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Saints Head Coach Sean Payton Preps for Upstart Panthers

            <span style="">Do you anticipate Fujita practicing this week?</span>

"I'm hopeful. It's getting better so we're shooting for it."

Did Clancy re-injure something?

"No, it was swelling so we backed off it on Wednesday."

Were Moore and Goodwin's injuries bruises?

"Lance's was a sprain and Goodwin was a contusion or bruise."

Does the Ellis injury look to be fairly long-term?

"I don't think that it's long-term. We're hopeful to see how it responds this week."

Was there a correlation to Ellis not playing Monday and Michael Turner running for 150 yards?

"We played a good rushing team. Fortunately we were able to hang in there and come up with enough plays but you could point to a lot of things – you could point to Fujita not being in the lineup. Week to week, that's the nature of our game. This team we're playing this week is outstanding at rushing the football and they have a real good offensive line with two exceptional running backs so that's a challenge."

Do you liken Carolina to anyone you've played so far?

"That's a good question. I think they're a little different. They run the ball as well as anybody in our league. I think they're extremely well-coached. If you go back and look at the history of John (Fox)'s teams over the years, they've won more games in the NFC since he's been there than any other NFC team. They understand what wins games; they understand that very well. Last week against Arizona they were opportunistic on defense and came up with turnovers and offensively had great balance. When you have a real good running team and an outstanding receiver, it presents problems in regards to how you go about defending that type of challenge. I think they're very good and very well-coached and obviously I've worked with John and have a background with a number of the coaches on that staff, and I think their success over the years is proof of that."

Did you have an unusually high number of missed tackles against Turner?

"I don't know if there was a high number. Michael does a good job with his pad level and he's someone that presents problems with his speed and pad level. You credit Atlanta with the way they were able to run the football. Certainly there were times when we could've tackled better though."

Does Jake Delhomme appear to be out of that early-season funk he was in?

"He played well last week. He's a guy that plays with confidence. He's certainly one of the leaders of their team and has had a lot of success against us."

Has there been a common theme as to why you've struggled against Carolina, especially here at home?

"I think that they have played very good football. Last year they got up early on us and then we battled back and then they found a way to finish at the end. I don't know that there is one specific area. They do a number of things well."

Now that they have won three out of four, are you seeing signs on the game film that they have solved some of their early-season issues?

"I think their record tells you that they have. They have come back off the bye week and they're playing very well. When you look at this team, they were the division winner a year ago, they have won three of their last four and they beat a good Arizona team on the road last week. We have our work cut out for us."

Will you have to let your team know not to overlook a 3-4 Panthers team coming in?

"Our players understand who we're playing. I think when they look at the tape and pay attention to it, you can see that. I think they understand and certainly with the way we've played against them, they know that this is a real good team we're getting ready to play."

Have you seen an improvement in your receivers' pass-catching skills this year?

"I think guys are playing with confidence outside. You see – especially with some balls above their head – guys have made a lot of plays. Devery (Henderson) last week made some big catches and certainly (Marques) Colston and Jeremy Shockey have. There's a confidence there and it starts with Drew (Brees) and location and I do think these guys are playing with confidence. That's positive."

Why is Steve Smith not having as big a year as normal? Is he struggling personally or is it the offense?

"A guy like Steve Smith is a guy that gets attention every week and so it becomes challenging. You can count on one hand how many times he doesn't have a safety over the top of him. He can move around. We had him in the Pro Bowl and he's a dynamic player and he has given us fits over the years. You have to be mindful of where he is on every snap. Because of his skill-set, he has drawn that coverage we're talking about and then it becomes a little bit more challenging."

How hard is it to continue to play at such a high level every week?

"I don't know that we've been playing at a high level the last couple of weeks. In the first half at Miami we didn't play at a very high level and there were times last week where we didn't play at a high level. We turned the ball over four times and we gave up some big plays. The good news is that we were able to come up with the win, but you're not going to be able to do that very often when you have four turnovers offensively. To answer your question, I think we can play a lot better than we have the last two weeks."

Could the Brees fumble that they returned for a touchdown possibly have been a tuck rule example?

"I don't think it would've been a tuck rule. You could argue that it was a blow to the head, but I didn't look at it as a tuck rule."

Would you say that you have more weapons in the secondary to combat a guy like Steve Smith than you have since you've been here?

"I think we're better in the secondary than we have been in the prior years. That's a general statement, but that being said, there aren't many corners covering this guy on a one-on-one basis when you watch the film. He's sudden; he has speed; he's tough. Those are things that when you start putting all those things together, you have a special player. I do think we're improved in the back end compared to years past, though."

How has David Thomas done as a receiver and as a blocker? How tough was it for him to go to fullback?

"He has played some 'F' for us already and we try to mix up some of the sets. He's a tight end first off and then we can get him into some of the two-back stuff. He is smart and versatile and I think he's athletic. When you try to replace Heath (Evans), you begin to look at different possibilities – certainly Kyle (Eckel), who we signed last week and will continue to give reps to, and David and some of the other players. But he has been versatile – I think that would be a good way to describe his skill-set, in both the passing game, in protections and in the running game."

Has he been better than you thought he would be?

"He has been an important acquisition. He sure has been."

Have you stressed to your running backs running hard and getting yards after contact?

"I think they finish. I think the key is finishing with the football, though, and eliminating some of the mistakes that ended up making that game closer than we wanted. But they're finishing, and that's encouraging."

What makes Julius Peppers so special and how do you defend him?

"He's an elite pass-rusher and he's also a guy that plays the run very well. He's athletic; he plays very hard; he has great range. Last week he had an interception. They've moved him around some. His career started at left end and evolved to where they moved him to right end and we see him playing on both sides now. We have to do a good job in our protection schemes with him on the field and be able to understand his strength as a run defender as well."

If you double-team him, who else is most fearful to you on that defense?

"When you talk about double-teaming him, are you talking about an extra lineman or a running back or a tight end? There are a lot of things that you have to do to at least take the edge off of his speed. We try to do that with formations. We try to do that with tight ends; we try to do that with the running backs and still not sacrifice flair control. But they do a good job of moving him around so you just can't break the huddle and say he's always going to be here. He moves – much like we saw John Abraham move last Monday night. We have to recognize where he's aligned and then we have to during the course of the week understand how we're going to handle him. Obviously the pressure falls on both tackles but it falls on a lot of people."

Are you a much deeper team now than when you took over the program?

"I think the bottom part of our roster has gotten better each year. You're constantly paying attention to that and Ryan Pace and his staff do a great job from the pro scouting department end of evaluating and working out players. When you look at acquisitions like a David Thomas, like Heath Evans and some of the other pro free agents we've brought in here – Jabari Greer and Darren Sharper – and you could go on with the signings of these players. The Mike Bells and the Jeff Charlestons and the Anthony Hargroves, these are all players that we've begun to bring in and train and when they're here, we're counting on playing them. Jo-Lonn Dunbar was inactive for a portion of this season and then a few weeks later he's getting 50 percent of the snaps on defense and I think that's the challenge week to week in our league with the roster restrictions. It's different than in college where 95 guys come strolling out on game day. I think we are deeper and I think that in year four into this, that's something that we're constantly paying attention to."

Do you attribute the fourth quarters and how you're able to hold up and finish games to the added depth and your conditioning?

"That's a good question. There are probably a number of reasons. We're playing better defensively, that's obvious. I think we're rushing the football better offensively and that is conducive to playing better in that fourth quarter. And you'd like to think that with the depth we have that it allows the rotation and the ability to keep guys fresh. Hopefully – knock on wood – the injury list is to a minimum and yet you understand that at times you're going to have to fill in with guys that weren't starting the first week of the season."

Is that a sign of depth that people are plucking players off of your practice squad?

"I think it's a good sign that we have the right practice squad players. But I think that happens a lot to everyone."

How do you keep everyone grounded with the talk of an undefeated season going around?

"I think each week it changes. It was easier to come in and talk to these guys this morning about some of the things we didn't do well this past weekend. Number one, you want to make sure that you're being brutally honest with what you're seeing. All of us – players and coaches – in our preparation can be better. We set out at the beginning of the year to work to improve each week and to work to get better each week. I do think we have good leadership on the team that understands the challenges each week and understands the nature of our game in dealing with what you're talking about. I think each week you really have to profile who you're playing and talk about how you're going to go about winning the game and then also take a hard look at the game you just played and try to improve and eliminate some of the mistakes that were made in that game. There were a number in the game we just played, more than we'd like."

How good a job did you guys do on John Abraham?

"I think overall it was solid and yet he's a disruptive player. It wasn't perfect by any means. He's a special player. Two of the better pass-rushing defensive ends in football happen to be in our division. Two ends that we see twice a year are two of the better ends in football in Abraham and Peppers. Those guys create a lot of headaches and a lot of game plan preparation to prepare to handle them. It's through formations, it's through tight ends, it's through how we set on these guys and what the backs are doing. There's a lot that goes on to just say that we're going to double-team one of these guys. In other words, it's more complex than that. But they are guys that really can affect – if you're not careful – they can affect the outcome of a game singlehandedly."

Did Jermon Bushrod grade out well?

"Yes. He was solid. There were some snaps that I'm sure he would want to have played better, but he was solid."

What are the unique challenges of facing a team with two top running backs?

"They have two real good running backs. They also have a very veteran offensive line and receivers that have blocked very well in the run game. You look at Muhsin Muhammad and you can take a game a year ago against Tampa on a Monday night. When you're running the ball the way that they're able to run it, it's not just the runner or just the offensive line, it involves a lot of aspects of it, and they're a challenge because of that."

How does the loss of Brad Hoover affect them for this game?

"Certainly you don't want to lose starters, whether it's a Heath Evans for us or Hoover for them. You rely on your depth; you rely on other players, but that being said, you don't want that to change your philosophy on the importance of rushing the football. I know we've tried to make sure that we're prepared each week to be able to run the ball and I'm certain that Carolina does the same."

One of your players said last week that all 6-0 meant was that you couldn't go 5-11. Is that the approach you're taking at 7-0?

"I've said before that because of the work required to game plan and prepare for the next opponent, you don't spend a lot of time reflecting. When we reflect, we're trying to really critique and really remove yourself from the win or the loss. We do the same and we've done the same when we've lost games. When you put the tape on, let's watch what we're seeing and find where we can improve. From this past weekend's game, there are a lot of things that we have to do better. Not just any one thing, but a number of things and that's why we we're out there today and tomorrow. Certainly there is a game plan aspect to the game you're playing against the opponent you're playing, but it's also being able to not repeat things that you didn't do well the week before. I think the tally or the totals come later and you look at it and keep playing. The most important game is the one we're playing this week, and that's really the truth."

How have they overcome the injury to defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu and played well defensively?

"They're playing fast to the football. They have real good personnel on defense. (Jon) Beason is a young linebacker that has played exceptional for them. He's one of a number of guys. Hollis (Thomas) has filled in there and done a good job. It's a front that we think is very physical and a secondary that is one of the more talented secondaries that we have seen. You can see since the bye their improvement."

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