If the Falcons have any doubts that the Saints can pick up big chunks of yardage, they can look to last season's trip to the Superdome when four Saints receivers caught passes of 24 yards or more, and Pierre Thomas added a 30-yard run. Thomas will get more carries with Bush on the sidelines for the four to six weeks recovery period.
The Falcons will try to limit those kind of plays, but they'll have their hands full against Drew Brees, who turned the ball over twice last season in the Superdome, but had a near-perfect 31-of-40, 296-yard, three-touchdown game on the visit to Atlanta last season.
"Brees is going to be the best quarterback that we've faced this season," said Smith which might be an understatement. "He understands their offense. They're prolific in terms of the yards that they can produce and the points. There's going to be some match-up issues, and that's going to be the biggest challenge for our defense."
Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton, who had 12 tackles on the Atlanta's previous trip to the Superdome, said keeping the Saints in front of them will be the key to winning the game.
Prediction: The Saints have gotten over that near-loss last Monday night on the road and will cover the 4 1/2 at home.
Drew Brees said it may take two or three players to take up the slack while Reggie Bush is out recovering from a fractured fibula.
“Because of his versatility, you’re able to do so much with him. He can sit in the backfield and carry the ball. In a heavy personnel package or nickel you can motion out of the backfield. You can protect. You can split him out to the single receiver side," said Brees. "Certainly as a punt returner, you look at all the things that he can do. The job that he does might have to be broken into two or three different guys picking up the slack where he kind of left off.. That’s why he’s so valuable.”
Do you remember anyone drawing more attention without the football than he does?
“I’m not sure if I can think of anybody.”
Is it that noticeable when you look back at the film?
“He’s definitely a guy that teams have to prepare for and have a plan for. “How are we going to defend this guy if he motions out of the backfield? If he just shifts and gets split out to a single receiver side, just in a lot of ways. If anything that’s more time they don’t have to game plan for him and can spend on something else.”
What do you guys feel you need to work on offensively after watching two weeks of film?
“The big thing is we’re 2-0, so we’ve found a way to win these games and that’s the most important thing, albeit the most important statistic are there which is ball security, taking care of the football. There haven’t been as many yards, maybe not as efficient on third down and in the red zone as we want. The thing that I see is when we’ve gotten turnovers, we haven’t’ taken great advantage of them, which is frustrating for me and our offense and yet despite all of that because of the key statistic of ball security as well as other things such as defense, special teams wise, we’re 2-0. As I look at it, it’s just a matter of execution, getting back into the flow and rhythm just as you get back into playing games and the so-called midseason form where you’re just back in the routine of playing on Sundays again. We have the routine through the week again. Our preparation’s good. We’re spreading the ball around. Everybody’s getting their touches and opportunities. I look forward to us getting into that rhythm.”
Was the end of the San Francisco game the first two minute drill you guys had run this season?
“No, we did it in a preseason game against the Chargers.”
Was this the first one where you needed to put your foot on the gas pedal?
“Yes, the first situation like that this year and then since last year, obviously we had the overtime win against Minnesota. We had that overtime game against Tampa Bay where we drive down the field and put ourselves in field goal position.”
Are there opportunities where you looked back and there were opportunities where you checked down or have you been forced to check down?
“It’s been where I could have probably forced that opportunity in there, but then that would have been exactly what it is, which is forcing it in there. We knew the type of game that was going to be up there. We need to have as few mistakes as possible, play a pretty clean game as far as penalty-free and mental error free and taking care of the football, turnover-free. We might have to punt and play the field position game a little bit, which we did. But, in the end, just give us a chance to win. That game turned out exactly like we thought it would although when we sit there and looked at the film, we saw where we had some opportunities that we probably could have scored some more points and it could have been that close.”
Are there any missed opportunities that disappoint you when you look at the film?
“There just haven’t been a whole lot of opportunities for big plays. I can think, in the Minnesota game there was the one third down, the deep ball on the right sideline to Devery (Henderson) that was just out of his reach. The one to (Robert) Meachem gets caught in the wind and it’s taken five yards further than I wanted it to, so we miss on that. Other than that I’m trying to think of when we really sent the ball down the field. Probably those have been the two big opportunities for that. Other than that, teams have played us so conservatively and so soft, that we’ll check it down, we’ll take six, eight or ten yards and move onto the next play. We’ll call it again another time. It just seems like we haven’t had a lot of opportunities to this point.”
How unique is it to play for a guy who says he’s going to defer after the toss due to the wind, which is not that common in the NFL and then it seems to work out for you, or making an onside kick in the Super Bowl? Is it our perception that is unique or is it truly unique?
“I think that a lot of coaches are very aware of those kinds of situations. As far as the conditions and how they could have played a role in that game. We felt like the first quarter of that game was going to be very important, so what gives us the best opportunity to be successful in the first quarter? Well, having the wind Not knowing how the wind would affect us this week, we would have been better off putting our defense out there with the wind at their back and the wind in the other offense’s face and sure enough the snap goes over his head, we get the safety and then the punt gets caught in the win, the punt goes to the 50, we go right down and score. All of a sudden it’s 9-0 six minutes into that game and you say that’s a good start. I’d say Sean (Payton) definitely has that aggressive mentality and maybe he would do some things that other coaches might not do. That’s what makes him such a great coach and that’s why we have so much confidence playing for him because we know why he’s doing certain things. He gives us confidence with his play-calling, his aggressive style, so I think those are all good things.”
What’s the mindset of going into the first division game of the season?
“This is a tough division. Anytime you play a divisional opponent there’s a lot of familiarity there and you just know that there are always close games. They’re always fighting . You both know each other’s personnel pretty well. I think a lot of it is about who can out-execute the other. It’s not about fooling them with trick plays or anything else. It’s just about lining up and being able to play better. They have a good football team and obviously they’ll be ready to play us. It’s a big challenge.”
Is this kind of the ultimate example of a team that knows they need to get through you to get to where they want to go?
“Yes, I know they have high expectations. Obviously they seemed to get back on track last week with a huge offensive performance, great defensive performance. All around they must be feeling good about as a team about themselves, coming in to play us. It seems like every time we play these guys it’s a close game. I think anytime you play a game in the division you just understand how important it is. It’s almost worth more than one win or one game.”
Is that a fair comparison with this team that they’re in their third year and sort of on the cusp like you guys were?
“Yes, because you have the offensive and defensive system that guys have been running for a while, so there’s a comfort level and I know there personnel’s been very consistent. The young players they’ve added are talented guys, so I think they’re as good as they are from a personnel standpoint, defensively at least, as I’ve seen them.”
Mike Smith said this morning that losing Reggie Bush doesn’t necessarily make his defensive game easier because you distribute the ball to so many guys. Do you agree?
“It’s pretty accurate. Think about it, it’s exactly that. When Reggie’s not in the lineup, who’s getting those balls. You can’t sit here and say it’s just another running back or it’s just going to be spread amongst the running backs. Instead of him hoping to get five yards, maybe it’s throwing to the tight end to get five yards. Maybe it’s taking another shot play and knowing we have that guy to check it down to. Those touches could be spread among anybody on offense, tight ends, other backs. Receivers. I think that’s a pretty good assessment.’”
What has been the difference in the run game from last year to this year so far?
“It’s too hard to tell. Especially against Minnesota where we came out checking it, which was our game plan and then settled into the run game in the second half, which I thought was great. This game, I felt like it was solid. You haven’t seen one of these big runs yet, where we break it for 20, 30 or 40 for a touchdown. I think it’s been solid, consistent, but certainly I know the o-line, running backs and tight ends are staying we could have gotten a little bit more here or there. We could have tightened things up.”
What have you seen from Atlanta defensively?
“As I said before, I think they’re as talented on defense as I’ve ever seen them. They’ve got very active and athletic front four as well as some linebackers that can fly around, make al of of plays and a lot of tackles, get involved in the pressure packages quite a bit. Everybody in their secondary is pretty athletic with pretty good ball skills and I just think they work well as a group collectively. Once again, it’s all about execution for us offensively.”
In training camp you said one way this offense could improve in camp was to reduce the number of turnovers. Is your turnover margin where this team can go higher than last year?
“Definitely. It doesn’t mean the defense is going to get as many turnovers as they have before, but certainly on offense we see improvement as fewer turnovers, as well as you pay attention to the other statistics like red zone efficiency, third down efficiency, big plays, time of possession. You would definitely walk out of every game saying the turnover differential is the most important. If we can improve on that, then that should win a lot of games for us.”