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Q&A with Saints Head Coach Sean Payton

            <span style="">Opening Statement:</span>

"Quickly going through today's practice injury report: Garrett Hartley (hip) did not practice; Sedrick Ellis (knee) did not practice; Jon Stinchcomb (knee) did not practice; Jabari Greer (groin) did not practice; Bobby McCray (back) did not practice; Jeremy Shockey (toe) did not practice. The following players were limited: Scott Fujita (knee), Jonathan Goodwin (ankle), Jermon Bushrod (thumb), Usama Young (hip), Marvin Mitchell (hamstring), Jahri Evans (foot), Pierre Thomas (hip), Carl Nicks (back), Tracy Porter (knee) and Jonathan Vilma (knee). Lance Moore with his ankle and hamstring was full and Mike Bell with his wrist and knee was full. All of today was base – first and second down with pretty much a normal schedule. It shortens up obviously with the Saturday night game rather than Sunday."

Tony Romo told us to tell you that everything is even on their side. Can you elaborate on that?

"Everything's even, huh? I've got nothing to elaborate other than that the work today was good. Overall I was pleased with practice."

So you're not going to allow Tony to tweak you at all?

"No, we're just getting ready to play an important game."

How has the Dallas team changed since you were there?

"It's a different team. What they're doing offensively and defensively are different. It's a whole new staff. When you take four years, a lot changes in our league. You see different things on both sides of the ball and that's why we spend so much time looking at the tape. At this point of the year you have quite a bit of tape to look at being that we're 13 games in. That has really been the focal point in regards to the tape study; this year's team."

How have you tried to sell this game to your team?

"There really is no issue of selling this game. I think the approach we've taken all year is just preparing and having the focus on the opponent and really just looking at the things that these guys do well and looking at what we have to do to play well in this game. You get to this point of the season and it's really about pointing out the goals and all the things that we feel are necessary to win."

How much of a big-game feel does this have compared to the New England game a few weeks ago?

"I think they all kind of run together; and what I mean by that is that we've played in evening games, we've played in big games at home and on the road. I said earlier in the season that as you continue to play, you continue to come across the next big game. It's really the next game on our schedule and that's why it's important."

Two of the keys to your success this season have been your ability to run the ball and stop the pass. Have those tapered off a bit in the last two weeks?

"The big thing is trying to improve. Both of those are areas – and it's important after a win or a loss to clean up the things we can do better, eliminate the big plays defensively and to continue to work on our balance. Those are things week to week that are important to look at in the game you just played so you can eliminate those same mistakes in the upcoming game."

Your running game has been successful with three different running backs with three distinct styles. How have you been able to use them all successfully?

"We've tried to be more balanced. With the backs that are carrying the football, and Lynell Hamilton played some last week as a fourth runner, we've tried to reduce scheme and the amount of different plays that we're running. I think the line has done a good job. The looks that we're getting because of our ability to throw the ball have oftentimes helped when it comes to running the football, and yet each week it's a challenge. This is a real good run front in Dallas. They're physical; they have guys that tackle well; and they've played the run very well. It's a big challenge this week as it pertains to our running game."

How important have the health of Jeremy Shockey and the emergence of Robert Meachem been to the offense this year?

"They're players that are doing well. They're two different players; one with experience that has had success and the other that is continuing to get better in Robert. Both of those guys provide options for us in the passing game. With Jeremy's health, that has been important with Robert's growth, that has been important."

Are you expecting the Cowboys to pull out all the stops this week in trying for a win? Do you think they'll run all kinds of plays you've never seen before or bring Roger Staubach out of retirement?

"We're expecting them to come in and play a real good football game. We don't really get caught up in all the other things. Hopefully Roger Staubach isn't able to play."

What happened with Garrett Hartley's injury?

"We think by the end of the week he'll be fine. It was just something he had done in his warm-up prior to the Atlanta game, but nothing significant."

Is it a good sign that Scott Fujita is back practicing that he's back quicker than you had thought he would?

"It was kind of what we had expected. This was the timeframe we had set. It was good to have him back out there working and getting reps."

How has Lance Moore progressed with his injury?

"He's doing well and got work today."

Does Miles Austin pose similar challenges to the ones that Wes Welker did a few weeks ago?

"Welker handles a lot of plays from the slot and Miles has done a great job really giving them big play opportunities outside. They have a group of real talented receivers. Patrick Crayton is there and he's doing a good job for them, both as a receiver and as a returner. Of course, Roy Williams is playing very well so there are a number of threats in the passing game that you have to account for and they've given them big play options."

What have teams been doing lately to slow down Will Smith and Charles Grant?

"I think each week it depends on what we're seeing offensively. Teams do a good job of getting the ball out quickly and each week it changes. We continue to work, whether it's from a four-man rush, a three-man rush or with pressure from the various looks. Being able to pressure or hurry the quarterback is certainly something that we focus on each week."

It seemed like when you beat the Cowboys in your first year here it gave you a certain level of personal satisfaction having come from there. To what degree does that still exist?

"I don't think it really exists at all. I had three real good years there and it just seems so long ago. Because of the nature of our industry, the transition of players and coaches is more prevalent than it ever has been. Each week there's a coach or a player that has been with that prior organization. Our focus really is more about us and the Saints and this next goal and the next game."

What are the challenges of coaching a team with a perfect record?

"I think our players have done a good job. The leadership in the locker room has been strong as it relates to any potential distraction. They've done a good job of focusing on the next opponent and really keeping it that simple. When you can do that, which is what you have to do, you can avoid all the other potential things that come up and get you off the path. The focus all year has been on the next game and this week will be no different."

In what way did you influence the Cowboys' decision to sign Tony Romo and his decision to sign there as a rookie free agent?

"It's a similar process as most teams after the draft. There are area scouts and coaches and when the draft ended, Tony was a player that was a candidate to be drafted in those later rounds and for whatever reason ended up being a guy that we were on the phone with. I was part of the process – part of a few people that really worked to convince him it was the best opportunity. To his credit, he was able to take a deep breath and look at the depth charts of the other teams – there were a handful of teams interested – and then make the selection and decide to go to Dallas. But there's a lot of work that goes into that prior to that day. He was someone who was at the Combine and I think everyone became familiar with him."

It seems that in the postseason the officials allow for more physical play, especially among receivers and defensive backs. Is that how you view it as well?

"I don't know that that's true. First off, the crews that work the postseason are guys that have graded out well and I think that they try to remain consistent. We pay attention each week to the crew we have and their track record as to how they call games. I think that's fairly common. But in regards to the postseason, I wouldn't know one way or the other."

Are you concerned with your pass defense the past two weeks or do you think it's just a matter of getting your starting cornerbacks back and healthy?

"Any time you have injuries, you want to get your starters back. Each week as we finish a game and get on to the next game, we talk about improvements and we're concerned with improving each week and getting better and not remaining at status quo. That's the big thing we focus on – trying to look at the things that we can improve upon before we play the next game."

Is that an area that concerns you a little bit though?

"No. Like I said, it's one of a number of things – much like the turnovers there for a few weeks – that we continue to look at and work at. That would be no different than any other aspect of what we're doing as a team."

What sort of challenge does DeMarcus Ware present if he is able to play?

"He's a tremendous athlete. He's someone that's smart and plays the run as well as the pass. He's one of the elite ends in our league. Certainly you pay attention to a guy like him that really can disrupt and wreak havoc on your passing game and be a factor in the run game. He's a tremendous player."

There's a perception that your team is unbeatable at home. Is it harder for teams to come in to the Superdome and win than it has been in the past?

"Generally if you're playing better at home, it probably means that you're playing better football. We've played pretty well on the road as well. I think our fans do a great job of creating an environment that makes it challenging and yet we still have to go out and play well. I think that playing well at home is certainly a goal that you talk about in the preseason as you prepare for the regular season. You know you're going to have eight home games and it's important as you talk about winning games in your division, you talk about playing well at home – those are all things that we strive to do. We have two more home games and we're certainly going to have to play well in this game to win."

Your team has seemed to have played some of their best games this year in the high-profile home games against big-name opponents. What element of that do you attribute that to? Is it the crowd, the atmosphere, the excitement?

"From the beginning when the schedule came out, there were some real good football teams coming here this season and we knew there were going to be some tough challenges. And yet we've tried to take that same approach when we've gone on the road. It's still a matter of blocking well, tackling well and doing all the things necessary to win. Certainly when you're able to do that at home, there are some pluses because of the noise and because of the crowd."

What similarities do you see between Drew Brees and Tony Romo, having coached them both?

"Both of them are students of the game. They both have quick releases and both of them are accurate. They're different in a lot of ways, but those would be some similarities."

Is that a reason why when you were first hired here you explored the possibility of trading for Romo?

"Much was made of that. That was at a time when there really wasn't a lot to that. Dallas had a guy that they were going to develop and work with. I think that at the time when we got here, there was just a need for a quarterback and more than anything people were just kind of putting the dots together. There probably wasn't a whole lot to that."

Gaining home-field advantage would mean not having to play in cold weather in the postseason. Is that less important this year given the success you've had in the running game?

"More than anything, we're trying to give ourselves the best opportunity to play and win in the postseason, and that would obviously be playing at home. Outside of that, we're really not looking past that in regards to the possibilities of where else we might play. I think really it's trying to ensure our best chances when we get to the postseason."

How much of the distribution of carries among the running backs is from the game plan and how much is feel of how the game is going?

"That's a good question. There's a little bit of both. There are certain runs that we identify for certain runners and yet you try to pay attention to how the game is unfolding. If a guy – like Mike Bell at Miami, for instance – is doing well, you leave him in. So it's a little bit of both."

Why has the run game been shut down a bit over the last few weeks?

"We've just been playing good teams. Last week we were at 100 yards. Atlanta does a great job of defending the run. We just keep working to improve."

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