New Orleans coach Sean Payton spoke with the Atlanta media during a conference call on Thursday.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q: What will be the Saints focus for the big rivalry game on Monday Night Football?
A: “Well, I think first things first, for both teams it’s a divisional game early in the year. The significance for us is trying to find a way to get our first win of the season. Obviously, for Atlanta to get their second win. I was asked yesterday about the 10th year anniversary and it just seems that a year ago was the 10th year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This happens to be the 10th year anniversary of the re-opening of the Dome. I’m not downplaying that, but I just think that these are two entirely different teams looking to get off to a good start and obviously, catch Carolina, who’s played well and has won the division the last three years. I think the focus is really on the task at hand and the game. Every year it seems that one of the two games is either a Thursday (night) or a Monday (night game) in Atlanta or in New Orleans. They’ve always been hard fought contests. The turnovers, third downs and red zone, those things have always been at a premium.”
Q: What’s been a little off for the Saints in the close loss to the Raiders and in the defensive battle with the Giants last week?
A: “Well, they were two completely different games. In the Raiders’ game, I would say for three-quarters of the game, we did a lot of things well defensively. We moved the offensively and we had a lead of 14 going into the second half. We weren’t able to hold on. Oakland, to give them credit, they came back and kind of got the running game going and mixed things up. We had a close play at the finish on fourth down. We got a pass interference called which kept a drive alive for them. It was a back and forth game, a higher scoring game. A week later in New York, it was an entirely different type game. I thought defensively, we did a lot of things extremely well like being patient. Most importantly, we caused three turnovers. Not to win that game with three turnovers, the blocked field goal for a touchdown was kind of one of those things like an interception returned for a touchdown of a fumble scooped up for a touchdown. We didn’t play well at all. Offensively, on third down we struggled. Our conversions, I think we were 3 of 13. That number wasn’t very good. We are young in some spots. We have some guys (injured) and some younger guys are filling in, but that’s the nature of our game.”
Q: Who are some of the younger guys who’ll fill in at cornerback?
A: “You’ve seen a lot of film on (Ken) Crawley and De’Vante Harris, those guys have stepped up and played more snaps with (Delvin) Breaux’s injury and there are a few other young guys who are getting snaps. Vonn Bell played a lot more last week against the Giants at safety.
Q: Thinking back to that first game back in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, what was that experience like for you and the team?
A: “There are a lot of things and I think I have a pretty good memory, for us, the training camp was long. It was six weeks because the Superdome wasn’t ready. Our (exhibition) season home games were Shreveport and the other was in Jackson (Miss.) The camp was long and the first two weeks of the season we were on the road at Cleveland and at Green Bay. I think the significance certainly the symbolism of game, a stadium opening within a year that housed so many people that were homeless during that storm. But I always think, what gets lost in it, at the time, both teams were 2-0. Both teams had started off with a couple of good wins. For me, as the head coach was the concern was just dealing with the nerves and the significance of the game and then trying to really get guys ready to play sometimes those things don’t always go hand in hand. We actually had a practice there I think on a Friday night or a Saturday night just to get used to the lighting. For half of the team it was our first game in the stadium. So the concerns about parking and traffic, things that are not necessarily a normal a concern, those were things that we wanted to make sure that we were on top on.”
Q: How is James Laurinaitis playing for the Saints?
A: “He’s playing well. He’s sharp. I think he played better last week in the game vs. New York. He’s someone who’s the quarterback of your defense. He’s outstanding in the film room. He’s got good anticipation. So I think that a week ago he played real well.”
Q: What makes the Falcons running back duo so difficult to defend?
A: ” …You see the explosiveness and the commitment to the run. Their ability to get an edge. Both of them run exceptionally well and you have to be prepared for the nuances of each player. Matt does a good job of coming off of those wide zones with play-action and the (bootlegs). You have to move as a defense and just when you are moving, here comes a real good play fake that sets up for the down-the-field shot to the receivers. It’s tough. They go hand-in-hand. They complement each other really well.”
Q: What defines the Falcons defensive style of play?
A: “This team we are seeing defensively this year is much faster. You can see that on tape. You can see the linebacker movement. They are experienced in the secondary at the cornerback position. I think those guys are very good players. Their front is active. You can see the improvement. You may not see it statistically, but when you watch the tape relative to cut-ups from a year ago, you can see the speed of the defense in year two of the scheme. They force you to be patient. They do a very good job of not allowing the down-the-field throws. That’s something that you have to work on all week.”
Q: What do you have to do stop the Falcons’ explosive plays?
A: “Well, it’s been a big improvement. Granted, we are two weeks into the season, but their down-the-field explosion plays are right at the top of the league. Yards per completion, attempts down the field and the quarterback numbers when they are going down-the-field. You’ve got to be disciplined in your zones. You have to understand splits and understand formations. I think that the front and the rush pattern has to be clearly in sync with how you are playing coverage.”
Q: Does Deion Jones jump off the field at you?
A: “He’s fast. He can run. You can see his speed on tape. He’s one of those players that when you put the tape on and you’re watching the overall team speed on defense, certainly he’s one of those players that has improved it.”