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Joe Vitt: Carolina Panthers Are Most Improved Defense Saints Have Faced This Season


New Orleans Saints Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt
Media Availability
Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Opening Statement: "Jed Collins didn't practice today. Pierre Thomas didn't practice today. Akiem Hicks didn't practice today. Jabari Greer didn't practice today. Chris Ivory and Jimmy Graham were full participation. Today was first and second down. You have to give the Carolina defense a lot of credit. They're ranked eighth in the National Football League. They might be the most improved defense we've seen all year. They're not coming at with you as many dogs, pressures and blitzes as they once were. They're getting it done with a four man rush, they're getting it done with a good sack ratio and they're able to drop maximum coverage, which is always a concern. They're doing a good job. Offensively they're running the offense through Cam Newton. They have two great backs, but they're going to give you everything that you have to put on a place. You're going to get the wildcat, pistol, inbounds, zone read, naked off zone read and the option. It's always a challenge for our football team to defend that stuff. We spent extra time covering those things today."

What do you think Carolina has done to improve?
"They have gotten the running game going. They haven't turned the ball over. They're doing a better job on third down. They're doing a better job of protecting the quarterback and pressuring the opponent's quarterback with a four-man rush. Those are the specific things they're doing."

What are the specific things you saw that resulted in your team being successful on third down against Dallas?
"We liked our matchups. As I said last week in the press conference, we knew where they were going to go with the ball. They were going to attack the outside lanes, so we were able to be prepared for that. I thought our rush was very good last week. I thought we affected the quarterback, we were getting our hands up. He didn't have clean throwing lanes to throw into and pass defenses, rush plus coverage. We had to pressure a few times."

Is it the same emphasis this week?
"There's no doubt. We're going to install our third down package tonight, so I'll talk more about that tomorrow. Today was first and second down. But, third down for us this year, has been the third most critical factor in our victories. In some years third down doesn't come into play that much, because you convert on first and second down and don't have that many third downs. This year, when we've converted over 47 percent offensively, I think our record's 5-1. That's a big stat for us and if we can hold our opponent under 36 percent on defense it's the same record. It's been a critical stat for us this year."

How difficult is it preparing for the types of offenses that teams like Carolina and Washington run with their quarterbacks?
"It's a challenge. I said before, a year ago, you play a guy like Cam Newton, you're defending six eligible receivers, not five. When he's in the gun, he can fake a ball, run out on the perimeter and they can throw it back to him. There's a lot of things that they do that you see just twice a year. The naked off the zone read, option off the zone read and then they're going to come with an unbalanced package, an attack all over package and the pistol package. It's challenging. You spend extra time. Your players have to look at extra film. It's a challenge. They run the offense through Cam Newton. He has world class athleticism. He can beat you with his legs quicker than anything, but he's got a strong arm and can find the open receiver. He's a tall guy that can see the field and has great vision."

Is your defense better-prepared for game 16 under Steve Spagnuolo than game two?
"Absolutely. The guys are communicating and terminology's down. Every defense has a pressure point, so the guys have better understanding of where the pressure point is and where the ball can break. But, that just comes from being together, good communication and pretty remarkable resolve on the part of the coaches and the players."

Is the 32nd total ranking on defense skewed?
"No, I've said it from day one. In the National Football League, you are who you are. You can skew it anyway you want. Have we played better and gotten better? Absolutely. Two weeks ago, we pitched a shutout. We're much better against the running game now. The numbers show that, but in this league you are who you are."

Is there a bittersweet feeling with the last game coming up knowing you have gotten better?
"We're just concentrating on this game. We tried to get better today and better this Wednesday than we were last Wednesday. We're going to try to be better tomorrow than we were last Thursday and play our best football game of the year. That's all we're trying to prepare for right now. Then all those other feelings will come into play after Sunday's game I imagine."

Have you heard any update on Sean Payton's situation?
"I can't talk to him. Do I have a special dispensation for the holidays? No. I haven't talked to him. I'm not called into contract negotiations. They don't want my opinion."

Can you talk about how Tom Johnson's role has evolved?
"It has evolved. I think right now you're seeing some good inside rush from him. I think he's kind of developed a pretty good counter move. Once he can get a guard to move one way or the other, you're seeing the dip and rip and the club and getting good pressure on the quarterback. He's a good athlete and I know he's worked hard and I think you're seeing the pressure he brings in football games come because of how hard he's worked, but that inside pressure and counter moves have been good for us."

Do you still look at him as a young player?
"I look at him the same way, but maybe a little bit more advanced than Cam Newton (a rookie last year). He played some professional football, but this is a whole different league. I think that he's come along in the second year in this program, the same way a rookie would come along, just with a little bit more maturity into it. I say that in a positive way."

As a coach, looking at this final game and the role is to finish 8-8. How important is it?
"You have a choice where you can be 7-9 which is a losing record or you can be 8-8 which is .500 so, there's choices and consequences. There's not anyone in our building happy with 8-8. I'll never be happy with 8-8, but the other choice we have is to be 7-9. That's a losing record. That speaks volumes for ourselves too. That speaks volumes of who we are and what we are. I said before we are what we are. We had good practice today, the intent was there, we were focused. It's real encouraging."

Because of cap issues, could you comment on the possibility of this being your last game with certain veterans?
"I don't know the cap issues. I don't know the cap friendly players. I don't know the paragraph five of players. I know the players available right now to win this game and we're going to play our best players to win this game and all that will be addressed after the season. I really don't know who's cap friendly, who isn't cap friendly, all that other stuff. We have a game to win this week."

Is it easier to put aside?
"I have nothing to do with it. The only thing we can do as coaches is prepare our guys that we have in the locker room and that are available in the game to prepare them to win. That's what our job is. I'm not involved in contract negotiations. I don't know who those players are that you are talking about. We're working hard to win a game."

Do you think your team is playing its best football of the season now as it's winding down?
"I think we're protecting the ball better than we have. We've gone eight quarters now (turnover-free). We've taken the ball away six times in two games. I think our takeaway against Dallas where they were backed up is critical and huge in the game. We're running the ball well, stopping the run better, playing pretty good third down right now. I think we finished better the last two weeks. Our goal is to play better every week, to just get better every week. Ongoing skill development as an individual makes the unit and team play better. That's what our goal is, to get better."

If you add it all up, are you playing the best you have all year?
"I don't know that. You're never happy as a coach. There are a lot of things we can do better and improve on and that's what we're trying to do right now. I think this football team has responded well to adversity and has been focused, getting better every day. The reward has been back to back victories. We have to prepare well this week against a good opponent and see if we can make it three. We have a full plate."

If you add it all up, are you playing the best you have all year?
"I don't know that. You're never happy as a coach. There are a lot of things we can do better and improve on and that's what we're trying to do right now. I think this football team."

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