On their first days back at practice in preparation for Sunday's matchup Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan and Coach Mike Smith talked about their win over Arizona on Sunday, the upcoming matchup, as well as some topics about the New Orleans offense and defense. Below are transcripts of the conference calls:
Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan
*In week two it looks like you guys didn't overreact to a tough week one loss and stayed the course. Can you talk about that? *"Yes. Obviously we didn't get the result we wanted week one. We felt like we improved from week one to two. That's something we're going to try again from week two to week three. The biggest thing is that things are never as good as you think. We looked at the things from last weekend and we have a lot of things to improve on and tighten up on, especially going against a really tough, physical team in New Orleans."
How tough is it when you have a tough loss early like that. Was it okay to say it was one week or more to stress changes? "I think that's just part of the NFL. You have to understand especially, at the end of the year that some teams overcome adversity better than other teams and that's part of week to week in the NFL. That's tough. You have some tough losses. You have some games that are going to be close and how we define ourselves as a team as a result of how you respond to those situations. At the same time, I think it's also indicative of when you have success how you respond to those situations as well and I think that's something where hopefully we can do well this week."
*Can you talk about the importance of this game being that it's a division game and you're facing the division champions of the whole NFC South and the NFL? *"I think the way I approach it personally each game counts one, but with that said, obviously division games are important because that's who you're directly competing against to get into the playoffs. Important game, no question about it, but we have to approach it the same we do ones every week."
*Did you study anything Drew Brees has done the last few years and can you talk about that? *"Yes, certainly you want to take a look at what he's done. He's been incredibly successful, really since he's gotten to New Orleans he's been one of the top quarterbacks in the league. You take a look at what he's done and I think the biggest thing is how consistent he is week to week. His performance seems to stay at a high level every time he steps on the field and that's probably the thing I've been most impressed with Drew."
*You can look at a lot of things with the Saints for inspiration. Can you see any comparisons to how they had some growing pains and your team did last year? *"Certainly we'd like to follow what they did last year. That goes without saying. World Champions, that's an incredible accomplishment. With that said I think each organization and team is different and we feel like Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith and really Arthur Blank have set a good blueprint for the organization. At least I can speak for that from my time here. I trust in those guys and feel like we've kind of made strides in the right direction, but still kind of need to continue to improve."
*How important was it for you guys to establish the run game last week to set the tone in the game? *"It's important, certainly important to run the ball well, especially in this league. It certainly helps in the passing game. It was good for us to run the ball well last week, but it's going to be another challenge to do that again this week. We're going to have to prepare really well. Hopefully the offensive line can come out and play physical. That's something they've been consistent with since I've been here, so hopefully we can do it again this week."
*Is there anything different about the Saints defense from last year? *"Obviously some personnel difference with (Darren) Sharper not being in the lineup, but schematically I think they do things similar to what they did last year. I notice Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a former teammate of mine is playing quite a bit and playing really well for them. I think personnel's a little different, but schemewise, they're doing some things similar to what they've done. They always have some different looks week to week and I think that's one of the reasons they've been so successful."
Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith
*Did you see the Saints game against San Francisco live? *"I saw the game. I didn't watch it on TV, but of course viewed it on the coach's tape a number of times. It sure looked like it was a hard-fought football game."
You guys bounced back with a pretty dominant performance after week one. Can you talk about your team's progression in the first two weeks? "I'm a firm believer that the most improvement usually in a season is from week one to week two. We were in a situation where we had a lot of room to improve after week one. I think that our guys took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves in the ballgame last week and we were very efficient I think in all three phases of the game. Week in and week out it's a new week. That's for sure. I really believe this. From team one to team 32 in this league there's not a whole lot of difference. It's really about the teams that can sustain their thought process, their mentality through an entire season and that's the thing that great teams do. It's about sustainability, not necessarily about ability."
*Are the Saints different from last year in the film you've been able to watch? *"I don't believe so. I think in terms of schematically there's not a whole lot of difference. There are a few new wrinkles that we all in the offseason as coaches do in terms of tweaking things, but in terms of personnel on the offense, I don't see a whole lot of changes. Defensively I think there are more changes. There are guys in the linebacker group that are new, a new defensive end in Alex Brown and a new starting safety with Darren Sharper out on PUP, but for the most part it stayed intact in terms of the roster. I'm very impressed with both sides of the ball. I think the two specialists are top notch as well. The punters and kicker, (Thomas) Morstead is a guy that indoors is going to have his opportunity to be a touchback kicker and of course Garrett Hartley as an 80 percent kicker last year and I thought he kicked the ball really well…From what I understand the wind was really swirling out there in San Francisco. When Coach Payton defers the coin toss there definitely had to be a wind. There has to be a first for him."
*With Reggie Bush's status unknown does that maybe change anything for you guys in your preparations? *"Reggie is a very talented player that creates issues not only for the Atlanta Falcons but for every team, but I really think what it does is it really puts a lot of onus on the coaching and defensive staff to now figure out where those ten to 12 touches Reggie usually gets are going to be distributed and Drew (Brees) has a number of weapons that he can distribute the ball too that normally Reggie would get those touches. Are they going to go to (Jeremy) Shockey? Are they going to go to Devery (Henderson)? (Marques) Colston? (Robert) Meachem? Pierre (Thomas)?. They're going to have the same amount of snaps. We knew we had to defend eight to ten touches by Reggie. Now we have to figure out where they're going to go and what the thought process is going to be if he's not in the game this week"
*Through two weeks the teams have force the Saints to checkdown and not throw as many vertical passes. Is that a case of what every team has been trying to do to the Saints for years and is it easier said than done? Are the Saints going to have to adjust to that style of defense? *"I think everybody wants to keep the ball in front of them if they can. The Saints, Drew and that offensive unit has been a very explosive team over the last four or five years in terms of creating offensive plays of over 20 yards. Again, we're two weeks into the season. I don't think anything becomes a trend until what teams are doing until four, five or six weeks into the season. I know that everybody wants to talk about things in week one or week two, because that's what's so great about the NFL in that everybody wants to talk about it. I see a very potent offense that can strike at anytime in what I think has the best group of skill players in the league.."
*What did you see on film? Was it very efficient front seven play by Minnesota and San Francisco? *"I think in terms of Drew, I don't know the exact numbers in 2009, but he's completed 74 percent of his passes in the first two ballgames, and yet (Pierre) Thomas is their leading receiver with 11 catches, but he's spreading it around like he always does. Marques (Colston) has ten. Devery (Henderson) has five. (Reggie) Bush has nine. The screen game looks like it was a very integral part of what they were trying to do against San Francisco and I wasn't there standing on the sidelines, but I'm sure the wind had something to do with it too. You basically take away shots down the field for half the game when you're playing in a situation where the wind is howling in one direction."
*Getting Back to Reggie one more time, historically the Saints are 8-4 in the 12 games he's missed. Is that indicative in something you've alluded to before that it's not clear how much of an advantage it is to you when he's out? *"Yes. Reggie Bush is a good football player, but they have a whole bunch of other players. In terms of gameplanning there is a little bit of an unknown. When Reggie Bush is in the game he's going to get his touches. Now you're basically working on a premise of where's the ball going to go? Who's it going to go to? Drew has lots of weapons. If he wants to work the tight end he can work the tight end. If he wants to work the vertical stretch with the receivers he has the guys who can run down the field. (Marques) Colston's a guy who can catch it running across the middle. Pierre (Thomas) is leading the team in catches wright now. It's an unknown when you have players out. There are other good players on that 53-man roster just like there's good players on our roster. When somebody goes down, the next person has to step up. We're going to run 60 or 65 plays in an average football game. You have to distribute it to somebody."
*I know you don't like to make comparisons, but is the Saints' rise last year a blueprint you would like to follow? *"Gosh, I think there are 31 teams that would like to follow what the Saints did in 2009. In terms of building your roster and building your team, you're always looking at the successful teams. The Saints have been a successful team under Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton. They were in the NFC Championship game a couple years ago and got close. You definitely look and try to see what the other teams are going. There's no doubt about that. Sometimes fishing and coaching are kind of similar. You're on a pier and there's a bunch of people catching fish in one place. If you have a pole and a place to be next to them, you go down there and see what they're doing. You're always evaluating what they're doing on the roster, not only on the college draft, but through some of their free agent acquisitions. Sean and Mickey have done a great job with that."
*From our perspective it only seems logical to look at them as a team you have to knock off in the NFC South to get to the top and measure yourself against. Is that something you embrace as your motivate your team this week or do you try to downplay the signicance of this game? *"Guys, we try to make sure our guys understand that it's a 16-game season and the next game is the most important game. We preach that from the beginning. The outcome from the previous week has no bearing on the outcome of the next game. We have to go out and prepare, starting on Monday and finish the preparation on Saturday and go play the game on Sunday. I've learned this: In 12 years, by Friday it doesn't' matter who you're playing either it's a team with the best record in football, the worst record in football, by Friday of game week, the game you're getting ready to play in the history of the damn organization. The fans think that. The players think that. The organization thinks that. We say it's the most important game because it's the next one."
*One trend from the Saints last year that popped up last year was their ability to win being in the positive turnover differential? *"Guys, that Saints defense attacks the football. There's no doubt about it. They do it as well as anyone. They do. Last year they were the best at creating turnovers. That is a very aggressive and fast Saints defensive unit. I would love to sit there and find out exactly what they're doing with these guys because they are very good at creating turnovers. Last year, they led the league in having eight returned for defensive touchdowns, seven in the regular season and of course everybody has seen the one in the Super Bowl last year. The strength of their defense is possession of the football and they really run to the football as well as anybody. That is the most impressive thing when you watch a New Orleans Saints defense play over the last couple of years is the way that they attack and pursue the football during a game."
*What do you think of that emphasis from the standpoint that you would think it isn't as dependable as other strategies, because it often depends on mistakes by the offense, like for example with the muffed punt at San Francisco. To what extend are the Saints getting lucky or is that by design? *"I don't think there's luck in getting turnovers. You watch what happened with the strips. They strip the ball out. There's tight coverage and they're attacking the ball and it's a little off in accuracy and the ball bounces up in the air. You have them running to the football with reckless abandon. When the ball's in the air, they think it's theirs. I don't think there's any luck in it at all. I think there's a skill to it. Right now they've done it very, very well. Nobody was even close to them last year."
*Do you think there is emphasis by your or other teams to imitate that? *"Everybody wants to force turnovers on the defensive side and hold onto the ball on the offensive side. Statistically you know over the last ten years that if you're on the plus side you greatly enhance your chances. If you're plus one, I think you win two out of three times and it goes up exponentially when you're plus three or plus four. If you're on the plus side, you're going to win the game most of the time. We know that. It's a fact. Possession of the football is a key to the game. I don't think there's any doubt about that."