After yielding too many big plays and making almost none for the first several games of the season, the Green Bay Packers' veteran cornerback has played his best games of the season. In fact, he's been one of the few players who has raised his level of play during Aaron Rodgers' absence.
On one hand, Williams didn't want to talk too much about how well he's playing.
On the other hand, Williams is hoping his actions speak volumes among his teammates.
"You have to find — and it's not easy — but you have to find a focus that's hard to find when it comes to things like that," Williams said on Thursday. "And you've got to start throughout the week with it, whether it's on your film study, whether it's in your walk-throughs, whether it's just out there on the practice field when the offense is running the plays and you're out there breaking down what formations they're running. You have to pay attention to those things consistently throughout the week, and those things continue to stick with you. As game time comes, if you paid attention to all those things throughout the week, you tend to see it on the field like that, and it becomes slower and it becomes easier, so you're a lot more focused in.
"That's what I hope that a lot of guys can get to when you get that type of focus and when you can do it throughout the week. You have to practice it; it's not easy. I'm not going to lie to you and say that you can do it every play but, whenever you start to try to do it and continue to do it week to week, it becomes better. The game becomes slower, and I'm going to try to get more guys to try to see it that way and try to get the game to slow down for them a little bit more and see where we go from there."
It wasn't just that Williams intercepted his first pass of the season — snapping a 23-game streak without one. It wasn't just outstanding tackling against the Giants' prolific receivers. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt noticed Williams' heightened sense of urgency and stronger focus.
"He just had a singular focus of one play at a time," Whitt said on Friday. "His technique was really really good. The things that we talked about, where we wanted to send balls, where we wanted to send certain players, and how they're going to attack us and how we're going to defend them, he was flawless on those things. That was good to see his attention to detail on every aspect of how we wanted to do it."
Whitt doesn't buy into the coverage stats at sites like ProFootballFocus.com, since those stat-keepers can't possibly know the design of the defense. Nonetheless, the site's numbers suggest that Williams' play has been underrated this season. By PFF's count, he allowed one completion in three consecutive games (Baltimore, Cleveland and Minnesota). He had a tough night in the upset loss to Chicago, underscored by a touchdown allowed to Brandon Marshall in which Williams was flagged for interference.
However, the only catch of note allowed against the Eagles was DeSean Jackson's touchdown in which Morgan Burnett collided with Williams to take away a potential interception by Williams. Against the Giants, Williams and Burnett botched coverage on a 35-yard reception by Hakeem Nicks; Whitt, as he tends to do, took the blame for not doing "my job properly." Otherwise, Williams' other four completions went for a grand total of 8 yards. It was a testament to Williams' improved tackling as the shoulder injury sustained in the 2011 opener has become a distant memory.
"His tackling in that game was really, really good," Whitt said.
It hasn't been all good, all the time for Williams. Williams, along with Cleveland's Joe Haden, Oakland's Mike Jenkins, Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu and St. Louis' Janoris Jenkins, lead NFL defensive backs with seven penalties. On the other hand, he's tied for the NFL lead among cornerbacks with 18 stops, according to ProFootballFocus.com. A "stop" is defined as a solo tackle that results in an offensive failure for the offense, such as a first-and-10 tackle that limits a play to 3 yards or less, or any third-down tackle that prevents a first down. Eleven of those stops have come in the last two games.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Williams had his "best performance of the year" against the Giants. It's hollow praise for Williams, with the team's playoff hopes free-falling with a three-game losing streak.
"As the season goes on, with this stretch that we're on, we're on a losing stretch anyways, so it really don't matter at this point," Williams said about his strong play the last two weeks. "You feel that something has to be changed or someone has to step up or do something a little different, and I feel that I'm one of the guys who needs to step up, whether it's by example or whether it's by being a vocal leader — different guys do it different ways. We just have to make sure we're getting effort out of everybody. I'm not saying we're not, but when it comes to times like this, you want to make sure you're maxing out on everything."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.