One glance at last week, when Williams blew up a short pass to Minnesota receiver Greg Lewis with a thunderous hit and later jumped a Percy Harvin slant route for a game-changing interception, and it’s hard to argue.
Given that Williams could spend a good deal of time on Sunday matched up against Atlanta’s Roddy White, who leads the NFL in receptions with 79 and yards with 1,017 through 10 games, proving his Pro Bowl credentials could be right in front of him. So it’s only natural to assume that Williams might be a little more fired up than usual this week with such a significant challenge on his hands.
But that would go against the steady, nothing-flashy, even-keel way in which Williams has progressed over the past four years from an undrafted practice-squadder to a special teamer to a nickel corner to a starter and now to one of the more effective all-around players at his position in the NFL. That’s just not who he is.
“I like to lie low,” Williams said this week, uninterested in hyping his matchup with White too much. But he’s well aware of the type of player he’s up against.
On a very balanced Falcons offense that features a power runner in Michael Turner and one of the best tight ends ever in Tony Gonzalez, White is the true difference-maker. He has five 100-yard games this season plus two multi-touchdown performances, and having already topped 1,000 yards for the fourth straight year, he’s on pace to shatter his career highs of 88 receptions and 1,382 yards set in 2008.
White has caught at least five passes in nine of 10 games this season and has gained at least 75 yards in eight of 10. Quarterback Matt Ryan consciously feeds him the ball, because at an imposing 6-feet and 212 pounds, White is one of those receivers who can be open even when it might not look like it.
“He’s a big, physical guy,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “The guy can really run with the ball after the catch. He uses his size and physicalness to his advantage on DBs, and they just feel like they can win that matchup and they have a lot. He’s caught eight or nine balls a game on average.”
White’s physical style has almost become his trademark, even moreso than when he came into Lambeau Field two years ago and posted eight receptions for 132 yards and a TD. In a nationally televised Thursday night game two weeks ago, he clearly pushed off against a Baltimore defensive back to get separation and proceeded to haul in a game-winning 33-yard touchdown with just 20 seconds left.
Williams, at 5-11 and 191 pounds, is accustomed to compensating for a size disadvantage, but when it comes to a physical receiver like White, fighting fire with fire isn’t always the best approach.
“You don’t want to go into a game knowing a guy is strong and then you try to muscle him,” Williams saisd. “You have to feel where he’s at, not be too aggressive with him, and just go from there.
“You don’t want to go in there and play his game, let’s just say that.”
Added Whitt: “Big guys like Roddy, they would like for you to grab and pull on them, so they can grab and pull you. They want you to get your hands on them. But if you can get your feet in position and mirror him from there, you can have success against a guy like him.”
Snap to snap, it’s similar for both an individual defender and the play-caller. The way a defensive coordinator will mix his blitz and coverage looks to keep a quarterback off-balance, a cornerback has to be ready with a variety of techniques to gain an edge.
“It won’t be the first time Tramon’s had to deal with that,” Capers said. “Brandon Marshall (of Miami) plays that way, a big guy who tries to engage and get his body into yours. You have to understand what he’s trying to do, and you have to go in with a plan how you’re going to combat it. Sometimes you’ll be involved and be engaged, and other times you want to avoid those collisions.”
Marshall is one of only two receivers to eclipse 100 yards against Green Bay this season. He had 127 yards in Week 6, one week after Washington’s Santana Moss put up 118.
Neither of those games featured an all-day, one-on-one matchup with Williams, and there’s no guarantee Sunday’s will either. Because as much as Capers will probably try to keep Williams on White, which could free up cornerback Charles Woodson to cover Gonzalez or unpredictably roam the line of scrimmage, the Falcons will put White in motion or use bunch formations to one side or the other to get the matchup they prefer for their go-to guy.
However it shakes out, Williams is confident he’s up to the task. He’s not naïve enough to think he can aim for completely shutting down a talent like White, but he firmly believes the way he’s playing can help keep that one player from taking over the contest.
“You always want to focus on your game, because when it’s all said and done, your technique, your discipline is what got you here, and that’s what you stick to,” Williams said. “You focus on your game more because they’re going to be who they are and you’re going to be who you are.”
In other words, Williams is going to do his thing as quietly and unassumingly as he always has. Even if his first trip to the Pro Bowl, which would cap his almost unfathomable rise from such humble pro beginnings, might be riding on his performance against one of the league’s best.
“Tramon plays the same every week,” Whitt said. “That’s the thing about him. No matter who that guy is across from him, he’s going to play at a high level, because that’s what he is. He doesn’t change. He’s up to every challenge, every week.”
Additional coverage – Nov. 26