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Monday, January 16, 2012
Should division welcome Gregg Williams?

By Mike Sando

Gregg Williams' expected departure from New Orleans to become the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator should interest NFC West fans.

Williams has become known for coming after opposing quarterbacks with abandon. The Saints sent five or more pass-rushers 51.1 percent of the time in 2011, most in the NFL. The percentage was a league-leading 49.5 in 2010 and a runnerup 48.2 in 2009.

The Rams, meanwhile, brought added pressure 32.5 percent of the time during that period, 15th-most in the league, according to John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information.

Fans and players tend to favor aggressive play, but as the chart indicates, NFC West quarterbacks have carved up Williams' New Orleans defenses in the postseason over the past two years.

Matt Hasselbeck's four touchdown passes led Seattle past the Saints in the wild-card round a year ago. Alex Smith's four total touchdowns (one rushing) were the difference for the 49ers in the divisional round Saturday.

Most schemes will work with the right players, of course. In these cases, veteran quarterbacks made the Saints pay for their aggressive tactics. Hasselbeck and Smith fared well, in general, regardless of how many rushers the Saints sent.

Steve Spagnuolo's defensive scheme was the least of the Rams' worries, in my view.

"A lot of defenses are unsound in how they do things," Hasselbeck said when I caught up to him following his Tennessee Titans preseason debut, in St. Louis. "These guys (the Rams) are really sound. They might not lead the league in sacks up front, but they do a nice job getting pressure. They play together as a defense. They don't give up big plays. Even when you get them, it's for 20 yards instead of for a touchdown."

The Saints gave up a league-high 14 pass plays covering at least 40 yards during the regular season. The Rams gave up 12, but they also lost all their top cornerbacks to injury.

St. Louis won only twice in 2011. One of those victories came against New Orleans, with A.J. Feeley at quarterback.