The Saints returned to practice on Thursday after a two-day break to start preparing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and had a two hour practice at the club's indoor facility. Following the practice, Head Sean Paytona and QB Drew Brees adressed the media. Below are the transcripts:
Head Coach Sean Payton
"Quickly with some notes here: Courtney Roby was placed on injured reserve and we brought Adrian Arrington up from our practice squad and put him on the active roster. Robert Meachem (toe) was full today; Remi Ayodele (ankle) was full; Alex Brown (shoulder) was full; Chris Ivory (hamstring) was full; Jimmy Wilkerson (foot) was full; Reggie Bush (chest) was full; David Thomas (knee) did not practice; Jeremy Shockey (groin) did not practice; Anthony Hargrove (knee) did not practice; Anthony Waters (ankle) did not practice; Marques Colston (knee) did not practice. Today's schedule is a little different for a Thursday – it was like our Wednesday – so the emphasis was base, first and second down."
Did Marques Colston get hurt in the game on Monday?
"Yes, in the game."
Was it anything that required a surgical procedure?
"He had a scope on (Tuesday) and there's a chance that he could play in this game. The scope was done on (Tuesday) and we'll see where he's at."
Was Roby's situation similar to Randall Gay's earlier in the year with the concussions?
"Yes. But in Courtney's case and his defense, it probably wasn't as reoccurring as Randall's but a lot of it had to do with the timing."
Is Chris Ivory's hamstring any concern?
"He was full today."
Are there any other details you can give us on Colston's injury?
So you don't want to say what the procedure was?
"You guys know me better; I don't really ever want to talk about injuries in this meeting. We give the injury report – which some teams don't even do – and we get that to you guys, but in regards to the specifics or how they're doing or where they're at, that's not to our advantage."
In bringing up Adrian Arrington and putting Courtney Roby on IR, was Roby going to go on IR regardless or did you need to find the spot for Arrington?
"With Colston's questionability, I think that probably made that move happen quicker than later."
Was Roby going to go on IR no matter what?
"I wouldn't say that necessarily; I think the spot was needed with the injury to Marques."
Can you talk about the maturation of Josh Freeman as a quarterback?
"It has happened fast. He's someone that has worked his tail off. He's someone that spends a lot of time at his game. He has great size; he's a tough guy to sack. I've heard comparisons to (Ben) Roethlisberger and from a standpoint of trying to bring him down, there are some similarities. He can extend plays with his feet; you see him outside the pocket to the right and to the left making plays. He has great arm strength and he's very calm in the pocket. It's not too big for him. We've seen a guy like him and his learning curve right in front of our eyes. Now they're running the ball effectively and they have skill people at the receiver position and the tight end position and you see him distributing the ball to those people very consistently. Obviously he's playing with confidence and I think those in the huddle with him in turn are playing with confidence."
Are there areas where your team is better than they were a year ago?
"I think overall in team defense we're playing better. I think that's one area and from our third down perspective on both sides of the ball we're more efficient. Then there are some areas where we're not playing as well. But the focus for us is that each week is an opportunity to improve and to get better and to make corrections. This week we're on a shorter timeframe to do that."
What went into the decision to give the players Wednesday off? Was that resting up because it's late in the season?
"We've done this before after Monday night games. I've said before that the time after a game we value a little bit more than the practice that we might have on a Saturday prior to a game. Just with where we're at in the schedule this late in the season and the type of game that we just played, we wanted to still have that two-day timeframe prior to the next practice."
People talk about the bond that quarterbacks have with their receivers but it seems that Drew Brees has a trust with the defense where they know they can count on each other. Do you see it that way?
"I think that's one of his great strengths. When you talk about those players that play that position at a very high level, they're able to move on from a negative play and not let that affect the next series or the next set of plays. There's a very strong confidence in our ability to not only play with a lead but to play from a deficit and we understand that when you go through the length of a long season there are going to be times when you're going to have to play well from behind and Monday was an example of that."
Is that an understanding that's forged just by what's done on the field?
"I think the confidence starts with the production in past events or games. That's something that's earned and that applies to the player himself; in other words, the self-confidence that he has is through hard work and through past experiences just as it would be for his teammates."
Some of your receivers have used the phrase that Brees has "thrown them open" on plays. Is that something that he does better than most?
"I've heard that too and I think that's a good description, particularly when we're seeing man-to-man coverage. I think more in the last five years that offenses have looked at ways to attach man-to-man coverage outside or on the inside portion of the defense. It's very simple in regards to there being a location of a defender yet there's a shoulder opposite that location that still can present a target area much like an inbounds pass in basketball versus man-to-man. In other words, the squeeze might be coming from the right and I give you my left hand and the ball is thrown in that location. Even against man-to-man coverage, teams have become more efficient at handling that as opposed to just always running east and west. There are snaps that happen inside on a linebacker where you might look at a guy and say that he's covered and yet if it's put on a proper shoulder, it's hard to defend. That same thing happens – we all see the underthrown gos or fades, the back-shoulder throws if you will – those are challenging for the defenders as well. But it starts with an accurate passer that can put the ball in those specific locations."
Did you do that when you were playing quarterback in college?
"Shoot, no. I threw guys covered."
You had a dominant game the last time you played the Buccaneers in Tampa. Other than Freeman, how else have they grown as a team since then?
"The thing that's most impressive is – at this time of the season all the teams are banged up to some degree so injuries become a big part of the success or failure of a given team, but when you look at the injuries they've had, there are seven starters that in the last six weeks are no longer playing because of significant injuries. You talk about a starting center in Jeff Faine and Davin Joseph, a Pro Bowl guard, more recently a starting receiver and a starting safety, starting linebacker, a starting cornerback in Aqib Talib, and a starting defensive end – that's a lot. And yet the next man in has played well for them. They've won nine games, which is substantial when you look at what they've had to go through. It's a team that's young, and yet it's a team that's playing with a lot of confidence. When you have a quarterback, that gives you a chance. It's hard to play with that same confidence if you feel like the guy behind center is struggling or not playing at a high level. Josh is certainly playing at a high level and to overcome what they've had to overcome is pretty impressive."
If Atlanta is way ahead in their game on Sunday, will you scoreboard watch and would that change your approach at all?
"No. Somebody asked me that the other day. No, we're doing everything we can in our power to get our 12th win. Period."
LeGarrette Blount didn't play against you guys in the first meeting and now is close to 1,000 yards. What has he meant to this Tampa team?
"He has power and he has very good balance. He's one of those guys that with those things and his speed, he's someone that if you don't get to your run fits properly he's going to have yardage; he's going to have leaky yardage and he's going to have big runs. He's been a shot in the arm for what they're doing offensively. He had a huge game last week. He presents a big challenge. He's done it consistently so we'll have our hands full with him."
In these last two games, have you seen a marked increase in the amount of blitzes the defenses are throwing at you?
"I would say that's accurate."
Do you think that because Drew had had so much success against blitzes earlier on that teams had gone away from blitzing you that much?
"As an offense, two things happen when you're getting pressured; it's an opportunity for big plays and yet it's an opportunity for the defense to alter or disrupt your normal timing. I think it's an area that we have to be better at as we move forward."
Had you noticed defenses not blitzing you for a long time?
"No. Each week you get a different gameplan. One of the things that's always challenging as we prepare during the week is oftentimes what you get on Sunday may not be what you've seen the last three or the last four, so that ability to adjust and adjust fairly quickly (is important). After the first series in our game the other night it was apparent that we were going to get a lot of pressure. So we have to continue to work on handling that and discouraging it. In our league, if something shows up as a weakness you're going to continue to see it until you fix it."
Baltimore blitzes a lot against everyone. Did you see even more than expected from them?
"I would say that Baltimore pressured us more than they have."
Did Atlanta also pressure you more than they normally do an opponent?
"Clearly. If you were looking at the tape, just as a casual observer, from the first time we played them we got a lot more pressure."
Did that force you to change your protection schemes? Were you leaving more people in to block later in the game?
"Late in the game we did. We got to some gap protections and tried to change the type of protections that we were in. You saw us in some more seven-man protections, trying to not allow a free rusher. Yes, clearly there were some things that we had to do that were different from when the game initially started."
Did you say which knee it is on Colston?
"It's his right knee. Which is the opposite knee that he's had work done on before."
Did his injury occur on one specific play?
"No, there's not a specific play. I don't want to diminish the fact that he had this scope, but they just cleaned up some loose bodies. Fortunately since we think he has a chance to play Sunday, it's encouraging. It was one of those decisions we made knowing that it wasn't going to be significant."
Would you say it was kind of a lingering injury?
"I wouldn't even say that."
You've said you're going to go all out for this game on Sunday. When it comes to guys with injuries and guys that have been banged up, would you treat them any differently?
"Just like I answered Ed, this is our chance for a 12th win and we're not in any shape or form going into the game – it would be different if the times were different, but we're full speed ahead. I said that earlier and I stand by it."
Is momentum important going into the playoffs?
"You always hope to be playing with a lot of momentum. A lot was made of it a year ago when we finished with three losses. Certainly as a coach and as a player, if you had your druthers, you'd want to be playing your best football as you entered the postseason. If you're not, then you have those weeks prior to each game that are important to create that momentum. I think momentum is important in football, period."
You've played very well in the second half of the season, it seems that you'd want to keep that going?
"I think that's accurate. We've talked about it in our meetings that we're in a race to continue to improve. There are some things that we feel like we can get better at and more consistent at, and we're in a race to do that as we finish out this season and play Tampa."
Does the fact that you went through the downturn at the end of last regular season and were able to be successful give you more confidence no matter where you're seeded in the playoffs?
"If you recall prior to the season beginning, a lot was made of the challenges – and I understand the challenges coming after a successful season. The key ingredient was having the right people in this locker room, the right leadership that still was hungry for more success after tasting it. You know that there are road bumps along the way and it's a long season and if we're able to week by week manage the wins and manage the losses and get on to the next game and make the corrections, then we have a chance. To date we've been able to do that I think because we have a veteran locker room and we have a team that has gone through the experiences a year ago. Now we can't control where we end up or who we end up playing, we just have to get ourselves mentally and physically ready for each challenge and it really starts this weekend. You guys hear me say all the time that there's just a routine that we're used to that I think serves us best and that's the next challenge in front of you and searching for that perfect game that may or may not exist but nonetheless, that's the approach. That's our goal this week."
Which of your players were alternates for the Pro Bowl?
"There are six or seven players that were alternates. First alternates are Roman Harper and Jonathan Vilma; second alternate is Marques Colston; third alternates are Heath Evans, Malcolm Jenkins and Thomas Morstead; fourth alternates are Sedrick Ellis and Chris Ivory."
QB Drew Brees
*Obviously you have a great relationship with your receivers and a great feel for them. It seems like after your two interceptions, how your defense said that they were very confident that you could lead the game-winning drive that the chemistry crosses over. Can you discuss it? Is that confidence based on on-field production or are there things a quarterback does to be a leader of the whole team? *"I definitely think that relationship is forged by your ability to do that on the field. We have a track record together now for a while. With Gregg Williams coming in and being the coordinator of that defense and those guys kind of coming into their own with the offense, it's really been the last two years here. As many fourth quarter victories or comebacks we've had, big plays by either side, which have been quite a few, I think there's a confidence level on our sideline, whether it's the defense out there that needs to come up with a play or the offense that needs to come up with a play or drive to put up the points that go ahead. I would definitely say that practice, as competitive as we make it or have made it over there over the last two years, that certainly makes it as well, because we all kind of stoke that fire inside each other, that competitive fire. There are some days where the defense gets the best of us and there's other days that the offense gets the best of them. There are times when I've walked off the field made, feeling like I'm tired of them getting me on that one. I'm going to do something about it tomorrow. I come out with a trick up my sleeve. (Jonathan) Vilma comes out one day with a trick up his sleeve. It's constantly that cat and mouse game, that chess match. In the end, the competitiveness, that's as good a way as you can prepare yourself for what it's going to be like on Sunday and you make it as gamelike as you possibly can, you make it as hard as you possibly can so when you get to the games you feel like you've been there before and have succeeded."
Is it an unsaid thing? For example at one point you were leaving the field and Heath Evans kind of gave you encouragement and it looked like you felt it wasn't necessary."I remember the exact deal you're talking about, just because, I think I've played long enough to know when I've made a mistake or I don't need a pat on the back or someone cheering me up. I know what I have to do to fix the problem. I know what's at stake here. I don't need to be reminded. I think that's for any veteran guy. I guess we all need a pat on the back time to time. In that situation, I know what my job is. I know what I need to do."
Do you and Jonathan Vilma have the same feel in that regard?"No. I think what's interesting about the quarterback position is that our mistakes are magnified a little bit more. A lot of times you probably wouldn't know a mistake made by another player, but you're going to know one made by the quarterback, so I guess what I'm saying is when I come off to the sideline and I've made a mistake, someone might pat me on the back because they know that he just made a mistake and we all just know it, but at times I don't know if someone on the defense made a mistake. I know they're going to pick themselves up and take care of business just like we're going to take care of business."
Have you been in a situation like Sunday where something else plays a role in your playoff seeding or qualification? That being said, will you see yourself peeking at the out of town scoreboard during the game?"No, because it's not like it's a situation where no matter what we do in the game that affects us. We have to win in order to give us the one seed. We have to win and Carolina has to beat Atlanta. It's not like we're resting our starts and scoreboard watching. We have to play a game and we want to play our best and that's all there is to it. We won't be looking up there and we'll be focused at what we have to do to win that game."
Have you been in that situation before in San Diego?"No, I haven't. Not where it's such a drastic jump from the five seed to the one seed. There may have been a time where it was the four to the three or something like that. Not the five to the one."
How does it make you feel that a team that potentially can have won five less games than you be hosting you in a playoff game?"They win their division. That's the way the rules are set up. We understand that. It is what it is. We're not going to complain about that at all."
Do you think there could be some momentum to change that rule a bit?"I don't know. I think what makes it different is not the fact that you would potentially go and play in a road playoff game against a team that has four or five less victories than you. Potentially if we get a first round bye. We'd be the two seed, but now all of a sudden because we're not a division winner, we're the five seed. Wow, that's definitely a big difference…A first round bye and a home playoff game, but now you have to do instead on the road. That's a tough thing to sit there and think that makes sense. It is what it is. (There's) nothing we can do about it."
He's listed as a tight end, but in how many respects is Jimmy Graham a wide receiver to you more than a tight end?"He has some wide receiver qualities. As far as his ability to catch the ball, he has some really soft hands. He can cover ground. He's deceivingly fast, but he's a huge target. He's a freak of nature. That's what he is. He's a hybrid, but he's a big strong guy. He's 260 pounds, so he's got some weight behind him. Put him at tight end. He'll block and do everything a tight end needs to do and yet you split him out and he looks like a big receiver."
Were you planning the type of throw you made to Graham all along for the touchdown?"You just have to find the window of where to throw the ball. Sometimes it's up and over. Sometimes it's around, but those quick throws down the red zone, tight windows, you kind of have to improvise as the play develops."
Tampa has seemed to have had more success since the first time you played them. How has their defense evolved?"(That's a) good question. It's similar to where last year we played them and the second time we played them it was quite different in their defensive scheme and I think that just develops as the season goes on according to what you're successful with, but your personnel. They've had quite a few injuries. I think it's a combination of what's worked for them but fitting what works for them best. Over the last three or four weeks, the amount of pressure's gone up. I think it's at about 60 percent right now, which is considered a lot for a team. They hang their hat at that and they've been really good. I'd say the biggest thing that I notice is that teams that bring pressure make big plays but give up big plays, but these guys have given up the third fewest big pass plays in the league, which is pretty remarkable for the pressure they bring. That means they're playing pretty well in the back end."
Do you even look much at that first game, because you scored on your first three possessions. Since then they've had so many injuries and that was so much earlier in the year. Would you almost in a way disregard that because you know you're not going to see a lot of those people and some of that scheme?"Yes, it's definitely the personnel. It's also the scheme. I think with the more pressure they've brought, part of that is to stop the run, because they were getting run pretty heavily on early on and since then they've improved that number by bringing that pressure. That's part of their philosophy, but we look at it. There's some personnel carryover even though they've lost one of their corners (Aquib Talib), one of their safeties (Cody Grimm). But as I look at it a guy who played nickel against us is now a starting corner. A guy who played dime is now the nickel. There's some carryover in terms of personnel. They're just having to play more now than they did then."
It seems like teams are blitzing at you more. Is that a change from earlier in the seaosn?"You look at the identity of some of these teams. Baltimore is a pressure team, so they're going to pressure you no matter what. Atlanta, I think definitely pressured us more than in the past or not necessarily what we expected. You're always planning for pressure. You're always planning for it and how you attack it, but this is just another one of those games where the film doesn't like. You watch the film, they bring a lot of pressure. We have to be prepared for it, but in the end you have to be ready for everything. They're going to gameplan you. They're going to have some nuances and new things. Some is about adjusting on the run, but a lot of it is execution too. You dial up plays that are blitz-friendly. You can run them against zone. You can run them against pressure zone. You can run them against man. You run them against anything."
Because of what's at stake for Tampa Bay, how dangerous are they on Sunday?"They're still playing for a lot. They're playing for a playoff spot and when you look at maybe the way people perceived them prior to the season, where there's no way those guys make the playoffs. They're young and all this stuff. As the season's gone on they've had all these injuries, yet, here they are knocking on the door of the playoffs with a chance, albeit needing some help from other teams. I know what they're saying. They're saying if we take care of our business, not only do we have a chance at the playoffs, but at ten wins. That's a big deal in this league. That's hard to do, especially with a young team. They've played exceptionally well. Josh Freeman's played exceptionally well. I think they're well-coached and you just see them playing with a lot of fire, passion, emotion and intensity. That's how this game needs to be played. So, I think they're one of those teams that has a lot of pride. They're going to come in and give us their best shot."
Your receivers say you throw them open often. That seems like a new term. Is that something you even did in college?"Yes, I think that's part of playing the quarterback position. Hitting them right in the chest isn't always the perfect pass. Sometimes if there's a guy draped on their back, the only place you can throw it to where he can't get it is down near his knees. You can go down, get it and fall on top of it. There's a guy that's undercutting him, so you have to put the ball up here. You're throwing him open. You're throwing it to where he and only he can get it and the defender can't. The worst thing that happens is it's an incompletion. It's throwing it open. Throwing it away from the defender to your guy, away from their guy."
Did you get some compliments on your tackle of John Abraham? That maybe saved the game."It just kind of bailed me out a little bit. The defense bailed me out."
It was a heck of a tackle."You just get them down anyway you can."
Are you proficient at that? Have you made a lot of tackles in your career?"I guess you don't want to be known as a wuss, that you're not going to tackle anybody."
Did you play any defense in high school?"Freshman year of high school. It's not something that I wanted to have to do a lot from the standpoint of that means I'm throwing picks or we're fumbling. Those are all bad things, but at times, you can save a game by making tackle, because a lot of times you're the last line of defense. You have to forced somebody out of bounds or find a way to get him down, at least give your defense a chance to get on the field. I'd say I made a lot more tackles when I was a younger player, because I wasn't as smart back then. Also after you jump in a pile in a fumble and dislocate your shoulder, that makes you think twice."