Thursday, 01 December 2011 20:13

New Orleans Saints v. Detroit Lions: Stafford, Payton, Brees Media Mix

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lionsDetroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees had much to say about the upcoming game and their respective competition.

 Below are their Wednesday media briefings:

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will lead his team against the Saints on NBC's Sunday Night Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Stafford said Saints defensive coordinator has his players playing at a high level and at positions where they are excelling in a conference call on Wednesday. He said what separates his receiver Calvin Johnson from the NFL's other receivers is his work ethic. He said his team will miss suspended defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and the next guy will have to step up and replace him.

Stafford, a former Georgia quarterback, was asked to pick a winner in the LSU-Georgia SEC title game on Saturday. "Our quarterback is hot and that means a lot," answered Stafford.
Are you excited about playing in a big December game that could be similar to a playoff atmosphere?
“Yes, absolutely.  Anytime you come down to New Orleans and play there, it’s always a great atmosphere.  The fans do a great job of giving the hometown team some support.  It’s going to be a big challenge for us.  It’s obviously on Sunday Night Football.  They’re going to be excited and ready to go as we will too.  We’re excited.  It’s going to be a fun game.”

Do you remember coming here for your first start a couple of years ago and do you draw on those memories?
“You watch the film of it and try to forget about it.  It wasn’t a great game for myself or our team, but I remember that game.  It’s obviously a game of different circumstances.  We’re excited.  The Saints are playing great football right now.  They have a great record and it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

Is the film of Monday night’s game against New York more relevant for you now?
“Obviously, it’s more relevant than my first start there.  I think they did a great job.  The Giants have a lot of playmakers and they can run the football extremely well, and they did a great job of shutting them down and still taking away the big plays.  Gregg (Williams) has that defense playing really well right now and they’re playing at a very high level.”

Can you tell from the film if the noise from the crowd affects communication at the line of scrimmage?
“I don’t think so much of watching film as much as watching the games.  They had to get real close to the offensive linemen to try to make calls and things like that.  Obviously any time you’re playing an away game, communication is paramount.”

Can you talk about your appreciation for Calvin Johnson?
“Everybody sees the physical tools that he has and the plays that he makes on Sundays.  What separates him I think from some of the other guys in this league is his work ethic.  Everything he does is full speed, one hundred percent.  All of our receivers and our skill position guys look up to that, and I appreciate it a ton.”

What has the mindset of the team been in these last five games?
“I think it’s in a good spot.  I think we understand it’s go time.  It’s time for us to put the pedal to the metal and start playing our best football at this time of the year.  That’s what great teams do.  If you want to make the playoffs, you have to do it on Sundays.  You have to prove it and I think that’s where our mentality is right now.”

Going back to the first time you faced a Gregg Williams defense, what was so hard about being a young player and playing that type of defense?
“The toughest thing really was when I was a rookie that was his first game really coordinating (the Saints).  You really didn’t have a lot of film to look back on.  You didn’t really have a lot of tendencies to try to find what he liked to do with his personnel in New Orleans.  Now you look back on that and you have two full seasons of film and can understand what he’s trying to do and how he’s putting his players in great positions to excel.”

Do you ever find yourself just throwing the ball up to Calvin Johnson even when he has coverage around him?
“You follow your progression, but at the same time you may give Calvin a couple more chances a game than you might give somebody else.  I think the Saints have a guy with similar leaping ability and size in (Jimmy) Graham.  There are times especially in the red zone where you’re going to put a ball up and let a guy go make a play, not at the expense of making a poor decision, but one-on-one good coverage doesn’t mean you don’t give a guy a chance.”

Do you have any thoughts on the SEC Championship game this weekend?
“I’m excited to watch it.  It’s going to be a good game.  I think both teams match up pretty well against each other.  It’s going to be a big test for our young wide receivers to go out there against a great secondary.  Our quarterback is playing pretty good football right now, and when your quarterback is hot it means a lot.”

How does the Ndamukong Suh suspension affect the guys in the locker room?
“The next guy has to step up.  That’s the mentality we’ve had all year.  We’re going to stay with it.  We’ve had injuries all over the field just like every NFL team has, and the teams that battle and understand that the next guy has to step in to play at that same level are the teams that succeed.  We trust the guys that are going to step in for him and we’re taking this just like any other game and trying to do our best to get a win.”

Saints coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees answered questions from the media at their news briefing on Wednesday.

"The injury list is getting smaller and that's a good sign," said Payton. "We'll deal with having four healthy running backs on a week-by-week basis," said Payton.  He said the Lions' Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in football, and noted that Detroit  quarterback Matthew Stafford has brought the Lions back to win three times after being 17 points down (sound familiar?), a league record.

Brees said the many penalties being called are to protect defenseless players, and he respects the Lions' turnaround this season. He also \said that spreading carries among his running backs allows his backs to play fresher.


Opening statement:

“Let me just start with the injury report for today.  DE Turk McMcBride (left ankle) did not practice, LB Jon Vilma (knee) was limited, CB Jabari Greer (right knee) was limited, and DT Tom Johnson (left elbow) was full.  There was just one practice squad transaction.  We signed WR Andy Tanner in place of QB Sean Canfield.  Our schedule was a little bit different with today being that we tried to put a little more time in between the game Monday and when we started.  We’ve done this before and then cut back some snaps in practice.  All of it was first and second down.  Tomorrow we’ll gradually increase the reps and gradually get back into our normal routine.”

Is that a good sign that the injury report is so small or did you just have a light practice?

“I think it’s a good sign.  The list is small.  If we would have gone two hours or two and a half hours, I know the list would have been exactly the same.”

Do you think all the roughing the passer penalties are fair and do you think it’s something you have to coach your players on?

“Just in regards to our game, the concern I had in our game was that we had double-digit penalties.  We had more than certainly we’re used to and certainly more than what’s acceptable.  We talked about it a little bit this morning.  I think the officials have a challenging job each week.  We may or may not agree with every call, and yet you still have to get on to the next play and not let it have a carry-over effect.  We never want that to be a reason or an excuse as to why a game goes a certain direction.  It’s one thing if it’s a play like Will Smith’s, where I don’t know that we tell him to do a thing different.  That being said, it’s something that’s a point of emphasis for us and something that I think we need to be better at than we were on Monday night.”

What were your thoughts on Isa Abdul-Quddus’ penalty?

“I think that’s the tough one.  In general as a league, I think we’re trying to lower the area at which we’re making contact and no different than in Jimmy Graham’s case.  Often times the receiver, just as he’s catching the ball gets to a little bit lower position so you end up sometimes with helmet-to-helmet.  That’s kind of an ongoing point of emphasis for our team just as it is an ongoing point of emphasis for the league.”

Is the plan moving forward to continue to inactivate Chris Ivory at running back?

“It’s certainly not any plan set in stone going forward.  I think for that game we spent a lot of time discussing where we were both offensively and defensively and in the kicking game with injuries and basically coming up with inactives.  Each week we will look at that and look at it closely.  Obviously we value his ability.  The challenge of having four very good running backs who are all healthy is one that I have to handle as a head coach.  I think each week as we get ready to play an upcoming opponent, we have to look closely at the roll and the plan and how does it involve not only the running back position, but how does it involve the roster.  We alluded to the injury report being fairly short, which means you’re probably going to have more healthy inactives as opposed to when the list is bigger.  We’ll deal with that week by week.”

Can you talk about the job Jo-Lonn Dunbar has done at middle linebacker?

“He did very well last week.  He was one of the game ball recipients on defense.  I think he’s done a very good job as a signal-caller and as a leader.  It’s something he’s worked extremely hard at.  He was very productive in the game.  When you can lose a player like Jon Vilma and have another guy jump in like Jo-Lonn and have the success he had, it really speaks of the position group and it speaks to where we’ve come just in regards to depth.  He really played well.”

How is Matthew Stafford different from when your team played him in 2009?

“It’s light-years.  A lot has taken place with their team and quite honestly our team since that game.  Not only was it ’09, but it was the first game of ’09.  I don’t know how many games it’s been since then, but he’s very comfortable with what they’re doing.  They do enough stuff at the line of scrimmage where they put some of the plays in his hands.  He can operate the no-huddle.  I think the thing that stands out most about Matthew is this is the first time that this has happened in the history of our league where there’s a team that’s won three games after being down by 17 points in the same season.  That’s never happened before.  One of the trademarks we look for in scouting quarterbacks is how they play when they’re behind.  He’s someone that’s led them to some significant wins when their team has been behind.  They’re one of the top teams in scoring differential in the second half.  There’s a belief I think with everyone on that team and that roster that they have a quarterback that can bring them back through adversity and they have the players around him now and a defense now that I think is a lot different and a lot further along that ’09.”

How do you compare the situation with Ndamukong Suh’s possibility of being able to play in this game to DeMarcus Ware a couple of years ago with the Cowboys?

“I think it’s different.  We have to prepare for the Lions, no different than if a player showed up as questionable on the final injury report or limited.  We have to prepare to play that team and it’s the team that’s most important.  I was asked earlier by Detroit’s media and my response was that we get used to each week playing without a Jon Vilma or a player like (Louis) Delmas who’s injured or a suspension with Suh that our game, and not just the New Orleans Saints, but the Lions and any other team in this league quickly gets the next guys ready.  I think that’s just what we get accustomed to and what we get ready to do because it happens weekly and it’s just the nature of our game.”

Is Suh a guy that you would have to specifically prepare for his skill set?

“The only thing that’s different when you’re dealing with a defensive tackle than an end is some of the things that you would try to do to slow up a good pass rush from a defensive end are entirely different than what you would try to do with a tackle.  In other words, the running backs are less likely to be involved in that adjustment or the tight ends would be less likely to be involved in that adjustment.  I think as much as anything his force inside as a run defender as well as a guy that can push the pocket are things that you see on videotape.”

Was there anything talked about with the offensive linemen about protecting Drew Brees that made a difference in that area?

“I think it’s really become more of a focal point each week in having success. We talked about this last week as it pertained to Drew and Eli Manning, which quarterback was going to be more comfortable with time in the pocket.  That has a lot to do with first and second down.  It has a lot to do with having some balance with run and pass.  It also has a lot to do with helping those tackles.  Playing at home certainly can help because the noise is a benefit as opposed to a hindrance.  I think more than anything it’s a point of emphasis with each play that you call and how you put together a plan.  I think there is probably two or three other major things that I’ve hit on that all contribute to the numbers that we had on Monday night in regards to no sacks and limited hurries.  That’s a credit to the guys that are up front blocking and the guys who are helping in the process and also I think the efficiency of operating on first and second down and having that balance and finding yourself in the third-and-manageable situations as opposed to the third-and-longs.”

Have you noticed improvements in the number of hurries as well as the sacks?

“We try to look at those because those are equally as important.  The sack may be the easy number to track, and yet the quarterback who is getting hit as he throws it or is having to hurry as he throws it and the ball’s incomplete, there’s a direct correlation there to your efficiency or your success on third down or for that matter any down when you’re throwing it.”

How big of a factor are not having any sacks in the last three games to winning?

“I think it’s part of the equation.  I think the turnovers are a part of that as well.  I think there’s lot that goes into winning football, but maybe easier to look at is if you’re not protecting him, it’s going to be hard to win.  We put a value on turnovers.  We take a look at that each week, but you have to look at what causes the turnovers.  It’s easy to just say we can’t turn the ball over, but when the quarterback has less time or tipped balls or hurried passes, that’s one area that can lead to more turnovers.  We’ve improved in that area and by no means are we a finished product there, but it’s something that has been a valuable area for us to look at specifically to point to and say this is vital each week with what we do offensively.”

Is the window up on Greg Romeus and did you like what you saw from him?

“It is and he’s been moved to Injured Reserve.  I did like what I saw.  When we drafted him, the plan all along was this year understanding he was going to spend half of it in rehab and all likelihood the other half or a little bit less on the Injured Reserve.  We’re real encouraged with what we saw.”

Curtis Johnson’s name has come up for head coaching jobs.  Is he someone that you think would be a good head coach?

“Absolutely.  First off, he’s an extremely hard worker.  He’s very smart.  Just take for instance his position group in six years now, one of the things we constantly look at is the productivity and how they’ve responded.  The question with Curtis is not if he’s going to be a head coach, the question is when.  He’s going to have a lot of opportunities.  I’ve said this before, it’s a great reflection on the organization and who we’re hiring, but he’s been a big part of our success offensively and an important part of our staff beginning here in ’06.  This time of the year is when these discussions come up with assistant coaches and honestly they are healthy ones.  I’ve said this before, if those discussions aren’t coming up over a long period of time then you’ve got a little bit of a bigger issue on your hands.  I think that opportunity is going to come sooner than later for him.”

What happens with that when the playoffs are in the picture?

“It’s real simple.  Our focus with any of our coaches is they’re fully committed to the New Orleans Saints and they understand that.  That’s something that anyone who has any interest in a coach of ours understands as well.  In Doug Maronne’s case with two games left with the season that year finishing differently, it was an easy transition because Aaron Kromer was here and there was a smooth transition with him going to the offensive line.  I think it would have been different that year had we been in a position to go to the playoffs.  It would have been something where Syracuse would have had to have waited until the end of our season.  I think it’s critical that the players and everyone knows that the focus and the most important thing is our preparation for each game without distractions.  I think all the parties can figure out some of the nuances that can arise with the schedules being different in the collegiate game than the pro game.”

Can you talk about what Calvin Johnson brings to the table?

“I think he’s the best receiver in football and I say that in a very honest and unbiased way as you watch the tape.  He’s someone that has great size.  He does a great job of playing the ball above his head.  Just from a stature standpoint he presents challenges.  He’s a good route runner.  From all the other information you gather, he’s a great worker and a competitor.  When you see some players that have been with a program through some tough times now enjoying success, we can relate to that a little bit with some of our players that were here prior to ’06 that went through some tough seasons.  He’s someone that you obviously have to be mindful of on each play where he’s aligned, not just in the red zone but certainly on third down.  He can get behind you.  He can go up even when he’s covered and make a play above his head.  Those earned catches that we refer to are the ones that are tough because the defender is right where he needs to be and the offensive player has earned the catch and made it difficult for you defensively.  You see a lot more earned completions with him.  Each year he seems to have gotten better and better.  There’s certainly a confidence level that Matthew has in throwing the football to him and the team has in him and the coaching staff.  That presents a lot of challenges.”

Does Detroit present the type of depth at running back as the Saints do?

“I don’t know.  It’s hard to compare their depth.  I have a pretty good grasp as to where we’re at with our running backs.  I think you just try to monitor the injury report just like I give with the opponent, but I think also more importantly you pay attention to all the film that you have in regards to defending scheme.  We pay close attention to the type of runners that a team has.  The team we just played for instance with Brandon Jacobs, there are certain runs that you’re more prone to get with a bigger back like that than you are with maybe a Bradshaw and in Detroit’s case, whether it’s Kevin Smith or another back that’s in the game, I think that you go through the scouting report and you look closely at what types of runs they like to feature, whether they’re under center or shotgun runs.  We’ll have to do that with this team.”

New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees

Media Availability

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What do you think about all the personal foul penalties. Do you think it’s a positive?

“I think it’s all with good intentions. The whole point of a lot of the rule changes in recent history has been to protect players and create longevity for players in this league to reduce the number of significant injuries and so as you think about it, protecting the quarterback in the pocket, he’s a defenseless player in a lot of instances. He can’t protect himself. The same with the receiver running across the middle, all those things. It’s very much focused on their head. They’re also paying very close attention to late hits, spearing, all that stuff as well and then I think a lot, the jawing, that kind of thing. In a lot of cases, we’re just trying to get to where we’re playing football, taking care of defenseless players and trying to eliminate a lot of the other stuff out of the game.”

How much do you cringe when you see something that’s blatant?

“In a lot of cases, you have to think of sportsmanship. This is a violent game played by tough men. In a lot of cases, when you’re on the field, no matter how a person is off the field, you flip the switch and now you are this guy whose job when they are on defense whose job is hit the guy with the ball as hard as you can and you’re trying to maybe not hurt them, you’re trying to make them remember that shot. There’s that level of football. There’s plenty of those players. Then there are situations where it’s a late hit or it’s a little bit extra or whatever. I don’t think the officials watched it, so I’m going to do something that’s illegal and there’s no place for that in this game. There’s cameras everywhere. Very rarely will you get away with that and it’s obviously the stance of the league and the commissioner has taken on that as well. You’re going to get fined. It’s going to be expensive. You might miss games. That’s the world we live in.”

Can you talk about the balance you have and the depth you have at running back? Can you discuss how it will help going forward and do you think these guys are fresher with your depth and distribution of touches?

“Yes, I think definitely when there’s not a guy who has to carry the ball 30 times, you’re not worried about him getting beat up. When you can spread the carries among those guys, it keeps them fresher. They all know they’re going to get their opportunities. They all have their packages of plays and personnel groupings where they know this is me, my responsibilities. I think it just keeps everybody in tune with what’s happening.”

What has changed in your protection since the St. Louis game? To what extent was it schematic and to what extent was St. Louis an emotional opponent?

“I think it’s a combination of both. Anytime you have a game like that where you give up six sacks and obviously it was not a performance any of us were proud of, you go back and say these are corrections we have to make. Certainly from a scheme standpoint there are things we can do to help those guys as well. I came in here after that game saying we didn’t give those guys the credit they deserved, St. Louis and they got after us, so we don’t want that to ever happen again, so we’re going to make sure going into every game. Schematically it’s very sound and obviously our guys always go into a game truly motivated, knowing an opponent we’re going up against and certainly when you look at this defensive front, it’s one of the best pass-rushing fronts in the league. There’s no doubt about it. Not only the number of sacks and everything else, (but) I’d say that a lot of their turnovers are directly related to their pass rush. Making quarterbacks get rid of the football before they want to, tipped balls, stripped fumbles, all those things. They’re very good at that.”

Has the recent protection led to less turnovers?

“Yes, when you look at turnovers, obviously there are fumbles. I’d say the majority of the turnovers come with interceptions, just because obviously there’s risk in putting the ball in the air. As a defense, how do you create interceptions? Also, you get after the quarterback, you make him throw the ball before he’s ready to throw it, you hurry him, you hope you can catch him where he let’s go before he wants to or makes a bad decision or what have you or you’re hitting him in the act of throwing. All of a sudden there’s a strip or a tipped ball, stripped fumble or something like that. The majority of turnovers in this league happen with interceptions and stripped fumbles in the pocket on the quarterback. That’s an area we definitely understand and say the better our guys can protect me, the better I can protect myself at time by making good decisions and extending a play or whatever, the less turnovers you end up with.”

I’m sure you appreciate Detroit’s rise given how this team rose?

“It’s impressive what they’ve been able to do, the turnaround. I have a lot of respect for Jim Schwartz, the kind of coach he is, the type of team he’s built. You can tell where he’s putting his mark on that team. They’ve played big in a lot of big games this year. I think they have a very aggressive style offensively and defensively they definitely have that mentality of ten years back where you create turnovers. That’s what good teams do.”

Are you worried that Detroit’s looking at you like you guys looked at the Cowboys in ’06 or the Patriots in ’09?

“Here’s the thing. I think they’re looking at this game where they came off a tough loss against a divisional opponent. They’ve had a weekend of rest, having played on Thanksgiving. It’s almost like another bye week. They’re fresh. The mindset is this is December. This is a critical time for everyone. They’re looking at their division. They’re looking at the rest of the NFC I’m sure. We’re all fighting for a playoff spot. You want to be playing your best football going into December and January and secure a playoff spot and then anything can happen. They have the same aspirations we do.”

When you were a free agent in 2006, was Detroit in the mix?

“Yes, they were, but not as serious as the other two (New Orleans and Miami). I got the feeling they had some doubts about my shoulder. It was more maybe a kind of a backup role or we’ll try it out kind of thing as opposed to a big commitment the Saints and Miami gave.”

The Lions had a lot of injuries in their defensive backfield on Thanksgiving. Does it make it harder to prepare for Sunday, not being quite sure who will play?

“A little bit, but there’s evidence of film with all those guys in there at times. You just try to study the personnel, study the scheme. Whoever plays, plays, but I don’t think it affects them a lot what we do. We think about our system and what we need to do to execute, that kind of thing.”

Green Bay is living proof you don't have to be a major-market city to be successful in the NFL. Now that the Jaguars have been sold they may consider a move to LA. However, a smaller city may be better and such a place is Jackson, Miss. Jackson has soul and is ranked third out of America's 100 largest metro areas for the "Best Bang for the Buck", according to Forbes. Pretty enticing for a new owner looking to save some dough after a costly purchase. There are about 539,000 persons in the Metro Jackson Area and if the Ole Miss-Mississippi State rivalry is any indication how they love their football, who's to say they won't bring that tradition and fervor to a pro sports team? Other cities the Jags could move to: Birmingham, Toronto, Des Moines, Portland, Vegas, Columbus (Ohio), Little Rock, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio...


SOME HITHER, others yon: The NFL insiders are still talking about Drew Brees' four touchdown passes and his eight-yard dive into the end zone against the Giants. Almost overlooked until ESPN let us know that his performance was singular in Monday Night Football history,making him the first QB in the 42-year series to amass at least 350 yards passing, throw for four touchdowns and run for another...The Saints are now averaging 449.6 yards of offense per game, and that's more than 45 yards per game than they managed in their  Super Bowl-winning season of 2009, when they led the league in offense and passing. Difference this season, the Saints aren't getting takeaways because they are dropping balls that should be intercepted and aren't recovering enemy fumbles like they did in '09...

At least half the NFL remains mathematically alive for the playoffs in Week 17. Prediction: This will be the first season with a Manning in the playoffs since 2001...The 49ers are the NFL's rag-to-riches story of the season, but the Saints are the only team in the NFC capable of matching points with the undefeated Packers...Brees is playing his best since coming to the Saints six years ago...The Saints are on pace to become the team with the most passing yards in a season and breaking the mark set by "The Greatest Show on Turf" with Kurt  Warner and Marshall Faulk...

by Ed Staton

by Ed Staton

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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. | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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