Here’s what Saints coach Sean Payton had to say on a conference call with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday about New Orleans’ Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Falcons:
Q: How has it been integrating cornerback Eli Apple into the defense?
A: “It kind of happened fast, when he came to us in the trade. We were able to get him up and going. I think each week, he’s become more comfortable with how we are calling the defense and the technique that we are wanting to play. So, it hasn’t been without its bumps. Yet, I feel like he’s played better and better.”
Q: How has running back Mark Ingram been playing since his return?
A: “The early part of the season without him became challenging. There can be an attrition with a player like Alvin (Kamara) if there are too many carries. So, trying to split touches. We had some other backs playing. But the balance with Mark and Alvin works well. The two of them study and prepare very well. They know the system. They both know the sub protections and they can also handle interchangeable roles. Obviously, when Mark got back, he had gone through training camp, he was in good shape and knows our system well.”
Q: What do you see from the Falcons over the past four games?
A: “Their numbers are outstanding. It hasn’t always resulted in the wins. Yet, their third down numbers, red zone numbers. ... I think the addition of (Calvin) Ridley, along with (Mohamed) Sanu, Julio (Jones) and (Austin) Hooper ... when you start looking at the targets in third downs and targets in the (red zone), there is a lot of versatility there. I think that’s the one thing you see right away on tape. You also see the explosive play opportunities. They took advantage of it in the first game against us and really hit some big plays against us.”
Q: Are you amazed with the play of Drew Brees over this nine game winning streak?
A: “He’s making good decisions. The ball is coming out. I think often times, look his preparation we’ve discussed before. I think the offensive line is playing well. I think having that balance, the ability to run the ball as well as throw it, gives you a little bit more teeth in your play-action passing game. Listen, he’s playing at a high level and (he’s) really focused each week on just doing what we need to do that week. He doesn’t necessarily statistically have to be something that. … It’s varied. We went on a stretch here with Washington, Baltimore at home and at Minnesota. Each game takes on a new shape. A new challenge.”
Q: What do you see when you look at the Falcons injury-ravaged defense?
A: “Well, look those are significant injuries when you talk about some elite players and guys that we’ve been around and have a ton of respect for. I think just on the film now, they are playing a lot better. Last week’s game was a lower scoring game. Having a chance to get Deion (Jones) back in the lineup, he’s someone who’s like the captain of the defense. That’s one of the things that (Falcons coach) Dan (Quinn) does such a good job with, the team speed that they play with. They are gap sound. They know exactly were to be. So, it’s always a challenge.”
Q: How special is the season that Michael Thomas is having?
A: “Mike has been real consistent. He’s an explosive player. Someone who’s got a physicality to the way he plays. Last week, it’s happen to him a couple of times, they really spent a lot of time taking the safety out of the middle of the field and truly just doubling him on a lot of plays. That opened up things for (rookie) Tre’Quan (Smith), routes for different players, Dan Arnold, Austin Carr, (and Keith) Kirkwood. It was not the first time, but one of the first full game plans that it was almost like cover-zero for the rest of these guys. Kamara got a double. So, it was a plan that we had to quickly adjust to.”