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Payton: "Harbaugh is Coach of the Year and There's Not a Close Second."

Payton talks about the challenges the 49ers present, WR Marques Colston and former Saints center and current 49er Jonathan Goodwin.


New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton Media Availability

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Opening Statement:

"We don't have any injury or practice reports.  Today was what would be our normal Wednesday in regards to our routine.  Most of it was first and second down.  Practice went well.  Tomorrow we'll get on to the next element of our week."

What are the first few things that stand out to you about the 49ers?

"They've been very consistent all year.  The formula has been outstanding defense.  I think the quarterback play and the way Alex (Smith) has progressed with their system has been real impressive.  They have good balance.  They run the ball exceptionally well.  They're the number one team in taking the football away and they're the number one team in protecting the football offensively.  Those are significant numbers.  I think you can see week to week on tape their production on both sides of the ball.  You're talking about a Pro Bowl punter and a kicking game that's near the top of the league in almost every statistic.  In all three phases, they've been consistent.  They've received great production and as a result they've played very well."

What are the things that Alex Smith is doing differently that's made him so much better this season?

"He's very confident in their system.  I think he delivers the ball very quickly and he's smart with his decisions.  I think he's done a great job of really protecting the football and getting the ball down the field.  I think when you look at their combination of running game and play-action pass, his comfort level in what they're doing is evident.  He's definitely been a player that you've seen a ton of improvement with in just one year and it's pretty amazing."

Do you think they're demanding less of Alex Smith?

"No, you see him operating very efficiently.  He comes up with the big throws.  I think he's improved dramatically and you see that when you watch him week to week on tape."

How much of a concern is Alex Smith's mobility and ability to elude the rush?

"A year ago, we saw certainly a different scheme offensively.  Even on that two-minute drive, he's someone that can run.  A three yard or four yard scramble turns into 11.  You have to be mindful of that."

What do you think about the 49ers defense?

"They play with great leverage and they're physical.  They're an outstanding defense.  When you look at just one statistic, their first touchdown was given up was in the last week of the regular season, that's pretty impressive.  I think the players on the back end do a great job with ball skills.  If you miss with a throw, it's not just a deflected pass, it's an interception.  They run well and they play with real good leverage and they're well-coached."

What is the thing they do that affects the passing game the most?

"If you start from the beginning, they operate really well on first and second down.  One of the keys you talk about each week is trying to avoid the third and long situations.  When you get into those situations, you're out of their base defense, their 3-4 package, and you're into their speed package.  I think they're very athletic at linebacker.  In all three elements whether you're talking about the down players, the linebackers or the secondary, they've all had outstanding seasons.  If they can force you to be one-dimensional and they've been as good as anyone in the league in a long time against the run, then all of a sudden now you're a little bit more predictable and I think that's a challenge."

Do they have some athletes in their secondary that match up better against your players than some other teams?

"I think each week you see a different type of scheme and set of people, but they're playing great coverage.  It kind of all goes hand-in-hand – they're applying pressure, they're forcing teams into long yardage situations and they're very opportunistic on the back end.  I think it's a team that has played as good of complementary football as anyone in our league when you look at what they do in the kicking game, offensively, and defensively.  It's the reason they ended up winning 13 games this year."

Can you compare from an offensive perspective the type of game we saw last weekend to the type of game you're expecting this weekend?

"They're different teams.  Someone asked me last week what type of game I thought it would be.  You go in maybe with an idea of the team you're playing and you study closely what you feel like the strengths and weaknesses of that team are, but you also have to be ready to midstream adjust in either direction.  This is a team that played with great confidence all year long and had some great wins at home and on the road.  The one common denominator would be the two teams that found the postseason maybe after not playing as well the year prior, and I think that in San Francisco's case we're seeing one of the top defenses in football.  They're style offensively is a little different, and yet just as explosive.  I think you're seeing a team that has had a lot more success rushing the football than Detroit had coming into our game.  They're just different that way.  I think the turnover statistic is going to be very important.  Ball security is going to be very important and field position."

How do you prepare for a team that produces a lot of turnovers and doesn't give the ball up too much?

"You start in your own practice making sure your technique in regards to carrying the football as a runner, a wide receiver, a tight end, or someone in the kicking game.  I think defensively it still gets back to that effort and that energy to the football and not knowing when those opportunities might come up, but certainly we know they won't come up if you don't have that effort to the ball.  It's the things you preach all year."

Do you think there's a big difference in offensive production indoors and outdoors?

"I haven't really looked statistically at the indoor thing or the outdoor thing.  I know a lot will be made of us playing on the road and the fact that the Saints haven't won a road playoff game.  Each week, we try to get ready and put our players in the best position and get them prepared for the environment we're going to play in.  I think we've travelled well.  That comes with being a better team."

Do you think the fact that you're running the ball so well know makes you more travel-ready to go play outdoors in potentially challenging conditions?

"I think the running game just helps you offensively when you want to have that element that can control a game, that can control that time of possession, and that can control the clock.  I think that's something that certainly San Francisco places a high value on and we do too."

Is that grass surface different than most?

"I don't think so.  I know it was redone midway through the year there.  The weather off the bay there can be different.  You have to prepare really for the temperature change and wind.  There are some elements there as close as they are to the water, but we've played there a lot and it will be important for us to get quickly acclimated to the forecast and what we're getting that day."

Has Marques Colston stepped up his game even more in the last month or so?

"I thought when we went on the road to Atlanta, he probably had as good of a game as I could recall him having.  I think he's really been consistent.  He's made a lot of big plays for us not only outside, but inside for us, on third down and in the red zone.  It would be hard to point to one game, but clearly in that Atlanta game on the road that was a great performance by him."

With what Jimmy Graham does so well, has Marques Colston given you more of an inside-outside threat?

"There's a combination of where we want to use him.  There will be some personnel groupings where it might be Jimmy or it might be Marques handling what is the 'Y' just depending on which one we're choosing.  He's smart.  He certainly understands zones and man-to-man and he's one of those guys that can travel to each position and feel very comfortable playing them."

Can you talk about your run defense versus San Francisco's run game on offense?

"I think it will be a great challenge.  Frank Gore was a player who we got to work with at the Pro Bowl.  I think their offensive line is playing at a great level.  They do a great job with their schemes and getting you into some personnel groupings or formations that really become challenging defensively.  They do enough at the line of scrimmage and give Alex (Smith) opportunities to get in and out of plays.  That becomes challenging to handle defensively.  There are a number of things that they do offensively, but they've been very consistent at being physical up front and blocking with power and finding ways to create big plays in the running game, and then off of that play-action pass."

Have you heard any of Jim Harbaugh's comments and do you have any reaction to them?

"My only reaction was not really about his comments.  The initial report, my reaction would be that it was a preseason game and it was completely false.  There would have never been any expectations on my part as to a phone call being made.  That normally might happen in week four of the preseason.  I had a chance certainly to see the questions that were asked to him and I read the report back when it was written or on the radio, and it's crazy.  First off, if you look at our defense and you did a little homework and watched our preseason in years prior, we would always pick a game where we were going to get a lot of our blitz packages in, especially without any offseason (due to the work stoppage).  The idea that there was any kind of expectation (for a phone call), his comments were dead on.  I'm close with John Harbaugh and I've known Jim for a while.  It was just a bogus report.  What do you say to that?  All of a sudden now it's three months in and we're still talking about it or being asked questions about it the week before an important playoff game.  It is what it is.  Rarely would we have any contact, but typically we blitz a lot to begin with.  The idea that all of a sudden we're going to blitz more because someone didn't make a phone call is foolish."

Do you admire what Jim Harbaugh has done in San Francisco?

"Absolutely.  When you look at where they were as a team and the turnaround in one season has been unbelievable.  We have a chance each year to vote on Players of the Year and Coach of the Year, and clearly he is the Coach of the Year this season.  There's not a close second when you look at what he started with and what they've done as a staff – the enthusiasm they're playing with, the success they're having and the development of a quarterback that many questioned coming into the year.  This is a results-oriented business and 13 wins is impressive regardless of what team you have or what the expectations are.  It's been real impressive.  He's done a great job."

Does this seem like one of those games where a good punt can be considered a significant play for a team?

"I think the field position is important.  I think the turnover on third-and-eight is something you have to avoid.  When you look at their scoring production off of turnovers, they lead the league in takeaways, and then what they provide their offense is the same as it would've us in '09.  The short field, you're on the 40 (yard line) and going in and then all of a sudden it's first-and-ten.  I think we have to be patient.  We have to understand how this team wins and how they've won not just a few weeks, but during the course of the season.  They are real good at getting the football and putting their offense in positions to be successful.  They're offense is second in the league in scoring points after takeaways.  So all those things jump out statistically and I would agree with that.  I would agree that there are going to be some snaps that a week or two ago, we've gone through games where we've only punted once or twice.  That's not always the norm.  That gets back to how this game gets played and how it begins to unfold, but I think especially at this time of the ear in these postseason games we just went back and do the turnover margin in the postseason and it's 80 percent winner for the team that wins that battle.  There were a few games this week that were even.  Our game was even against Detroit.  That's a big number."

Do you think Jonathan Goodwin can give them an advantage?

"No, I think it's overrated.  I think having played a team in the preseason and you get a feel for their personnel, and we had just played them in the regular season last season, Jonathan is a real smart player so how we identify Mikes or do protection, there might be, but generally all of that is on film.  There's not really that dark secret that's fun to write about but really doesn't exist.  All of it is on tape time and time again.  All the video is shared."

Do you think the arrival of Jonathan Goodwin may have had an effect on how Alex Smith is playing this year?

"I think there are ten other players that can impact how a quarterback is able to play.  They've done a good job with their protections.  They've done a great job with their running game.  I think often times that position gets a lot of the blame when things aren't going well or maybe too much of the credit when things are going real well, but I think you star with the impact their staff has had on Alex and his development, the work he's put in, and I'm sure the confidence he's playing with now and the way his peers are playing for him.  I think it's been impressive."

How much of an impact do you think Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers will have in this game in stopping the run?

"They're doing well.  Each week they're involvement a lot of times is predicated based on the type of offense we're seeing and their snap count is the same way.  San Francisco uses a lot of regular and double tight ends and heavy personnel groupings, so those guys will have a big role in the game."

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