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Joe Vitt, Steve Spagnuolo Shift Focus to Sunday’s Showdown vs Tampa

Posted Dec 10, 2012

Vitt and Spagnuolo recap Sunday’s game against the Giants and discuss the team’s mindset going forward

Steve Spagnuolo Joe Vitt

New Orleans Saints Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt
Press Conference
Monday, December 10, 2012

Watch Vitt's Press Conference

Opening Statement: “I just got done meeting with our football team. They are in film study now reviewing yesterday’s film. What they’ve all taken away from this and what I’ve tried to point out today is that in the National Football League, you have to first keep from losing before you can ever win, because you have to be able to do the small things and the little things to be able to put yourself in a position to win, so when you go on the road and turn the ball over four times, that’s not good. When you score a touchdown defensively like we did, that puts us in the 85 percentile of winning that game. On the next play when you have a special teams touchdown that now puts them in the 93rd percentile of winning the game. Yesterday for the first time since we’ve been here, they had 453 yards in hidden yards combined in the return game, penalty yards and yards from takeaways. You’re talking 31 points with those 453 yards. Before we ever win a game we have to keep from losing. Right now we’re not playing very smart. We’re not playing very disciplined. It starts with me. I need to do a better job of making sure our football team understands the critical factors that go into winning on Sunday. We’ll continue to do it. Are myself and them, disappointed? Certainly. Am I discouraged? No. We’re going to do everything we can to be prepared this week.”

Without waving a white flag do the last three games give the opportunity for the franchise to evaluate younger players?
“We’re going to put those players on the field that number one, have earned the right to be on the field and then number two to give us the best chance to win football games. We’ll continue to do that. That’s what we’ve always done here. We feel like as a staff and organization we’ve given guys an opportunity to play and step up and do their job. But, we’re going to do exactly what it takes to win football games.”

Was blocking the problem on some of the kickoff returns?
“No, our lane integrity is the number one thing. If you’re talking about kickoff and punt coverage, number one is lane integrity and number two is leverage. You have to leverage the football and not the blocker and you have to make sure you’re in your proper lane.”

Being new to the situation with playoff chances being slim with three games to go, what have the last 24 hours been like?
“It’s not good. It’s not pleasant. We’ve never been in the situation since we’ve been here in ’06, where in the last three games, you are not vying for and playing for a playoff position. Right now we have nine practices left and three games left. Our players know under no uncertain circumstances what our goal is. Our goal is to win all three games. Our gola is to get better everyday in practice, because everyone is going to be held accountable for the way they prepare.”

Is there any explanation for Jimmy Graham having more drops than usual?
“He has that wrist brace on now. I think it’s tougher to cup the ball. Obviously we wanted him to make the catch in the opening play of the second half. It’s plays he’s made before. He’s not the lone ranger. We all have to play better. We all have to coach better”

Are the 11 turnovers in the last three games one of the biggest problems?
“That’s the number one critical factor that goes into winning football games, giveaway-takeaway ratio. Keep the ball away from your opponent and create field position for your offense. Give your offense more possessions. You can count it as 11. I can count it as 12, because we let the ball land on the two-yard line in Atlanta (possession), so it’s 12. Our players are aware of that. Statistically we show it to them every week. It’s very disappointing. I have to do a better job in getting the point across”

Do you have a sense of how much the turnovers are a loss of focus as opposed to trying to hard?
“I think as a football team right now we’re pressing. We have to let it go and let it flow, play hard, smart and together, harder football and tougher than the opponent, without pressing. Just let it go and let it flow and just do the things we’re supposed to do in practice everyday. That will afford us the opportunity to win football games.”

New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo
Media Availability
Monday, December 10, 2012

Watch Spagnuolo's Press Conference

Opening Statement: “Obivously, it was a rough day yesterday. I did like the way they came out at the beginning and started the game (defensively). I’ll break it down first half and second half. First half, it was solid except for the two-minute drive at the end which we have to be better at. In the second half there are a lot of things you can look at, but to me we didn’t play good enough in the red zone and there was a stretch of three straight third down plays that they converted and we didn’t stop. I think it was a third-and-one, a third-and-two, a third-and-six, third-and eight and I forget what the other one was. You’re not going to play a perfect game, you’re not going to go up there and stop them on every play. I think it comes down to playing better in the red zone in the second half and making some stops on third down. I will say this, and I always say this about those guys, I just got done visiting with them right now (and) I love the character of these guys. They never stop fighting, never. Every one of them. I’m proud of that fact and I know they’ll continue to do that.”

How hard is it for a defense to play more than half of its snaps on its own side of the field?
“What I said to the guys just now was we’ve had our struggles and when the other phases struggle, we have to somehow find a way to rise up. If that means playing a perfect game, that’s what we’ve got to do. It’s hard to be perfect but if that’s  what our team needs us to do, that’s what we need to do. (We need to) Somehow find a way to make them kick field goals. Tough duty, that’s a good football team. We all know that.”

Did you feel that the defense controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half?
“I know we were doing well in the run game. Now, controlling the line of scrimmage, there are two phases there: stopping the run and putting some pressure on the quarterback and we needed to do a little bit better job at that. Even when I go back and look at it, you can’t blitz every down because that’ll get you in a little bit of trouble and you saw at the end of the game they were trying to make a play and get a negative play and it pops out and that’s the risk that you run. So you don’t want to do that all game and yet, somehow, you have to find a way to get the quarterback to pull it down and hit him a little bit. We pressured him a couple of times and actually hit him, bumped him. We didn’t really get the big hit on him. Obviously we didn’t get the sacks, we need to do a better job there.”

Does the scenario allow for younger guys to get some reps for the remainder of the season?
“I’ll be honest with you, my mind has not gone that way yet. I’m just coming off dissecting the film, getting headed toward Tampa Bay. I don’t think it’s our nature, it’s not my nature, to think that way. By that I mean, I think we’ll do the best things for the football team to win a game this Sunday.”

But could younger guys that maybe get 18-20 reps per game get closer to 25 or more per game for example?
“We’ll see. There could be some merit to that but again, if it fits in what we’re doing game-wise, if it helps us beat Tampa Bay, I think that we would do that.”

What is your assessment of Akiem Hicks, Tyrunn Walker and Martez Wilson?
“That’s a good group of guys you’re bringing up there. Akiem had a couple of struggles that are coming in to my mind right now, in yesterday’s game. It was a little bit up-and-down yesterday although through the course of most of the season I think he has been on that kind of track which is encouraging. Walker is a tough nut, he’s working. I think he’s going to be a pretty good football player. Some time will tell here. And you mentioned Martez. He’s been (an) ongoing development. We all know he switched positions and I still think he is finding his sea legs as a defensive end. When you add up the number of reps, it’s not like he’s out there 50-60 snaps a game. If you add them all up, maybe it’s a three game total, like he was a starter for three games. I love having him out there. Martez is passionate about the game of football. He loves being out there. We had to work through some things early because it was all new to him. I think we’ve gotten better. I think he would have liked to have had a few more pressures or a sack in there somewhere yesterday but that didn’t happen.”

The defense played really well in the past two weeks, did the unit take a step back in the game against the Giants?
“A little bit. I don’t have those notes with me but one of my points in the meeting this morning (was that) I did remind them that we are the same group that held San Francisco to 17 points. That’s a good offense. We went to Atlanta and certainly were very good on third down and (held them) under 300 yards. My point to them was that we’re the same group of guys that  fared pretty well two weeks ago, some weeks before that, Philadelphia, I can pull out some games, and yet we didn’t play well enough yesterday so it was a little bit of a step backwards. I think that just gives us a little more determination this week to regain that and go forward.”

What role did momentum have on the struggles in the second half?
“There is an ebb-and-flow to the game but one of the things good football teams do is they don’t let, especially defenses and I think defensive football players have to think this way, that you can’t let what goes on out there in the other two phases affect you. Offensively, it has to because if you’re ahead or behind. Defensively, our job, it doesn’t matter what the score is. I just firmly believe this; when we go out there our job doesn’t change. We can’t let that stuff affect us. Now, we are all human so you’ll have to ask the players if it affected them. One thing I know about this football team, they have great confidence in our offense. Even though things may go the other way, even against us, they certainly expect our offense to rebound and we would like to rebound for our offense and special teams as well.”

Can you talk about the performance of Elbert Mack?
“I’ll tell you, that was a nice play he made. I remember we had to let him go and then we brought him back and that was hard to do. He has fought his way through. I am happy to see his success. It was very similar to the one in Oakland where he got hurt, he made that same play. It was great to see him catch it and get in the end zone, I was happy for him on that.”

Facing Tampa Bay’s offense again, what are the challenges there? What about the young running back Doug Martin?
“It’s interesting because their offensive coordinator (Mike Sullivan) came from the Giants so I think there will be, I’ve just watched a little bit of their Philadelphia game yesterday, a little bit of carry-over in the offense. I think that’s good in a way. At this point in the season, you don’t get as many reps in practice as you normally would. They’ll have a wrinkle or two that are different than the Giants but they’ve got a quality quarterback and a good running back with receivers that you have to worry about. There is the package when you are trying to defend them. You can’t concentrate on one phase. I think they will present problems for us. I’m trying to go back and remember the first game. I know we played a lot of red zone plays, I remember that about the game. I remember the ending. We found a way to win which is a good thing. Right now, we’re just kind of focused on fixing what happened yesterday, putting it to bed and moving forward.”

Can you talk about Isa Abdul-Quddus?
“One thing about Isa, he’s one of those guys that every football team needs as many as you can get. That is a guy that doesn’t get a lot of reps during the week because he’s backing somebody up and yet when somebody goes down in the game, he’s able to go in there and, especially at that position where he has to manage a little bit of the game with coverages and what-not, and really do a good job with it. That’s a credit to him because even though he is not getting all of the looks during the week (and) he was able to function pretty effectively. He came up with that nice interception that helped us. I’m sure he’ll tell you that he’d like to have a couple of tackles back and do better there. I think he did a solid job of going in there and filling in for Malcolm (Jenkins).”

Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman lost 20-25 pounds over the offseason and he has played better in the second half of games this year. Thinking about the positives, is there anything that he is doing special right now?
“Even though he lost 20 pounds, he’s still pretty big to me. That’s a big quarterback. The league, I guess, is headed that way. These athletic quarterbacks that can also throw the ball are a real threat. He’s one of those guys, a big guy that can stand in the pocket and play big and throw the ball down field with some good receivers. Yet, if you let loose as a defensive linemen group and don’t have a little bit of pass rush integrity, he can hurt you with his feet. I haven’t seen a lot of their games since we played them the first time so I can’t comment on what he’s been doing there. I certainly will be digging into it as I leave here. I know what he’s all about, I’ve faced him before. He’s another quarterback that’s really good at the end of the game and they do really good things with him. I think it will be a challenge for our guys. We’ve played them before which helps a little bit with regards to knowing the personnel and now we have to fix some of the things that happened yesterday and move forward and hopefully it will be positive.”