After coming off their Thanksgiving Day win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints now face their biggest test of the season, when the San Francisco 49ers come to town Sunday. New Orleans became the first team to clinch a playoff berth after sealing the NFC South divisional title.
Saints head coach Sean Payton spoke with Zach Strief and Bobby Hebert on WWL’s Saints Coaches Show Monday night to talk about the win last week and preview this week’s matchup, which could determine the top seed in the NFC.
One of the biggest takeaways from the win over Atlanta was the Saints inability to secure the onside kick and put the game away. Coach Payton wasn’t pleased with his coverage team, but thinks the team will be able to work out a few kinks and resolve those issues.
“There’s a handful of things. Obviously, none of them are good, when you give up the recoveries like we did. We’re fortunate it didn’t cost us the game. It’s safe to say every day you come to practice you’re going to see us recover an onside kick,” said Payton.
One of the keys to the Saints win was the ability to force turnovers and put pressure on Falcons QB Matt Ryan. The Saints defense recorded nine sacks along with three turnovers. Coach Payton attributed the Saints turnover differential as the difference.
“It’s the single most important statistic and really the single reason we won the other night. Defensively, we did a real good job of keeping them off-balance. I thought our front played very well. We got pressure on Matt (Ryan). You had a ton of sack production and hurry production then the turnovers that come off of it…you’re not going to lose many game, when you play like that,” said Payton.
Now that the divisional title has been won, the goals for the Saints become even larger. That all starts this week with a meeting with the 49ers. Coach Payton talked about the 49ers defense that ranks on top in most NFL defensive categories. “They’re playing such a complimentary game. That front seven is playing extremely well. They lead the league in every rushing-the-passer statistic yet they’ve seen the third fewest pass attempts. “So per pass attempt these guys are getting to the quarterback. Pick a statistic, they’re right at the top of any of those categories,” observed Payton.
The Saints come into this matchup with a couple advantages. Not only will the Black & Gold have an extra few days of rest after playing on Thanksgiving, but they’ll also face a team that’s playing back to back road games across country. Coach Payton hopes his team will be focused with a couple extra days to prepare.
“I think playing this game at home is tremendous for us. We have to take advantage of that,” said Coach Payton. “Our preparation this week has to be on point. We have to understand all the specifics to the team we’re playing. It’s a team that’s not in our division. At this point of the season, both teams have plenty of film on each other. It’s going to be the attention to detail.”
Finally, as much praise as the 49ers defense gets, it’s the QB and head coach running the show that’s propelled them to a 10-2 record. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and head coach Kyle Shanahan propelled San Francisco to the second best scoring offense in the NFL.
“He’s an extremely talented athlete with a quick release. When you look at the timing in which he’s operating in the pocket, he can move with his feet. Kyle (Shanahan) has done a great job with the offense and he’s got a lot to do with that. But he’s a big part of the reason that team is sitting at 10-2,” says Payton.
With a win Sunday, the Saints would hold on to the #1 seed in the NFC and secure tiebreakers against the Seahawks and 49ers. Kickoff in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome is set for noon. Game day coverage starts at 8am on the flagship station of of the Saints, WWL.