infraction that nullified a scramble for a first down by quarterback Jared Goff in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to Miami. Fisher has said that he was considering personnel changes along the offensive line.

 

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