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Falcons' Smith and Ryan Discuss the Saints Contest

Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan
Conference Call With New Orleans Media
Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How would you describe the progression of your season?
"I think we started off probably a little slower than we wanted to in the first three or four games, but we're getting better week in and week out. That's the key. The key is improving as the year goes on. We've improved this season. We still have a long way to go, but we're going to work hard week in and week out to get there."

Since you've been there, I know you think about yourselves first and foremost, but have the Saints been a benchmark in the division or the team to get past in the division?
"Yes. I think since I've been here, Carolina won the division the first year, New Orleans won it the second and we won it last year, so with them winning the Super Bowl kind of in the middle, that's certainly something you take note of. They've been a very good football team since I've been in the NFL. It's always a tough matchup every time we play them."

I know every game is important, but given your slow start, is this going to have been your most important game to date?
"This week it's certainly the most important game we're going to have, no question about it. But, that's kind of the approach we've taken all year, staying in the week, putting the focus on the preparation and what it takes to play well on Sunday. We have a mature group of guys in our locker room that understand the importance of good starts and I think everybody's focus is there this week."

What has changed for you in the last couple weeks, starting to get on a roll now?
"I think the biggest thing is we've just executed better than we did earlier in the year. We made too many mental mistakes, turned the football over too much, and didn't really give ourselves a chance to win football games. We've done a better job of that in the last couple of weeks."

How much did it linger when the Saints celebrated on your field last year. I know a lot was probably made of it, but did it resonate a little bit with you guys?
"Not for me personally, I think they beat us at home. It's where it starts and where it ends. Beyond that, I don't pay too much attention to that kind of stuff. You have a lot of other stuff on your plate as a quarterback and going against a very good defense and their scheme is really my concern at this point."

Regardless of that, is this an emotional type rivalry game that stands out?
"I can say this about every time I play New Orleans; It's always a tough, physical game. I know both sides are spirited. We have an emotional team that plays that way every week and they do too. It's a lot of fun in-division. You always have something extra at stake when it's in-division. That's about it."

When you turn on the film of the New Orleans defense does number 33 Jabari Greer stand out more to you than some other guys?
"He's certainly a good player. I've played against him a number of times now. I know from personal experience, he's a good player. He's playing at a high level. Their entire defense. Their scheme is certainly aggressive. They leave their corners on an island. They've done a good job this year."

From a quarterback standpoint, a lot has been made of that the Saints defense hasn't gotten a lot of sacks, but has been getting a lot of pressure. Is pressure just as good as a sack or from a quarterback's standpoint, just as bad as a sack?
"Yes, I think the thing that the Saints do is they're relentless. They continue to bring pressure whether they're sack, or ball disruptions, all those things they are trying to do. Those are things we have to prepare for and have heads-up for, certainly things that can cause problems for offenses."

Do they give more pressure than they receive credit for?
"I haven't read what you guys have wrote, so I don't know how much credit or how little credit, you give them, and in my opinion they're a good defense."

Was Julio Jones' performance last week a glimpse of what you were hoping for when your organization traded up to get him?
"I think so, I think obviously if he could do that every week that would be great. We understand, those explosive plays aren't' every week. He's done a great job the entire season. He continues to get better week in and week out. For a rookie that's all you can ask for. His attitude and approach, preparation has been really, really good. I think he's doing a great job for us."

Has the advantage helped to play this game in the Georgia Dome at this point in the season based on the schedule?
"You always like to play at home. I think everybody in the NFL feels that way. This time of the year, we have a couple in a row at home now. That's good. Whether you're playing New Orleans in the Georgia Dome or down there in the Superdome, it's going to be a tough game. That's kind of the mindset that you need to have going into it."

Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith
Conference Call With New Orleans Media
Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Your team is on a three game win streak.  What's been different about your team in the last three games?
"We've played with a lot more consistency in all three areas.  I think that's been the biggest difference.  We were on a rollercoaster going up and down in the first five games.  We've been able to do some things more consistently."

When you took over the Falcons job, did you know how big of a rivalry the Saints and Falcons are?
"I wasn't really familiar with it, but after the first game we played you could feel the intensity as you walked into the building.  It became apparent real quickly.  I think it has a lot of history and I have learned a lot more about it since I've been here.  The fans from New Orleans travel well when they come here to Atlanta.  When we go to New Orleans, our fans travel well.  It's a good week for the fans when the two teams get together, but for us it's business as usual.  Sean's team and our team have to prepare just like it's any other week."

Do you think the Saints have been a measuring stick or a team to get past since you've taken over as head coach?
"When we first got here we talked about us wanting to be a team that was relevant at the end of the season and have sustainability.  Those were two of the goals we wanted to attain and you have to look at teams that have been relevant and have had sustainability.  That's what it's all about I think in the NFL.  There are a lot of teams, players and coaches that have ability.  But you have to have sustainability to get where you guys have gotten to.  That's something that we look at is teams that have been relevant and have shown sustainability."

How much of a carryover effect does the Saints celebrating on the Falcons logo last year have going into this game?
"Zero.  That was last season.  That has no bearing of what's going to happen in the ballgame on Sunday."

The sacks numbers are low this season for the Saints.  How effective has the Saints pressure on defense been this season?
"I really believe that sack numbers are overrated.  I think it's something that can be looked at as a benchmark of how team plays pass defense and that's not really the case.  The important part of rushing the passer in my mind is affecting the quarterback, knowing where the launch point is, trying to get him off that launch point, and interrupt the timing of the throws by getting him off that point.  I've never been a guy that gets concerned about a team's sack numbers.  When our coaching staff and I watch tape, we look at the pressure that can be applied.  I know Gregg Williams is probably one of the best of all-time of designing blitz packages to pressure on a quarterback."

Do you think the Saints have been doing that effectively from what you've seen?
"From what I've seen, they've been very effective.  I don't think it's any different than any other year, albeit the sacks numbers aren't up to the level that they've been at in the past but they are affecting the quarterback."

Julio Jones had a big game last weekend.  What does he bring to your offense?
"Julio is a guy that not only helps us in the passing game, but he also helps us in the running game.  I think they're all interconnected.  He's a very talented guy.  He has a great skill set.  I really like the way he approaches the game.  He will mix it up in terms of blocking.  We were glad to just get him back out on the field last week.  He missed some time and I really think there may have been some silver lining when he missed that time because he had an opportunity to sit back and evaluate and watch how we practice.  Without having the offseason you usually have, rookies get kind of thrown into it and I think it was positive for Julio to sit back and actually watch a practice, take it all in and watch the other guys work."

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