Saints go marching on
It is often said that NFL head coaches would run over their own grandmothers if it resulted in a victory for their team each Sunday. And I wouldn't like to think what most of them would do in exchange for a precious Super Bowl ring.
Being a coach in the NFL demands a great deal of personal sacrifice. Until he moved into the Monday Night Football commentary booth this year, Jon Gruden kept some legendary hours with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as his work day began each morning around 3am. And I remember English-born coach Al Saunders telling me about the hours he put in when he was offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins. He would start at 7am at the latest and would go until 11pm or midnight every day.
In short, these guys give up a great deal in a bid to be successful. I think it's accurate to say that being married to the job is a definite lifestyle choice for an NFL head coach.
Bearing that in mind, it seems New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton may have taken that kind of commitment to winning to a new level.
In recent seasons, the Saints have boasted one of the most prolific offenses in the league, yet they have been unable to stop opponents from scoring at will against a porous defence that ranked 26th in the NFL in 2008.
Sitting at home last January mulling a frustrating 8-8 season, Payton was keen to get Gregg Williams on board as his new defensive coordinator. He knew this was the man to mould his defence into a championship unit but he also recognised this was one of the elite defensive coaches in the business and Williams wouldn't come cheap.
The Saints were willing to pay $1 million (£627,000) per season but grudgingly accepted that Williams was likely to receive a sweeter offer from the Green Bay Packers. So Payton, who once played quarterback for the Leicester Panthers in the UK, offered up $250,000 of his own salary to get Williams on board.
Owner Tom Benson agreed to the deal, Williams signed on the dotted line and although slightly lighter in the wallet, Payton was ecstatic. And it's easy to see why now his Saints have made a 4-0 start to the new season.
With Williams at the helm, the Saints defence is vastly improved this season
What Williams does best is dial up pressure on opposing quarterbacks and force turnovers. Will Smith, Bobby McCray and Charles Grant are playing tough on the defensive line, Jonathan Vilma is an active linebacker just behind them and Williams is not afraid to bring extra guys on a blitz, even if it leaves the Saints without a last line of defence at the safety position.
The results have been outstanding. The Saints are among the league leaders in hitting opposing quarterbacks and newly-signed veteran safety Darren Sharper has been an inspiration. With opposing passers being rushed into their throws, Sharper is the perfect man to have on the back end because he reads the game so well and leads the NFL with five interceptions, two of which he has run back for 97- and 99-yard touchdowns.
The hiring of Williams was just one move made by the Saints in a bid to get tougher. Pierre Thomas, since returning from injury in week three, has emerged as the primary ball-carrier (33 carries to Reggie Bush's 19), mainly because he will run north-south and punish defenders with his bruising style.
With the Saints now boasting a reliable running game and a much-improved defence, they have to be considered Super Bowl contenders if they maintain their current form.
Quarterback Drew Brees has not thrown a touchdown pass in the last two weeks. Last season that would have meant two losses. But in Buffalo, Thomas starred with a 100-yard rushing day and two touchdowns, and on Sunday against the Jets it was the defence that stepped up and produced two scores of their own.
With the Saints rounding into a complete team, Payton could be forgiven for thinking Williams is the final piece in the puzzle. If that proves to be the true, it will be a case of money well spent.
You can catch Neil commentating on an NFL game every Sunday on BBC 5 live sports extra throughout the season.(UK users only).