New Orleans Saints Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt
Post-Practice Media Availability
Thursday, November 08, 2012
"Darren Sproles did not practice with a hand. Zach Strief did not practice with a groin. Junior Galette did not practice with an ankle. Courtney Roby did not practice with a shoulder. Today we installed in practice on both sides of the ball third down. Offensively, they are doing a great job, I'm talking about the Atlanta Falcons, of converting third downs. I think they're 47 percent right now. I think one of the interesting things about this football team is they're doing such a great job on second down averaging I think 6.2 yards per play on second down that they get into some very favorable and little third down and distances on third down – third and three, third and two, third and four – so their conversion rates are high. Defensively, we're going to get multiple fronts, coverages, and really a pressure package that we've got to be good at picking up. We introduced that to our players today, we practiced today and we've got more work to do on it."
Considering the way Denver used the cutback run, how challenging is it to stop Atlanta's Michael Turner since they like to do the same thing?
"It's a little bit different of a cutback run because (Michael) Turner is a power back. Turner's going to take it really to the numbers back to the hash, get his foot in the ground and get as much power as he can with his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage and not try to get it all the way back outside the end. It's a little bit different. Gap control is still going to be critical, the ability to get off of blocks and have a sewed up force because we know what he can do to us. He's one of those backs that the more they give him the ball, the better he gets. He has his best football really in the second half of games. And in the fourth quarter, he can really wear you down."
Is it still a wait and see situation with guys like Darren Sproles and Zach Strief to see if they'll play?
How good of a sign is it that your defense has stepped it up inside the red zone and can they do that consistently?
"That's going to be the mark of a good defense, consistency. I think there are a couple of things that we can hang our hat on. Number one, our red zone defense last week was outstanding. It was really the difference in the game because they got down there. We had seven sacks and we had one taken away, so our ability to pressure the quarterback and get him off his spot (was big). When you can pressure the quarterback and you can play real good red zone defense, you're on your way. Listen, we have to do a better job against this running back (Turner) and against this running game and stopping the run and we've got to keep these big plays off of us. Those have been points of emphasis. Our players know it, our players have embraced the challenge, and we're going to work as hard as we can to get better at it."
With Mike Nolan running the defense with so many different fronts, is that a significant thing?
"It is because Mike Nolan is really a 3-4 or an odd-spacing coordinator. When he took the Atlanta job, it was really built to be a 4-3 team. He's integrated his 34 fronts with really (John) Abraham being a standup outside linebacker, but they can go even or they can go odd. Mike has always been a guy who's going to give you a lot of different fronts and looks. He's got man pressures, he's got zone pressures, he's got 5-man, 6-man blitzes, he's got 6-man blitzes with a single-high safety and peel coverage and he's got zero coverages. He does a good job of disguising them and they're playing with great confidence right now."
How challenging is it to decide if a player can play at this point in the season knowing that a guy isn't 100 percent healthy?
"You listen to the advice of the doctors, the trainers and the player and then you make a decision. It's really not any bigger of a challenge than it is in the preseason. The player's either healthy enough to go or he isn't."
At the midway point of the season, do you reference a new season starting with this game with the final eight games coming up?
"Not really. This is what we've done here and this is what's worked for us, this is one game and one week at a time. The most important thing to us right now is that we had a good third down practice today. We installed our third down offense and defense and expanded our kicking game. We're going to have post-practice meetings so our players have a great understanding of exactly what it is that we're asking them to do come gametime. We come in Friday and it's going to be short yardage, goal line and red zone. To look too far out in the second half and talk about games, we can only play one game this week. The only way we can play this game with a chance to compete is to make sure we have great preparation and practices."
With the Falcons coming to town and the fact that it's a big rivalry, what does that add to this week?
"I don't know about the rivalry fact. I don't think we have a pep rally and a bonfire tonight anywhere. I know that they're a highly skilled football team. I said this before, (that) I think they're the best team in football. Their record dictates that, so to get caught up in the emotionalism of some supposed rivalry, we better know who to get and how to get them, what to do and how to do it, understand the matchups and what they do best, and prepare ourselves as best we can for this matchup or it's going to be a long afternoon."
Are they using Julio Jones any differently than they did last year?
"There are some different route combinations, but he is a deep-threat that can take the top off of a coverage at any time. He's one of those receivers that he's strong enough on a three-step drop, he can catch a hitch or a slant and break a tackle and he's going to take it the distance. Both those wide receivers right now I think are playing as good as any one-two combination in the National Football League and they've got a quarterback that knows where to deliver the ball and when to deliver the ball. You throw Tony Gonzalez in there and you have the running game that they have, this is our stiffest challenge to date. This is the best football team we've played to date and we need to have our A game."
What impresses you most about Tony Gonzalez's durability and productivity after all these years?
"I said this yesterday. I was with Tony Gonzalez for four years in Kansas City. Number one, he takes great care of himself. He has great practice habits, but he does all the right things off the field that enables him to have the longevity that he's had. He eats right, he's always in great shape, he takes great care of his body, and then he's got great practice habits. Any quarterback that's ever been with him has had great confidence that he knows how to get open, knows how to find the open seams, but as his age he can sit down in a zone and beat you in zone coverage. He can beat any linebacker still in man-to-man coverage in the National Football League and most safeties versus man-to-man coverage. I think he's running better now than he did a year ago when he had the bad ankle. He's like a fine wine, he keeps getting better."
What did you see when you had a chance to see Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma on the field at the same time in terms of them being great communicators and leaders?
"Let me say this, I don't think there has been anything unique. I think it's about the way we felt that they would communicate and interact. We've got two highly-professional football players that are smart and understand the game and do a great job of sharing information. The game certainly isn't too big for them. These are two linebackers that play the game within the game every Sunday. You really enjoy sitting back and watching these guys talk to the younger players and share information with the younger players. I wouldn't say that anything is surprising to us. I think it's about the way we thought it would be, two highly-professional players."
Why is Matt Ryan such a tough quarterback to sack?
"Matt Ryan knows where to go with the ball. He knows where one, two and three are. He has escape ability. Along with all those qualities, he has great pocket presence. He knows where the slides are, he knows the defensive game that's taking place up front, he knows where the bubbles are, and he has great pocket awareness. I said this about Matt Ryan when he came in as a rookie, (that) I don't know that I ever saw a rookie, besides Dan Marino, have as good of a rookie season as he had. He's gotten better every year and I think this year he's having an MVP year because of all the characteristics he can bring to the table. He's tough, smart, accurate, plays his best football in crunch time, has great touch on the long ball, can zip a tight ball in there, has all the throws in his arm, so it's been fun to watch him become the elite quarterback he is. But you hate playing against a guy like that on Sunday."
How has their offensive line been playing recently?
"Their offensive line has really been playing very well. It's a cohesive unit. They don't have a lot of runs, but the runs they have, they block well. I looked at four game films and I don't see any negative plays. The ball carrier is getting back to the line of scrimmage and the ball carrier is crossing you. They play with outstanding pad level, they have good footwork, they have a veteran center (Todd McClure) that knows exactly what to do, they finish blocks extremely well and they protect the passer with a lot of pride."