One of the easiest things to do against the Saints has become one of the harder things to do against the Saints.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints in Week 16
Earlier this year, completing a deep pass against New Orleans wasn’t much of a problem. Offenses attempted 26 passes that traveled 15 or more yards through the air, completing 18 (69 percent) for 451 yards and six touchdowns during the first four weeks of the year. It was almost an automatic play, on which there were many people to blame.
The defense has since settled down and almost completely flipped the narrative. In the games since then, the Saints have lowered the completion percentage on those passes to 44 percent. They’ve given up zero touchdowns and recorded six interceptions.
Much like the failures, there are many reasons for success. Marshon Lattimore finding the clamps that he first used to get a grip on and then hold his reputation as one of the league’s better cornerbacks as a rookie to get back on track after a rocky start to the season was critical.
Eli Apple coming in and settling the other cornerback spot has also been key. The coverage busts that populated the early part of the season rapidly dissipated as the cornerback got up to speed following a deadline trade with the Giants.
But there might not be a bigger factor than safety Marcus Williams. His presence has forced quarterbacks to go elsewhere with the ball, and his play as of late has been key.
Marcus Williams doesn't talk about the play anymore.
“I feel like I have a big role back there being that presence where QBs are having a hard time throwing it in the back end,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m doing my role being the communicator and leader back there. They see what I did last year and now they want to keep away.”
So, are they keeping the ball away from him more?
“They got to do what they go to do to get plays,” Williams said. “So, the ball comes my way I’m going to make the play. If they don’t want to throw interceptions they better keep it away.”
A quick glance shows Williams hasn’t made the same number of plays on the ball as he did as a rookie, when he finished with four interceptions and seven passes defensed. He only has two interceptions entering Sunday’s game against the Steelers and three passes defensed.
If you count fumbles, Williams is actually one takeaway off his mark from last season, but that’s another conversation. The fact is, the Saints feel he is impacting plays more often than he did a year ago when quarterbacks were more willing to test his range and instincts. The interceptions don’t tell the story.
The Saints can secure the top seed in the NFC by defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend, which could then allow the team to approach t…
“I know the interceptions may not be as they were a year ago, but there’s another stat that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story,” defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said. “I think he’s done a really good job of helping us eliminate the explosive plays down the field. Early in the year, we were giving up a ton of explosive plays, and now one of the better teams in the league in not allowing those plays.”
The communication has been paramount to success in the secondary, especially with bringing in Apple midway through the season. That put a new level of stress on the group as they worked to get everyone up to speed.
Williams has played a major part in bringing everyone up to speed. His communication is something that has continued to improve in his second season, and one of the reasons for that is his recognition has increased with more experience.
“I’m a smarter player,” Williams said. “Just dissecting plays, being able to be in position and get other players in position. Just telling people what plays are coming. I feel like it’s helping us way more this year.”
The impact of his presence is obvious, even if it doesn’t obviously impact his statistics. He is piecing together a strong season, and after some early hiccups for the entire secondary, things have settled. There is no shortage of praise for the role Williams has played in getting the defense to this point.
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“He’s the G.O.A.T. in my eyes,” Lattimore said. “No one has really been trying him in the post. We know he’s back there, we know we got his help. I’m glad he’s our safety.”
It sounds like the whole team shares that feeling.
It's the hottest ticket in town.