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New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, Payton, Gregg Williams, Falcons, Tampa Bay
Written by  // Wednesday, 29 December 2010 16:18 //

For the first time since the Super Bowl, the Saints looked like a team that no one will look forward to playing in the postseason.

The Saints (11-4) likely won’t overtake the Falcons for the NFC South championship, the first-round playoff bye or the No. 1 over-all seed because they would have to beat Tampa Bay and Atlanta would have to lose to abysmal Carolina to achieve that.


But suddenly they look like a team capable of the wild-card round and accomplishing big things.

The Who Dat Nation can thank Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for Monday night's rebound from their previous poor showing at Baltimore, where the Saints got gashed for 208 rushing yards by Ray Rice and friends. The film show upon their return was a horror film, and the reaction from Williams was scary, too.

"I got after them hard," said Williams. "Joe Vitt (linebackers coach) did, too. They responded and I'm proud of them."

Williams' message was "tackle better."

"I got on them about tackling," said Williams. "That's our specialty. Yards after contact. They pissed me off and we went back to training camp tackling, and takeaway circuit drills. It paid off."

The Saints shut off the Falcons running game all night, holding Michael Turner to 49 yards and the Falcons to 75. A lot of those yards were gained by quarterback Matt Ryan's running.

 Veteran safety Darren Sharper believed the team's improved tackling was a direct result of Williams' speech.

"He should have reacted to the way we tackled at Baltimore," said Sharper. We tackled bad against the Ravens and had something Io prove."

The Super Bowl hangover had ended.
 

Drew Brees
Quarterback Drew Brees spent much of the evening avoiding near-miss sacks and side-stepped his way to a 17-14 victory.  Down by four with 3:29 left, Brees put the game on the line by throwing to rookie tight end Jimmy Graham. Not Marques Colston, who dropped a couple early in the game). Not Devery Henderson.Not Robert Meachem. Not Lance Moore. Not even Jeremy Shockey.

Brees picked a guy who two years ago was playing basketball at the University of Miami and who hadn't even played high school football.

This was a product of the extra work Brees put in. Three days after week after practice, Brees throws to Graham, studying the nuances of his route running, giving Graham pointers and   understanding what he's thinking at critical moments. The moments make the difference between sweating out a final game at home against improving Tampa Bay or having or getting two days of to relax.

"Most everyone wouldn't expect me to throw to a rookie in that situation," said Brees. "But he's a different kind of player. We've developed a rapport really quickly.

"He tells me where to go and what routes to run," said Graham. "He tells me how long we're going to throw and he tells me when we're going to stop throwing. I just listen."

That rapport culminated with a six-yard, game-winning touchdown pass.

"The thing I love about Jimmy is he's  really enthusiastic. He wants to be a great player. He wants to work at it. He's so pleasant to be around. If you tell Jimmy there's more work, there's pep is his step.

"He's excited that you were thinking about him and want to include him and keep him in the mix, as opposed to having to run ten more routes and dragging through it. You can see where his commitment level is. You can tell this guy this isn't a guy who isn't afraid to work. Whatever it was to his upbringing, he's a fighter. He's not afraid to work, not afraid to earn it and I like that about him. That's what makes him a great player."

Sean Payton

The Saints were confidant they would beat Atlanta.

And that confidence comes with having a great quarterback.

Atlanta recap

How coaches and players saw the game:

Falcons coach Mike Smith (On the game) "We still like where we're at. I can assure you that. We've got to get this one behind us as quick as possible and move on to Carolina."

Saints linebacker Jon Vilma (On the victory) "We thought all week we could win here. We understand they are a very good team, and we never want to take that away from them, but we know we're a good team as well.

"It really was a statement for the rest of America, to see us come out here and win. We're the Saints. We're the defending Super Bowl champs."

 

The Saints should have won by more than three points on Monday night.

They ran 74 plays to the Falcons' 52. They controlled the ball for 36 minutes and they converted 8-of-17 third downs and held the Falcons to 3-of-12. A third Saints-Falcons meeting is inevitable

In Tuesday's meeting with the media, Saints coach Sean Payton said his team was focused on Sunday's game against Tampa Bay not a possible postseason game against the Seattle-St. Louis winner.

He said there was nothing new on the injury front and that linebacker Lo-Lonn Dunbar graded out well. Payton said Drew Brees' tackle on his second interception saved a Falcons touchdown and it negated any points.

Payton's comments:

 

Coach focused on Tampa.

Opening Statement:

“Obviously it was a big win for us in that it had a lot of implications with that game as it pertained to just the postseason. I thought that both teams played very well defensively. In the end if you looked at the tape, the turnovers ended up being a 2-2 split. We had more penalties than we would have liked. I think the key statistic ended up being third down. Generally, when you're converting your third downs you have more time of possession. You have more snaps and that was the case last night. It was a hard-fought game. Atlanta is an outstanding team. They’ve played that way all year long. To be able to play there on the road, in a big spot, I was pleased with our effort and our ability to get the win. There will be a number of things we still have to clean up and get corrected and we’re in a short week now as we get ready for this game against Tampa Bay. Nothing new on the injury front.”

As you prepare for Tampa this Sunday, do you look ahead even toward a potential matchup with something like Seattle-St. Louis?

“No. there’s not enough time. That would happen if you had a bye. We’re going to be on a crash course for this week’s game period. Our focus is strictly on playing this game and knowing that there’s still a lot at stake potentially. With a Monday night game, we’ll be on a little bit different schedule this week. The answer is no, we’re really just (preparing for) Tampa Bay right now and it has to be.”

What did the defense do specifically well?

“I thought we stopped the run well. I thought that put us in some third downs. If you went back and charted, it’s easy to say the third down numbers were in our favor, but I thought we got them into some 3rd-and-7 to 10s, 3rd-and-10s and our early down efficiency was good.”

What was different in the second half to shut down Roddy White? He’s such a big target.
 
“He’s a great player. The challenge with him is they do a great job of moving him around. He doesn’t just play Z or line up to one side. He’ll come into motion, get on one side. Number one in the second half, the fourth quarter, there weren’t many snaps. That long drive we had did a number of things in terms of that it took time off the clock and that time of possession was key in a game like that the way it was unfolding. He’s a guy that’s going to make his plays and you just hope that you can hold those to a minimum.”

Were you surprised that they decided to punt there at the end?

“I was asked that last night. Not really. I would answer this pretty simply by saying you make a decision like that…I know Mike (Smith) well enough…based on how the game’s unfolding. When you have two timeouts, the time left and the way you’re playing defensively, I think that’s the logical decision. It was the same decision we would have made. Had that game been going back and forth in a high-scoring manner, you might think differently. Based on the way the defenses were playing, there was plenty of time and two timeouts. We had to convert two first downs. When we got the ball, certainly we were going to be smart and try to use the time, but I remember looking up thinking we’re going to have to throw it here. You’re not just under two minutes and a four minute offense. We’re going to have to convert a couple first downs. The lead was only three points, so even if you don’t convert and have to punt, you’re looking at a short amount of yardage. I think it was the right decision. I would have made the same decision.”

How many blitzes did Atlanta throw at you? Did you guys count?

“Yes. We received a lot of pressure, especially in the midfield range. They’re a team where when you get in the red zone, that would play a little bit more coverage, which is what a lot of teams are, but clearly, their plan was different than the first time we played them. They had a real good plan. It caused us problems both in the running game and the passing game. In the second half, we got to some quicker throws. We changed the protections up a little bit. Whether it was linebacker or safety pressures, that was something that they did differently and often”

Would you say that was the majority of what they did?

“Pressure right from the get go. After that first series, I remember walking over to the receivers, running backs and Drew (Brees) and just saying their plan is going to be pressure tonight. Clearly that held up and they did a good job with it. There were some heavy personnel groupings we were able to get in to that kind of calmed it down. They played base defense. They had a real good plan coming in. It was real aggressive.”

Did Drew’s tackle after the second interception save a touchdown?

“Yes. You’re speculating, but clearly it saved a lot of angst. Generally when a play happens behind the ball, behind the quarterback, most of the offensive players are looking and not in a position to come back and tackle a player. That was a key play.”

Was Danny ClarkDescription: http://www.neworleanssaints.com/assets/nflimg/icon-article-link.gif a healthy inactive?

“Yes.”

Why did you go with Jo-Lonn DunbarDescription: http://www.neworleanssaints.com/assets/nflimg/icon-article-link.gif?

“We just felt like the way this defensive game plan set up what we had talked about all week. We were going to be off the ball with that linebacker. In other words, we were going to be playing more behind the tackle box area. That’s something that Jo-Lonn does pretty well. Those two got reps all week long and then we went with Jo-Lonn and put Danny down for this game. He’s healthy. A lot of it had to do with the plan, the front we were playing and how we were playing it.”

It looked like Jo-Lonn was around the ball a lot. How did he grade?

“He graded out very well.”

How did Marvin MitchellDescription: http://www.neworleanssaints.com/assets/nflimg/icon-article-link.gif grade out?

“He did well. He came up with a big fumble recovery down there in the goal line. That was a big play obviously. When you get a first and goal on the one-yard line and you’re able to come away from it with no points and then, equally important, we take over on the one. The rule of thumb is that you have to get two first downs to offset the field position. We were able to get the two first downs. After the punt, you’re able to not be backed up. Marvin’s fumble recovery was a big play.”

The ESPN announcers made a big deal about the uniqueness of your goal line front. What is different?

“This will be a real easy way to explain it. Typically in goal line defense there’s two defenses played, six down linemen with two inside linebackers and the center’s uncovered. Some teams will play more of that five across with three linebackers and your center’s covered. Ours is a little bit of a hybrid of the 6-2 in that we move the front right or left and leave a guard uncovered. Oftentimes, you get which is no different than us, teams coming out and looking for that bubble. Who’s uncovered and running at that bubble. It’s a little different than 90 percent of that league who would use one of the two I just mentioned, a classic 6-2 defense or a 5-3 jam front. Ours is a little different, so a lot of times people will want to run at that bubble. That’s what you saw last night.”

Is that now two big stands in the last three games?

“The stand last night was somewhat similar to the Pittsburgh stand in that it negated any points. In other words, in Pittsburgh it was four downs, we got it on the one. Last night it was a turnover, we got the ball on the one. When that happens, that’s a seven or three point swing. It was a good job, real good.”

Do you think there will be an adjustment period now considering how successful you guys have been with that?

“You look at it. One of the things about calling plays in goal line situations, we always try to throw when everybody thinks run and come back and run. It really starts with not so much, the play design offensively and defensively. It really starts with the pad level and the get offs. What’s encouraging is when you can have that type of goal line success on the road, because generally you’re at a disadvantage on offense as the road team and you don’t get the get off you want and so you’re beaten to the punch. Pad level and get off is critical and I thought we were good in those two snaps. That was a big sequence.”

Last week I asked if it was the plan to be up-tempo against Baltimore? Was it the same thing going in based on run-pass ratio?

“No. Our plan in this game was not that at all. Our plan was to make sure we had balance. That being said, there’s a handful of runs that you’re getting ready to run, but if you’re getting blitzed or pressured, they become passes because you don’t want to have a negative play. We ended up with 75, 74 rushing yards. Those were hard-earned yards. Those were significant. I think based on what we were seeing defensively, that you have to be able to adjust your plan a little bit. Our plan going into this game was not at all like what our plan was against Baltimore. It was going to be clearly different. We thought the time of possession was going to be critical and in order for that third down statistic to be good, we had to be efficient on first and second down and for the most part we were, but again, the looks we got and credit Atlanta. We received a lot of linebacker and safety pressure and so we had to adjust in regards to number one our protections, number two what we were going to run, when we were going to run it. But our plans were different.”

What did Drew BreesDescription: http://www.neworleanssaints.com/assets/nflimg/icon-article-link.gif have to say after that first interception?

“There was nothing specific. In fact, I think your already back on the next series. There’s no exchange or dialogue that takes place. There’s obvious frustration and then you’re on to the next series, so there’s nothing specific. It’s moving forward in regards to what we’re going to do.”

Do you think that too much is being made of the defense taking pictures on the field after the game?

“I would say yes, but I understand it. It’s something the linebackers have done for a while here. It’s always done with respect and after the game and they’ve gone out, if you go into our linebacker meeting room there’s pictures there with their families. There are pictures of the Super Bowl. There are pictures after a big win at Dallas, but it’s always after the teams leave the field and it’s never in any way, shape or form meant at all to be disrespectful. I think in light of last night, a lot’s been made that it was in more of an arrogant manner. I would disagree with that. It’s something that’s done after the fact, after the teams have left the field. I would answer your question with yes.”

Could you find yourself watching the scoreboard and potentially changing your approach based on what’s happening in the Atlanta game on Sunday?

“No, I don’t think so. That’s a good question. The time slots are the same; if the time slots were different then it might be a different approach but we’re doing everything we can this week full speed ahead on finding a way to get our 12th win against a real good team that has played well all year. They’ve had a lot of injuries but they’ve had a very good season. This is going to be a tough test for us, especially coming off of a Monday night game. Tampa is coming in and they’re still in the hunt, and when you’re in the hunt you’re desperate. So our focus is strictly on this game and not on anything else. Then by this time next week we’ll know where the chips are at and then you go forward. But that one is pretty easy this week because of how everything has unfolded.”

How effective was Pierre ThomasDescription: http://www.neworleanssaints.com/assets/nflimg/icon-article-link.gif last night?

“I thought he was efficient. I thought he made some big plays, especially on that last drive. He ran the ball well and he had some hidden yardage. You’re starting to see him get back into form. He and Reggie (Bush) both had some key receptions out of the backfield and on that last drive Pierre had the one where Drew scrambled. I thought he played well.”

Did last night’s game have a real playoff feel to you?

“I would say it did. Any time you play on Monday night there’s excitement and then when you play on Monday Night Football with two teams that are in double-digit wins, there’s a lot at stake. I think for ESPN it ended up being a plus with the way the schedule worked out. I would say that that first series the noise level was extremely loud; louder than I’ve heard in a long time. By having a chance to get up 3-0, just that simple field goal can help settle the crowd and then the next touchdown to make it 10-0, but there was that atmosphere. With the time of the season that the game was being played, the two teams that were playing in that game – Atlanta had a lot that they were playing for and the Saints did as well, and then the fact that it was on Monday night, all those things created that environment that you’re talking about.”

Do you think you might face that team again down the road?

“That’s the hypotheticals again. There are six teams that make it in the NFC so there’s a chance any of those six teams that make it in could play each other. It’s crazy to look through the formulas. We know this: we know that we can go in as the five-seed or we can go in as the one-seed and then you’re really looking past that. Right now, the focus is shifting towards Tampa and in a very short week we have to get ready to play a very good football team.”

Was that as loud as you’ve heard the Georgia Dome?

“I would say that last night early in the game was as loud as I’ve heard in a while anywhere; I’m not challenging our fans but the first series of that game last night was as loud as I’ve heard in a while. Those early 10 points helped but it was significant to where just getting the personnel called and hearing each other was difficult. Now it’s hard to do that…it takes a lot of energy and effort to do that as a crowd, but early on it was deafening.”

When Tracy PorterDescription: http://www.neworleanssaints.com/assets/nflimg/icon-article-link.gif got called for pass interference, is that what your defensive backs are taught when they get beat like that?

“There’s the old lesson that if you get beat, clearly the penalty is better than the touchdown reception, although I don’t know that that was his thought right there. In the collegiate game it’s a much easier decision with the 15-yard penalty, but that spot foul on the one is not something that you’re fired up about either. A play like that almost happened with Lance MooreDescription: http://www.neworleanssaints.com/assets/nflimg/icon-article-link.gif and the defender had the ball come off of his pads or his helmet right before it got to Lance. Had Lance stopped and there was contact made, we might have gotten the call. I think more than anything you’re trying to locate opponent, quickly track eyes and get the head around if you can. In the position that he was playing, which was kind of an invert position, the route was good and they made a play. More than anything, I think it’s trying to get your hands in a position to get a deflection when the receiver is behind you.”

What are your thoughts on Jonathan VilmaDescription: http://www.neworleanssaints.com/assets/nflimg/icon-article-link.gif being named Saints Man of the Year?

“We announced it to our team last week and it’s a tremendous honor on a team in which there are so many players that would be deserving of such an award with their efforts in the community. I think Jon epitomizes all the things that go into someone who contributes not only as a team leader, as a team player, as a middle linebacker for us, but also as someone again that lives it in the community as well. His efforts both on and off the field have been outstanding and I know his teammates feel the same way in regards to him representing the Saints as the Walter Payton recipient for the Saints and then going forward potentially for the National Football League. He has done a great job. The acquisition of him a few years ago was the shot in the arm we needed defensively and he’s given us everything and then some.”

After the game, Robert MeachemDescription: http://www.neworleanssaints.com/assets/nflimg/icon-article-link.gif collided with a photographer and seemed to be injured. Is he ok and is that something that can be made light of?

“I heard about it. I think he’s going to be fine. You can make any type of light of it that you want but there’s an issue though. I have an issue when there’s free reign. You guys recall the preseason game in where the Titans mascot ran over our quarterback in our first preseason game in ’06. The guy running around on the four-wheeler who has no restrictions at all and rolls up the back of the punt returner at that time, our quarterback Adrian McPherson. So everyone wants the picture; everyone wants the shot. You have a guy that’s backing up and falling over a player and I have an issue with that. I think he’s going to be fine. He got treatment today and we’ll see where he’s at.”

Last night’s game was another example of your team having to fight through some adversity. Are you better able to do that because of the success that you had last year?

“I do think that ultimately you have confidence or you don’t have confidence in playing from behind. In order to gain that confidence, you have to have some success or past experience of doing it. In other words, it’s one of those things that can become contagious. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’re always playing from behind – clearly you want to be in the lead – but it starts with the poise and the belief that the execution can still take place in adverse situations. If you’re down four or you’re down whatever and it’s loud, when you’ve been there before it helps you to perform better again knowing that you’ve been in that position. That breeds a little bit of confidence and it’s the execution, it’s the belief that it can happen again and I think that exists for a lot of reasons – the talent of the players; a quarterback like Drew Brees. When you play a road game like that, all you really have is each other. You go into an environment where it’s really just your team and everyone else rooting against you, it’s important to lean on that and our players have done a good job of that and we’ve gotten better in recent years in coming back from behind.”

Is this your first year here where you’ve gone into the last regular season game with something on the line for the playoffs?

“I believe it would be. In ’06, we rested. In ’07 and ’08, I don’t think there was anything at stake. In ’09, we rested. This would be the first time. But that would not be to diminish ’07 and ’08 in that there weren’t playoff opportunities but there’s a lot at stake when you’re at .500 and guys are playing for their jobs and you’re playing to win, but this would be the first year playoff-wise that something is at stake in that game.”

How gratifying is it to make the playoffs again?

“A few weeks back the question was asked about how it felt to win 10 games or to guarantee a winning season again. These are different benchmarks, but honestly we expect and plan on playing in the postseason. That expectation is something to where it would have been disappointing had we not had this opportunity. I would say that once you’ve had a chance to win a championship, your thirst for more of that type of success only grows stronger. You never take for granted these seasons or these years because this group isn't something that’s a permanent thing; this thing is always in flux in regards to players and coaches. That’s just the way our league is. You want to leave your imprint on something during your tenure as a player or a coach as being viewed as very successful and in order to do that it starts with being a postseason team. I think that’s the first way that fan bases and organizations are measured; are they a playoff team or are they not? That’s the first because if you’re going to have success and play in that big game, you’re going to have to obviously get into the postseason. That being said, I don’t know that aside from securing that spot after playing in a big game last night…I don’t view it as a checkmark in what we’ve wanted to accomplish. We want to accomplish bigger things than just getting into the postseason.”

Do you feel a lot older this year than you did at this time last year?

“Every late December, I feel older and come tomorrow I’ll be a year older, so yes. I that only because it’s draining for the players physically and mentally and it’s draining for the coaches physically and mentally. I’m sure that if you took pictures of ’06 and you took pictures of right this minute that you’d say, ‘Gosh, you look older if you don’t feel it.’ I think that comes with the length of the season and the job description.”

SOME hither, others yon: The Saints have moved up to No. 1 in Pro Football Talk.com's weekly power rankings in the NFL. The Saints trail the Patriots in the NFL rankings."Last year they got to the Super Bowl with two home playoff games. This year the Saints are just good enough to win three in a row to get back to the Super Bowl."...Saints coach Sean Payton celebrates birthday No. 47 on Wednesday...The Saints' 17-14 victory over the Falcons rated as the most -watched "Monday Night Football" telecast of the season and the most-watched cable program over-all in 2010, according to ESPN. The telecast drew a 13.0 rating, representing 12.9 million households and 19.1 million viewers. That makes it the third-largest cable TV audience of all-time, excluding breaking news programming...

Saints receiver Robert Meachem is expected to be OK after he collided with a photographer at the end of Monday night's game. Meachem was carried off the field after the collision...The Saints are 5-0 this season in prime-time games and have a 13-3 road record for the past two seasons...Saints linebacker Jon Vilma is one of the finalists for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. This award has been existence since 1970 and honors NFL players who demonstrate balance  in their lives between civic and professional responsibilities. Drew Brees was co-recipient of the award in 2006...

LSU will learn on Jan. 4 if the appeal on running back Steven Ridley's behalf was successful. He had his eligibility stripped because of an academic issue.The Tigers will have freshmen Michael Ford and Alfred Blue and senior Richard Murphy to handle the running plays if Ridley isn't available. Ridley is considering passing up his final season and entering the NFL draft. He is projected as a third- or fourth-round pick in the draft...The older I get, the better I was...

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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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