In one respect, this is the best time of the season for Gregg Williams, who is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
But this is also a different time for Williams, the Washington Redskins' assistant head coach-defense.
"I can't really pick on them as much as I normally do," he said of his players.
Such is a player's focus during the postseason, which continues for the Redskins today at Seattle in an NFC Divisional round game.
During the 17-week regular season, it is the job of Williams and his coaching staff to mix up the message -- sometimes on a daily basis -- to keep the players' ears perked up. But not now.
"In a playoff atmosphere, they come out here and kind of take care of business themselves, so it becomes a challenge for me to find ways to needle them," Williams said. "We believe that when the practice sessions are as hard or harder than the games, they can block out distractions and focus in on the task at hand and play our defense.
"We don't want practice to be a cruise. And these guys have bought into that. They pretty much run the deal during the playoffs, and that means we have good leadership."
Before the Redskins defeated Tampa Bay last week, they needed to win their final five regular-season games. The defense produced 16 takeaways and allowed only six touchdowns during that stretch. Their stellar play continued against the Buccaneers in a 17-10 victory.
During the stretch of must-wins in December, Williams said it was vital for the coordinator to throw curveballs at his players.
"I change it every day -- I shock them every day," Williams said before the Philadelphia regular-season finale. "They try to figure out where I get my material. ... I try to get under each guys' skin someway and somehow. Just like an opponent will be chirping during a game, I get on them in practice. When they get used to it coming from me, it becomes routine during a game."
Said defensive end Renaldo Wynn, who will miss the Seattle game because of a broken arm: "Trust me, there is never a boring moment with Gregg. He does a great job as far as changing things up."
An example: On Jan. 1, the Redskins trailed Philadelphia 17-10 at halftime. The defense had allowed 215 yards and pass plays of 48, 33 and 25 yards. Some players expected a fiery Williams in the locker room -- spewing expletives, shooting glares and stalking around.
Instead, they got the cerebral Williams. Nothing was thrown around the room, and little was yelled. Just some quick strategy adjustments. The result was only three second-half points and four forced turnovers.
"[At halftime], he emphasized the veteran guys leading and stepping up," Wynn recalled. "That meant it was in our hands. That was impressive -- I have a lot of respect for that because they put it on our shoulders."
Such is the method to Williams' controlled madness, a strategy that has worked for two seasons in Washington and netted him a three-year, $8 million contract extension last week.
A year after ranking third in yards allowed and fifth in points allowed, the Redskins' defense remained a stout unit this season. Despite losing cornerback Fred Smoot and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce to free agency and rarely having a full compliment of defensive backs or defensive tackles, the Redskins finished ninth in total defense (297.9 yards a game) and points allowed (18.3 a game).
For Williams, his key days coming during the middle of the week.
"From Wednesday to Friday, I'm on them pretty hard," he said. "The hardest job is preparing them during the week and not letting them be lazy, not letting them have a lack of focus. You will always play well and with confidence when you're prepared. When you're not prepared, that's when things jump up and bite you, and it becomes a distraction and a stressful situation.
"I try to put as much external pressure and stress on them as I can on Wednesday to Friday. I back off a little bit on Saturday and let them play on Sunday. Coaches get a lot more credit on Sunday than they deserve. If I get the right package on and off the field, it's about letting them play."
Safety Ryan Clark said that philosophy is rare in his experiences.
"The one thing about Gregg, he's emotional like a player," he said. "A lot of times, when something bad happens as a player, you want to go out and make the next play. Gregg is the same way. He doesn't like to get punched in the mouth, he doesn't like to be roughed up or a team be more physical than us. But he puts it in our hands because he always tells us he can't play on Sundays.
"A lot of teams have intelligent coaches that try to control the whole situation. Gregg gives you the tools and allows you to use them."
Expect to see the same animated Williams on the sideline tomorrow.
But middle linebacker Lemar Marshall said the bark is worse than the bite.
"After awhile, you know where he's coming from," he said. "He shows us love more often than he yells at us. He's emotional. You just have to get to know him."
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