Cary Williams' play says plenty about him

Cary Williams was quieter this time.

He was one of the last players to dress in the Eagles locker room Sunday after their 26-21 loss to the 49ers, and this time there would be no rambling monologue about Chip Kelly or a team's tired legs, none of the nonsense that poured out of Williams the week before.

Then, he had picked the happy aftermath of a dramatic victory over Washington to paint himself as the only man in the room brave enough to tell hard truths about Kelly's demanding practice schedule. Now, here was one more game when he'd been burned for big plays down the field, when he'd committed a crucial penalty that led to a touchdown pass to the wide receiver he was responsible for covering, and at least he seemed to understand Sunday that he was becoming the guy no one wants to be in an NFL locker room: the one who's known for his mistakes and his mouth.

"We've just got to continue to fight, continue to play four quarters, continue to get better," he said.

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So it went for the three minutes Williams spoke Sunday. Nothing but clipped clichés. Nothing but rote answers to the kinds of questions that, a week before, he'd have riffed on until everyone was tired of listening to him. That's the beauty of Williams: On a roster full of players who are either genuinely insightful (Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans) or terribly boring (Nick Foles), Williams was the wild card.

Truth be told, it makes him interesting to cover, and we media types like interesting.

But after getting off to a 3-0 start, the Eagles lost a game and didn't look all that formidable in doing so, and Williams continued what has been a rough season for him. Twice in the Eagles' opener against Jacksonville, undrafted rookie Allen Hurns burned Williams on a pump-and-go move, each time for a touchdown. Two weeks later, DeSean Jackson ran away from Williams on a deep post route for an 81-yard touchdown, and even if safety Nate Allen fouled up his assignment, failing to drop to the deep middle of the field, Williams still had a chance to bring down Jackson when the receiver caught the ball, and he didn't.

In the context of that Jackson touchdown, Williams' decision to speak out after that game - "We've got to start taking care of our guys throughout the week in order for us to be more productive and have more energy on Sunday" - had all the makings of a player who had popped off as an excuse for a subpar performance. To their credit, he and Kelly met and talked things over. Williams apologized, and all seemed well until Sunday.

That's when Williams committed that devastating defensive-holding penalty early in the third quarter, nullifying a third-down sack by Trent Cole that would have forced the 49ers to punt. Instead, the drive extended, quarterback Colin Kaepernick saw wideout Stevie Johnson flash open in the front corner of the end zone, and Williams, having dropped into zone coverage, reacted too late. The 12-yard touchdown cut the Eagles' lead to one, 21-20, and swung the course of the game toward San Francisco.

"He made a play," Williams said of Johnson, "and I didn't make a play."

He didn't make a play. Too often, that's the issue with Williams and the Eagles' other starting outside cornerback, Bradley Fletcher. Among the 103 cornerbacks before Monday who had been on the field for at least 25 percent of their team's defensive snaps, the scouting and statistical firm Pro Football Focus ranked Williams and Fletcher as the 67th and 69th best, respectively, in the NFL. The Eagles' best, most dynamic cornerback is Brandon Boykin, yet because Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis prefer to have bigger, more physical corners playing on the outside, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Boykin remains a fixture in the Eagles' nickel and dime packages and hasn't supplanted Williams (6-1, 190) or Fletcher (6-0, 200).

Nevertheless, the Eagles' philosophy doesn't relieve the burden on Williams and Fletcher to cover better, to make surer tackles, and to play with more discipline. The irony of Williams' post-Redskins-game rant is that the Eagles' loss Sunday seemed to prove his point. The 49ers' time of possession was a ridiculous 42 minutes, 17 seconds, the Eagles' just 17:43, and Williams was right: The Eagles' defense will wear down over time if they can't close that gap some.

But Williams himself contributed to that disparity by allowing the touchdown to Johnson and, later, a 25-yard completion to Michael Crabtree (which led to a 49ers field goal) and by committing that penalty. He was in no position to say, Hey, Chip, I told you so.

"It is what it is," he said. "You've got to play for four quarters and not worry about those outside things. It just is what it is. We played 60 minutes. We played until it was double zero, and the game's over. We went out and did that."

It was trite athlete-speak, something so different from the week before. Still, you have to think the Eagles would settle for a quieter Cary Williams off the field, and a sounder, more reliable one on it.

 


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski