Following today's practice outdoors at the team's Metairie facilities, New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton addressed the media. Among the topics he talked about were the value of his five team captains, what he has seen on film of the 49ers offense, even going back to his memories of the 49ers in the early 1970's when he was a youth growing up in San Mateo, Calif.
Opening Statement:"The (injury) report is the same as yesterday in regards to our injuries. (Jonathan) Vilma with his groin was full. Anthony Waters (hamstring) did not practice. Zach Strief, knee did not practice and Chris Ivory, knee, did not practice. Today was much like a Thursday for us with a nickel emphasis on third down. Tomorrow we'll be on red zone, goal line, short yardage."
*You mentioned that last Friday that you looked at statistics for teams' performance in their first game and the correlation that might have with postseason. Have you seen what it is for a team going 2-0? *"I haven't."
I've heard it's 65 percent? "The spot we're in is trying to circle the next opponent and put everything possible into that plan and that preparation. That's something that I think these players understand having gone through it. I think we recognize this is the only game we can play and it will be a challenging game."
*You seem to be very good at getting your team's attention against an opponent that has had a lot of recent success. How do you get your team's attention against a team that just got whacked like San Francisco did at Seattle? *"I think our players understand this league more than anything and they understand when you look at the film really, there are a couple turnovers and a couple big plays by Seattle's offense, a couple double moves that end up scoring touchdowns, but if you watch the body of work clearly on this team, I think that speaks for itself. As they watch the tape on this defense and they watch the tape on this offense they see the things that we have to be able to handle. Each week that can vary, depending on the team we're playing. I think they do a pretty good job of not really paying attention to as much the end result or the score, but more importantly the scheme or individuals executing. That's what you have to do. This team opening up at home on a Monday night…Our players are smart enough to understand that we're going to have to play our best football to win and be in this game. That's just the truth. That's not anything more than that."
*You talked about the 49ers defense some yesterday. Do you think this is a really good defense? *"It is. When you go back and you study how they played last year against some of the better offenses, Indianapolis Colts for instance at Indy..I watched that film last night, you watch how they can take the ball away. Houston had a big lead and very quickly they forced two fumbles. They're back in that game. You look at the Minnesota tape on the road last year where they certainly should have won. If you just take the best of the NFC and AFC has to offer and find the games where they played those top teams. That film itself just shows you where they're at. Those are the tapes. You can't' watch enough of the film. Those are the games that really stick out in your mind when you watch other teams that have really good offenses. You see this front, the way they create turnovers and how they're playing at the back end."
*Are they a team that plays up or down to their level of competition? *"I wouldn't say that. What they've begun to do there is that they have a lot invested in that defense and it starts with Patrick Willis, who's a Pro Bowl linebacker. The guys up front they have are doing an exceptional job. It's certainly evident on film."
*Can you talk about scouting Alex Smith when he was coming out of Utah, where he was then and where he is now? *"I think all of us evaluate those early parts of the drafts. Certainly he was taken first. He was a guy that won a lot of games at Utah. He can run and beat you with his feet. He has a live arm and seems to have really, after he went through some struggles early in his career has gotten back and played some good football, especially at the latter part of last season. He's athletic and he is something that poses the threat of not only throwing the football, but running the football"
*How challenging can it be for a quarterback like him in that he's worked with so many different offensive coordinators and worked with so much offensive terminology? *"I think that can certainly play a factor in the growth. You're always hoping you have continuity within a program, yet in our league more so now than ever before there's change constantly with offenses and defenses. Each year almost a third of the league if not that, changes out. I think if you traced defensive coordinators three years, ago, currently there's five or two years ago there's five that are with the same team today. The same applies on offense. Those changes take place and that can hurt the quarterback. That can slow down his process if that's causing him to learn system after system. That becomes challenging."
Is it important that each of your five captains knows the pulse of the team?"I think so. I think that's certainly one of their responsibilities. They're veteran players that understand the process and what's expected. They were voted on by their teammates. I think they take that responsibility seriously."
*Do you let the team work through those guys? *"I think anytime, whether it's in a team meeting with everyone or potentially strictly with Jon Vilma, or Drew Brees or Will Smith, I think every once in a while there are some specific points you might want to bring up with those guys and it might mean that we have to get this locker room straightened up where we're not keeping it clean enough or it might mean something specially pertaining to the game. They do a good job of that. I think their experience, success and the confidence their teammates have in them, helps them in that."
*It seems like when we speak to Drew, he's not only speaking for himself, but as a representative of the team? *"I think that's accurate. I think he understands it and takes that message and rolls with it seriously."
You said Sedrick Ellis got a game ball last Thursday against the Vikings. How did he perform?"He's very athletic. He gives us versatility in the early downs as a guy who can play against the run and rush the passer in nickel situations. He's really right at a good weight for himself. He's moving well. It was great to see the camp that he had carry over into the first game of the season. He's doing a good job. He's healthy. He's certainly one of our key contributors on that defense."
What would you say your front seven proved in that last game in terms of improving against the run?"Certainly one test and a good test if you see a team like Minnesota and Adrian Peterson that rushes the ball so well and this week will be another one. You see a little bit more gap schemes from San Francisco in the rushing attack and yet we're seeing yet another elite running back. Those are big challenges, especially on the road where we're going to have to tackle well. I thought we tackled very well last week. Here we are again and we're going to get a very good test."
Were you anxious to see how the front seven would perform with the turnover at the linebacker position and a new defensive end?"I think more than anything you're anxious to see where you're at. You're anxious to play that first game to see where you're at in a lot of areas, with that being one specifically, how were we going to hold up against the run. I thought we did a good job against a real good offense."
What are some of the things you have to watch for when going up against a 3-4 defense?"First off, you have to limit your run plan to runs that you feel like will fit against that type of front. So you look closely at that list. Secondly, typically in a 3-4 scheme, there are a handful of linebacker pressures that can come in concert or in combination, whether it's two strong, two weak, or the inside two or the outside two. So there are some similarities with a lot of 3-4 teams in that they usually have those combination linebacker pressures and how do you block those and how do you go into the game handling those blitz looks. And then when you look at the 3-4, you try to study the personnel within it and see where your advantages might be. We've had a lot of work against it and at times when you get into the nickel, you get them out of the 3-4 front and they get into more of an even spacing look. So they have flexibility and even on film you see them play that front with nickel on the field. It's certainly something that they're comfortable with and they have played very well. They're very well-coached in that scheme so ultimately you shift gears some in play-choice based on the front, whereas next week against Atlanta in an even front, you might carry other plays that you wouldn't necessarily carry this week."
What is the difference in preparing for a road game rather than a home game?
"The first obvious difference is that you simulate the crowd noise. When we prepare for a home game, we simulate that noise with our defense because when they're on the field, they're going to have to get used to that crowd element here at the Superdome. So when you go on the road, you flip it around and you have the music and the loud speaker system on to handle the cadence when you're playing on the road. And when you go further west, like we are in this game, you look closely at your itinerary and you might adjust it like we have and leave a little earlier. But outside of that, home or road – the preparation pretty much remains the same. We'll have a chance to practice there Sunday. A lot of these players have played there before, but many of them have not, so getting used to the conditions – they'll be a wind there; there always is, especially in the evening. The footing was good the last time we were there but we'll check it out again Sunday and make sure we have the right shoes on. So some of those nuances – the footing, stadium conditions, and crowd noise would be the ones that come to mind when we go on the road."
Your teams have been successful on the road since you've been here. Do you attribute that to a lot of attention to detail in your preparation?
"I think you have to – if you aspire to win enough games to get a good seed – you're going to have to win more than just eight and I think part of that is an end result of getting good players to run your system. When that happens, generally your chances of winning on the road go up. Certainly there are distractions when you go on the road, and yet there are some times when going on the road becomes easier. At home, you have a lot of specific ticket requests, a lot of things that go on where when you take a team somewhere remotely to a hotel and just focus on the game, oftentimes that can be pretty good medicine and we have handled that part of it pretty well. There are usually less distractions, less ticket requests. But I think we're battle-tested, I think our players understand the challenges of playing on the road. There will be momentum swings that take place in every game, but clearly on the road the early part of that game dealing with the momentum and understanding how that can swing back and forth, our guys have handled. We've fallen behind on the road and come back and won. I think that comes from a veteran team and it comes from a team that has confidence."
You can prepare for crowd noise and rain fairly simply. Is there any real way to prepare to play in windy conditions?
"That's a good question. I don't really know of a way to prepare for the wind. I think we have a quarterback that can handle rain and wind. He has a strong arm; he has big hands. Those are things that help. But certainly you have to pay attention to it in regards to field position, in regards to your timeouts if you're punting and kicking with the wind and try to maximize if the wind is in one direction as opposed to swirling. But we'll have a wind Monday night – the question is which direction and is it a swirling wind or is it an advantage one way or the other. But it's really hard to simulate that though, and it's the one element that you have to learn to deal with. When you play at home at the Dome, for half of your season that's non-existent, but we've gone and played in windy games and I'm sure we'll have wind on Monday night."
Jahri Evans has said that part of his success can be attributed to Jonathan Goodwin. Is Goodwin underappreciated?
"He's kind of the Scott Shanle of our offense. He's consistent; he's steady; he's very intelligent. His personality on the field would be very much like it would be in the locker room. But he does make the calls, he's in concert with Drew (Brees), and he's a very smart player. That's a good trait to have when you're a center. The communication and the cohesiveness with that group, having been together now for a while, we've certainly benefited from and offensively that has been a big reason for our success."
The 49ers and Saints used to have a great rivalry when they were both in the NFC West. Is there any lingering knowledge of something like that within the organization?
"I don't know that there would be now. I'm sure when the divisions changed, there probably was a period of about five or six years. I was born in San Mateo and as a young kid went to Candlestick Park. The quarterback was John Brodie, the coach was Dick Nolan, the wide receiver was Gene Washington, the running back was Vic Washington. They had a real good defense. I could tell you everything about those teams in the early '70s, but I don't know that if you went into the locker room today and began to talk to our players about the old division match-ups, I don't know that half of them would be able to tell you that division and who was in it. We're removed from that far enough, all of us in here that are of the similar age group or older. Periodically, I'll bring up a player and they'll look at me and I'll just get that blank stare and that just means that we're getting old."