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Louisiana Sports--Coach Of Year Les Miles, Saints, Payton, Hasselbeck, Munchak
Written by  // Thursday, 08 December 2011 11:31 //

les-milesWhat’s happening today with Louisiana sports? Well, let’s see…Les Miles of LSU gets Home Depot’s Coach of the Year.  The New Orleans Saints hope to make the playoffs but first must meet the always tough Houston Titans on Sunday.

So, here’s more on Miles and the upcoming Saints-Titans battle.

 Payton's conservation with the media on Wednesday,

 LSU's Les Miles has been named SEC Coach of the Year and the coach will receive the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award on Thursday at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Tigers CB Morris Claiborne has been named SEC Defensive Player of the Year...

Saints coach Sean Payton said running back Mark Ingram did not practice on Wednesday because of a turf toe..

Opening Statement:

“Let’s first start off with today’s injury report.  Turk McBride (left ankle) did not practice.  Mark Ingram (right toe) did not practice.  Jonathan Casillas (right knee) did not practice.  Jon Vilma was full.  Scott Shanle (left shoulder) was limited.  Sedrick Ellis (left hamstring) was limited.  From a practice squad transaction, we signed WR Andy Tanner and released QB Sean Canfield.  We’re kind of back into what is a normal routine for us.  Our plan is to be outside tomorrow and see where we’re at on Friday.  Our initial plans were actually to go outside today, but we had an issue with the wind in regards to our film towers.”

Matt Hasselbeck seems to have played pretty well against you guys.

“He’s having a good season.  I think he’s been a big part of their team success this year.  There’s a level of confidence he brings to the huddle.  He’s someone who’s very accurate.  One of the things that’s a great trait for a quarterback is he gets rid of the ball on time and it comes out.  We saw it last year at home and we saw it on the road.  That combined with a really good running attack they have, they present obviously a lot of challenges.”

 

Can you touch on the added significance of clinching the division with a win and a loss by Atlanta this weekend?

“When you start getting into, and we’re at that point in the year where you start getting into scenarios, I think most importantly really as the first time we’ve been outside on the road in quite a while.  If you go back, it really would be Tampa Bay which is eight weeks come this weekend.  It just so happens with the way the schedule shaped out, we ended up with three of the four home games we just played, the away game in Atlanta, the away game in St. Louis, and the week after next we’ll be inside up in Minneapolis.  It’s just how the schedule unfolded.  To you point, it’s about this game and this challenge.  One of the things we’ve been able to do is kind of let those scenarios take care of themselves.  I know the scenario this week starts with us having to win.  I think that’s where the focal point is and I think we’re looking forward to the opportunity.  Our schedule is going to be a little bit different at the end of the week with us travelling Saturday and getting in there and leaving earlier and going to their stadium and practicing and getting the right shoes and footing for that surface.  I think that’s important.”

Did Mark Ingram and Jonathan Casillas both get hurt during the game?

“Yes, Ingram is a toe and Casillas is a knee.  Both of those are from the game we just played.”

Does Chris Johnson remind you of any running back you face regularly or is he unique in his own way?

“I think he has a unique style.  I said yesterday, he’s one of those running backs that from wherever he is on the field, he has that speed and that burst to score.  He probably has the best long speed in his pads of any running back in our league right now.  I think more recently we’ve seen him playing up to the form he has in years past especially in the last two weeks.”

With Mark Ingram’s injury and the depth you have at running back, is this the week you would use Chris Ivory and be more cautious with Mark Ingram?

“No, I think our approach would be just as we always have.  If we feel the player can play and is ready to play, we’ll do that.”

In film study, are you more focused on watching the team you’re playing do well or are you more focused on when the team didn’t do well?

“I think both.  You get to this point in the season and you have plenty of tape.  Certainly you study the more recent games, but I think you’re always wanting to see who defended this team well, who put up good numbers offensively, what was it that they did well and then take from it what you will.  Typically, you start going backwards in the game they just played and working on back and then there will be certain offenses or defenses that are like yourself and those tapes will be valuable because from a scheme standpoint there are more things that you see that carry over to what you do.”

Do you expect the Titans to try to do some of the things Matt Hasselbeck did with Seattle last year against you?

“There’s a familiarity that would exist for Matt in regards to playing against our defense.  I think their approach would be just like ours in that they would study very closely more recent games and games in which we didn’t play as well and try to apply those principles that they see fit to their team.  I think it’s more about what and who they are as opposed to jumping back a year or two.  Certainly you’d look at games like that, but it all gets back to the fit of your own team.  I think that’s important.”

What do you think is Jimmy Graham’s biggest reason for his success?

“I think there’s a handful.  I think he’s real smart.  I think we’ve seen rapid growth in a short period of time.  He has a great skill set in that he can run, he has range, he has the ability to catch the ball in traffic and also that ability to line up in receiver spots and be effective.  His desire and his work, the things you’ve heard me say about Jimmy has really contributed to a very quick learning curve.”

Have you noticed anything different Chris Johnson has done in these last two games that has made him more effective?

“I think generally there’s probably a lot has happened.  I think they’re playing very well on the offensive line.  He’s found those creases.  I think what’s most important for us defensively is getting that pursuit, getting our hats to the ball, and being gap sound in regards to where we need to be.  He is a player that if you’re a half a step late to your assigned area or if you’re not really pursuing the way you need to, he’s very dangerous.  There’d be maybe a handful of backs in our league that could score from the 20 yard line for 80 yards and he’s one of them.  He would start the list if you began to look at guys that are truly game breakers.  (Adrian) Peterson up in Minnesota who we’ll see a week from now is another one of those guys that if you’re not fitting the gaps and playing great team defense, they can give you fits and he’s one of those players.  I think that there are probably a number of things that have contributed to his recent success in how they’re blocking and his comfort level.  The thing that maybe goes unnoticed to some extent is in the offseason there had been a coaching change there and there are new faces and some things that they’re doing differently with Mike (Muchak) under his staff.  I think we’ve really begun to see him play in the form we’re used to.”

What goes into the reason for giving Mark Ingram more carries than the other running backs?

“There are two things: there’s the game plan heading into the game, but the harder challenge I would say is in the midst of the game, how it unfolds no different maybe than how the receiver number maybe unfolds, and sometimes going into a game you have a certain mindset in regards to what you think you want to do, but at that position it could just be the runs by the rotation that fall to Ingram or to Pierre (Thomas).  Pierre didn’t have as many carries this past week and part of that is no different than the wide receiver position.  I think those players have done a really good job.  We’ve seen I think a lot of improvement in the run game and I think that’s something we’re continuing to strive for.  We understand the importance of it and we’ll continue to work on it and continue to be our own self-scout in regards to who’s on the field and what we’re running.  I think that’s also important.”

Have you gotten what you expected out of Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers?

“Yes, both those guys have given us real good snaps.  They’re situational players in that you see them a lot on first and second down.  Our league, depending on who we play, there are sometimes more nickel snaps because of the offense we’re playing.  This will be a week where we’re seeing a heavy dose of base personnel or heavy personnel, but both of those guys have handled the transition well and have been key contributors and are going to be here as we hit this stretch run and hopefully into the postseason.”

Jonathan Vilma may have taken a little teasing at being 4-0 and maybe not needing him to come back.

“He took the same tease that he gave me when he said we’ve been rolling right along offensively with Pete (Carmichael Jr.) calling the plays.  I think we all recognize that in our game there’s going to be injuries and there will be guys that need to step up and it’s a credit to the players that have and the coaches that have when somebody is injured.  That’s how you develop depth and you develop that confidence.  It’s good to have him back on the field.”

As this stretch run comes, how important is it to have Vilma back in the lineup?

“There’s a lot that goes on with the signal-caller at that position.  Jo-Lonn (Dunbar) has done a great job of handling it with Jon’s injury.  The very first thing that happens is when the huddle breaks, you have to declare a strength either right or left, and then any time there’s motion and any time there’s shifting there’s a potential audible by the quarterback and he has to decide whether to check the defense.  There’s so much that goes on in a spontaneous matter than that might go on when you’re calling a play in the offensive huddle if that makes any sense.  Defensively, your ability to quickly process the information and then make the right decision, that all happens in seven to twelve seconds.  In Jon’s case, he’s a very quick thinker, he has good football instincts, and the same goes for Jo-Lonn.”

Is this the best you’ve played since the Super Bowl?

“It’s hard to say.  It’s a fair question.  There was a stretch last year where we won five, six, or seven games in a row.  I think there’s a time to evaluate if you’re playing your best football.  As a coach, it’s vital that you don’t succumb to that idea that we’ve arrived.  I say this not in the sense of coach’s talk or cliché, but there are a number of things that we’re going to have to improve on to get where we want to go.  I mentioned some of them the other day.  I think that the challenge is weekly.  We talked about it as a team this morning and we’ll try to work on those areas.  It’s a result-oriented business and winning is what’s most important.  It’s much easier to come in after a win and look at you team and say – hey, these are things that we have to improve on.  The penalties are a good example.  Two weeks ago, we were uncharacteristically sitting there with 11 penalties and that’s something we talked about had to change.  Very quickly the nest week, and that doesn’t always happen, but we saw that and we saw that really relate to helping us win.  When you looked at the penalty yards last Sunday night, it wasn’t just the yards penalized but the yards lost because of penalties.  It was over one hundred yards in yardage differential.  That would be a real good example of what we’re talking about.”

Tennessee has a rookie linebacker in Colin McCarthy.  Have you had much of a chance to look at him?

“They’re a physical defense.  They’ve had a pretty good tradition there defensively.  You would say on film study that they have very good instincts, they’re smart players, they get to the ball, and statistically there are some things they’re doing very well.  They’re number one in the league in (fewest) big plays given up in the passing game.  They do a great job of keeping the ball in front of them.  I think you see them from a scoring defense which I would say is one of the most important statistics.  They’re in the top ten in our league.  They’re well-coached and very physical and you can see that.  It’s been a big reason why they’re playing well and at seven wins right now.  I wouldn’t say they’re flying under the radar, but they’re a team that if you’re watching they just had a big win on the road in Buffalo who is a team that a lot of us think is pretty good.”

Do you see any similarities in Jerry Gray and Gregg Williams?

“Certainly there are some.  There’s a tree and a background.  They’ve worked together.  Jerry’s an outstanding coach who’s going to teach all the fundamentals and the technique that’s necessary.  I think he’s also a coach that it appears his players believe in and have confidence in.  I know that Gregg and Jerry are close.  I’m sure there are some similarities, and yet there are some differences with what we do that probably don’t fit with what they’re wanting to do.”

Some of the teams with the best records are at the bottom of the league in defense.  What do you make of that as a coach?

“What’s interesting is that some of the teams, if you took seven or eight of the teams, it wouldn’t just be that.  It would be some of them are at the top of the league in defense and middle or bottom of the league offensively or the other way around.  I think this point came up last week or the week before.  It’s the teams as we move forward that are able to play their best football not just on one side of the ball or the other.  We talked about Indianapolis in ’06.  There was a lot of pressure on them in regards to how their defense was playing.  Right down the stretch entering the postseason, we saw a huge improvement and eventually a team that won a Super Bowl.  I think when you talk about a number of teams that are pushing here and playing real good football, some of them like Green bay that are at the very top in one area are still doing something exceptionally well in another area.  If you looked at Green Bay, you’d say they’re getting turnovers.  If you took the 49ers, they’re statistically playing very well defensively and doing the things necessary to complement that side of the ball offensively.  The Baltimore Ravens are the same way.  It’s understanding what your team is and playing complementary football.  We understand here that our ability to run the football and our ability to convert third downs helps our defensive numbers and helps what we do from a goal standpoint on defense and in the kicking game.  I think what’s most critical as we get towards the end of the season is that in all three phases you’re making those improvements.  It happened in ’09 when all of a sudden we were working hard on the return game and against Arizona we have a punt return that really becomes a huge momentum shift for us.  It’s an ongoing challenge.”

Tennessee Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck

Conference Call With New Orleans Media

December 7, 2011

 

You have had considerable success against the Saints during your career. Is there something you attribute that to?

“I don’t know if that’s actually true but if it is true when you get to go up against a great offense or a great defense you kind of get geared up for those games. The Saints have had really good teams in recent history. Obviously everybody talks about the offense but with the defense, quarterbacks know how tough it is to face that defense. You probably put a little bit more extra effort into that.”

 

Are you preparing this week the same way you prepared leading up the Saints playoff game last season?

“You have to watch a lot of film and with Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator if you asked all those quarterbacks around the league they would say he is the toughest guy to prepare for. He really changes up what he does week to week or month to month. We had the luxury last season of playing the Saints in the regular season. That is sometimes a little bit easier to prepare when you know what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. That game could have gone either way. It was a tough game in January. We were really fortunate to play at home.”

 

What did you take from the preseason game against the Saints earlier this season?

“Not too much because it was the fourth preseason game. Both teams were so vanilla but when you are talking about the defense that we run here and the defense that the Saints run there, our guys learned a lot of what they know from Gregg Williams. They are probably some similarities. If all the defensive players got together and went out for dinner, they would probably be speaking the same language.”

 

When you are preparing to play a team like the Saints, do you look at games that they lost or games in which you think they played their best?

“It’s a little of everything. I try to watch every game. Typically NFL teams will have a six-game breakdown. A look at the last six games that they played. If some teams, let’s say they played Denver and they are going to play Denver differently then they played  us, you maybe lose that game and throw in a game like Green Bay in Week 1 that fits more of the personnel groupings and formations that you like to do. At the same time, when you are playing against someone that you have gone up against for years, you know what they have in their encyclopedia of coverages and fronts. You know what they are capable of doing. For example, we haven’t seen many double corner blitzes in our breakdown of their last six games but that is something we know that they do. They are willing to do it and they are aggressive on defense. They were that way when Coach Williams was in Washington and Buffalo. It really is tough to prepare for them because you really have to prepare for anything.”

 

Having played the Saints both inside at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and outside, do you see any difference in how they play?

“I don’t. Trying to scout that offense and that offense is so good with Drew Brees. The only thing that can really stop them is maybe the crowd noise and helping the pass rushers get off the edge. The speed rushers get off the ball. Maybe St. Louis had a little bit of crowd noise advantage. Or even last year in Seattle. We probably had a little bit of a crowd noise advantage. Our guys on edge were able to get off the ball. That’s not just for the Saints. That is for any home team.”

 

You guys have been playing well lately. How much do you credit that to RB Chris Johnson’s improved play?

“I think it’s our running game coming around and everything fitting together. The offense is not like the defense. You don’t just chase the ball. All the moving parts have to work together. The running game, for whatever reason, has taken us a little bit longer to get that going. The last month we have done a really nice job of running the ball and CJ has been a big part of that. Our tight ends, offensive line – everybody. The coaching staff has put together some good creative checks at the line of scrimmage with the running game that has allowed our guys to get to the second level and break one. That has been the key. Breaking a long touchdown run is really great for stats and momentum.”

 

This is a big game for you guys but do you think you would be as excited to play this game if it were earlier in the season?

“I think there is a very high level of respect for this team, their players, coaching staff and what they have done in the past. I equate it pretty similar to our game against the Baltimore Ravens earlier this year. Everybody knows about their defense. They have weapons on offense. It was a big game for us. Nobody was giving us a chance. We were struggling at the time running the ball. They are exotic with their blitz packages. They play a lot of Cover O. They are aggressive and take some chances. It was a great opportunity for our offense to see if we could protect it, run it, throw it and if we could find a way to win the game. It is a similar game and team. Certainly, there a team that people expect and have expected to be in the Superbowl. Anytime you play a great team like that it’s exciting.”

 

 

Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak

Conference Call With New Orleans Media

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

 

What has led to Chris Johnson turning it on after a slow start?

“It’s hard to just pick one thing.  Opportunities have picked up.  He had a couple of good games earlier in the first eight weeks.  The first four or five weren’t so good and that’s what everyone was focusing on.  They were expecting so much from him after the contract holdout and the contract he signed.  He’s been working at it in practice.  He’s been working him back into shape.  The offensive line has been blocking better.  Play-calling, everything is getting better as we’re going through the season.  I think we’re getting comfortable with the new staff.  He’s had an opportunity three of the last four games of getting over 20 carries a game.  He’s the kind of back if he gets those types of carries, he can do some big things and have some big runs.  He’s been doing more of that the last few weeks.”

 

Have you been picking Matt Hasselbeck’s brain about how he beat the Saints last year in the playoffs?

“He’s a veteran quarterback and they remember the games against all different coordinators.  They get comfortable with how they’re planning on attacking them.  He’s helpful every week with who we’re playing against from past experiences because he’s played against almost everybody and every system.  It gives him confidence going into the game with knowing what Gregg (Williams) will do.  Gregg is always “expect the unexpected”.  We’ve been around Gregg for a long time here in Nashville and I know how good of a coach he is.  It’ll be a challenge going against the Saints.  They’ve been doing some good stuff.  It’s good to have a quarterback who feels comfortable every Sunday.  We just have to keep him upright so he can make those good decisions.”

 

Drew Brees has said before it’s not who you play, but when you play them.  Are you more comfortable playing the Saints now than a month ago?

“Definitely.  We played Buffalo at a point when they were 4-1 and looking like they had something great going and all of a sudden a couple of injuries happened.  We know New Orleans is a good football team.  We played them in the preseason, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot.  They won the Super Bowl a couple of years ago and have a great quarterback and all those weapons on offense.  They play with a defense focused on getting turnovers.  We knew where they were going to be around this time of year.  It puts us in a great spot to play against a very good football team at a time when we have to win a football game if we want to have a chance at playing in the playoffs.  We’re thankful it’s here in Nashville and we’re not travelling for this game.  This is the kind of game you want to play in front of your fans and hopefully they’ll be able to help us and make it a little bit harder for the Saints offense to operate.”

 

Do you notice any difference in the Saints when they play outdoors”

“I don’t think so.  I think a lot is made about that.  I think the fact that you play on the road, most teams who are 4-4 on the road and 8-0 on the road is a pretty good season.  I think most teams who go 12-4, that’s the formula right there.  They’re exactly on that formula at 3-3.  I think it’s hard to win on the road.  I played in New Orleans and we played indoors, and I didn’t feel any difference when we travelled to play in outdoor stadiums when it was November.  I think people try to make things out of that, and I think it’s more of the media and the fact that you’re 3-3 on the road.  There are a lot of other factors than the fact that it’s outdoors that factor into that.  We know that.  The reason we’re happy about it doesn’t have anything to do with what they’re doing, it’s more about that we think it can help us.  I’ve been on the offensive line.  It’s hard to operate on the road the way you want to especially on offense.  They’ve been in a lot of big games on the road so this isn’t new to them.”

 

Do you find yourself studying the Saints offense more in the most recent weeks or earlier in the year to study what went wrong?

“You have to do both.  You want to see what they’re doing most recently.  The problem with the game today is that there’s so much tape.  In past years back when I played, you have four games to look at.  It’s almost for coaches like there’s too much access to too much information and you get weighed down a little bit.  I think it’s still an advantage to look back and see what teams did and made adjustments.  They played the Rams and lost to them, but when you play a 16 game season you’re going to have an off day somewhere.  They caught them at the right time and they played well.  You know teams adjust from that.  You put more emphasis on what they’ve done lately and what they’re doing now the last three or four weeks in which they’ve been playing very well because that’s what you’re going to see.  You look around and see what someone did to beat them.  I’m sure the Giants and Lions did the same thing but it didn’t help them a whole lot.  Ultimately you have to go out there and play Sunday and you try to learn as much as you can without confusing them.  As coaches you do, but you don’t want to confuse the players with too much information.  You just want them to go out and play.”

 

What do you think Jon Vilma brings to this Saints defense?

“He’s like the quarterback of their defense.  He makes plays.  They feel comfortable when he’s there.  They do a lot of things.  They don’t just sit there and play one or two fronts.  They’re going to change things up especially in their sub-packages when they go to their nickel stuff.  He allows them to do a lot of things.  He gets people lined up right, set up right, and can make the checks when a quarterback checks.  He’s kind of the leader as far as checking in and out of blitzes or coverages that they’re doing.  I’m assuming Gregg’s very confident when he’s out there with all the things he can do.  I’m sure the players feel that too.  That makes a huge difference for players too from my perspective when your leader is there.  It gives you a sense of comfort when he’s there rather than when he’s not there.  Gregg can put it on one guy to do the thinking and let the other guys play football.  I don’t think people realize what a value that is.”

 

Do you think it was a good thing he rested for so long instead of trying to push to get back?

“Yes, I think that’s true because most players do want to come back.  I think Sean Payton and Gregg Williams did a great job in keeping him out because it’s hard to keep a great player like him out of the lineup because you want to play him.  You have to think long-term.  I think they were smart by doing that because it makes a difference.  They’re positioning themselves for a playoff run and they need him on defense if they’re going to do what they want to accomplish.  That was smart by them.  We try to do the same things when we can do that.  When you watched the games, it didn’t look like he was hurting in any way.”

 

Does it help having been on a staff with another coordinator going into a game like this?

“I do.  A lot of coaches have been together and then they’re coaching against each other.  As far as our offense, Chris Palmer, our offensive coordinator, worked with Gregg so they kind of know each other.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t hurt them as much as help them.  Sometimes you can use that against you because you can know someone and get a little too confident.  I think he’s smart enough to realize it’s not a huge advantage.  Ultimately it comes down to what you’re seeing on tape and how you adjust and what you’re seeing on Sunday.  For example, how Gregg decides to play based on what Chris is doing.  The players are playing the game and not the coaches.  The coaches are putting those guys in position but ultimately those guys have to go make plays.  Players usually do a good job of making coaches look better than they are.”

 

Could you describe in one word the Saints offense?

“One word would be unstoppable.  It seems the last three or four weeks impressive, consistent, but I think the biggest thing to me it’s not just passing.  We’ve played against the Colts for so many years against (Peyton) Manning and what they’re able to do.  I think Sean does a good job of keeping them balanced.  One word I would use is balance.  They run it at you.  They don’t get away from the run game.  They’re a well-coached team.  Their offensive line plays well and it gives them an opportunity to run the ball well and pass it well.  They have a lot going on that side of the ball.  I enjoy watching them play.  They make things happen and they make plays.  They’re a group that feels like they can score at any time.”


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Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography.  

 

Website: www.louisianasportstalk.com

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