Gregg Williams wasn't a big success as a head coach, but he sure knows how to run a defense. He is proving that again as coordinator with the New Orleans Saints.
The former Bills head man made a triumphant return to Buffalo on Sunday, unleashing a variety of blitzes and pressure packages that shut down a bewildered Bills offense during the Saints' 27-7 victory.
The Saints usually play a 4-3 defense, but Williams has employed a lot of 3-4 this season. Given how the Bills have struggled with the 3-4 scheme, it's no surprise that Williams used it almost exclusively on Sunday.
The Saints limited the Bills' running game and then brought plenty of heat on passing downs as Williams' defensive front had its way with the Bills' offensive line.
In the 39 times Bills quarterback Trent Edwards dropped back to pass, Williams sent five or more rushers 19 times. The 12 four-man pass rushes included five zone dogs, where defensive linemen drop in coverage and linebackers and/or defensive backs blitz. Williams sent only three men eight times, and even they were able to create pressure.
The Bills had 12 offensive possessions. Nine ended in punts, one on an interception and another on downs.
"The one thing our defensive coordinator is, he gives us an opportunity to make plays," said Saints cornerback Jabari Greer, who spent the previous five years with the Bills. "When you look in his eyes and he says, 'I'm going to call your number, what are you going to do,' you have to answer that call. For your leader to challenge you like that and continue to challenge you, it gives you all the confidence in the world."
On Buffalo's second possession, the Saints used a zone dog to pressure Edwards. They showed a five-man front with both outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage with three down linemen. Both linebackers and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis dropped into coverage, while Greer and right cornerback Tracy Porter blitzed off the edges.
Porter's blitz left wide receiver Lee Evans wide open near the far sideline, but Edwards was looking in the other direction toward wide receiver Terrell Owens and tight end Derek Fine. Greer hit Edwards just as he was releasing the ball and it fell incomplete.
No blitz was needed on a four-man rush in the second quarter as left defensive end Charles Grant got right guard Eric Wood off balance and powered past the rookie to chase Edwards down for an 11-yard sack.
Later in the quarter, Grant's bull rush drew right tackle Jonathan Scott and Wood, while Ellis is occupied by Hangartner and right defensive end Will Smith is engaged with Levitre. That created a huge opening up the middle for OLB Scott Fujita. Hangartner recognized Fujita's penetration and tried to get a hand on him, but that decision gave Ellis and Fujita a clear path to Edwards, who got wrapped up by Ellis and threw the ball away, which drew an intentional grounding penalty.
The Saints recorded three sacks in the fourth quarter, all the result of individual efforts by defensive linemen.
With the Bills facing third-and-four at their 19-yard line, the Saints rushed four. Defensive tackle Remi Ayodele stunted from the left to the right side of the defensive formation. Wood slid over, but dropped to the turf. Ayodele fell over Wood, but was able to trip up Edwards, who couldn't regain his balance before Smith sacked him from behind for a 3-yard loss.
The Saints got their next sack on a three-man rush as Ellis overpowered Hangartner to tackle Edwards for a five-yard loss. One play later, it's third and 15 at the Bills' 22. The Saints sent three linemen and blitzed Harper and cornerback Randall Gay off the right side of the defense. But pressure came from left side where Grant beat Scott around the edge for an 8-yard sack.
"I think we prepared well for the game," said Greer, who was instrumental in helping hold Owens without a catch for the first time in 186 games. "I was proud of our defensive line with the way that they got pressure and the way that they restricted the running lanes.
"We had a nice fundamental game. We wrapped up, we played good coverage, we stayed in our responsibility and I think we complemented each other well. Any time any team does that you have an opportunity to win."
Credit should go to the Bills' defense for holding the Saints' high-powered offense in check for much of the game. But the unit simply wore down. That was evident in the 86 yards rushing in the fourth quarter by Saints running back Pierre Thomas, who finished with 126 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. He had five of the Saints' runs that covered 10 or more yards.
Of all the Bills' offensive linemen, none struggled more than Wood. In addition to giving up a couple of sacks, he was beaten once by a blitzing Gay, who pressured Edwards into an incompletion. Wood also was charged with holding, an illegal-man-downfield and a tripping penalty that was declined.