How will the crowd in the Superdome affect the game?
Payton: "Well, we’ve had a good following when we’ve played at home. For us, I think our players are looking forward to getting back to a home game. It seems like we’ve been on the road for quite a while now. Our fan support has been real strong, and that began last year. I hope and know it will continue. They appreciate and understand the importance of the noise inside and how that can affect games. Obviously it’s something that, for us right now, we’re looking for any edge that we can get, and it will be good for us to get back home."
What has been most frustrating in the first two weeks of the season?
Payton: "Well, I think the most difficult thing, obviously it is difficult losing. But a little bit more frustrating would also be the fact that you’re into the fourth quarter playing a catch-up game in both cases, where you’re down three scores and you become one dimensional. That doesn’t suit us, and I don’t know how many teams it suits. That’s been disappointing. You don’t get enough rushing attempts. You end up being in a predictable situation, and all of a sudden it’s a harder job to be a quarterback; it’s harder to pass protect. That can come up during the course of the year late in the games when you’re in your two-minute [drill], but I think the most frustrating thing is that it has happened in both games we’ve played."
What do you think the Titans have done best in their first two games?
Payton: "Well, I think it’s a physical team, and they always have been under Jeff (Fisher). They play real good defense. They pride themselves on playing run defense and their ability to run the football. I think it’s a team that is very disciplined, very well coached. You add the dynamic of a young player like Vince Young on offense, who obviously has provided a spark and leadership. They create a bunch of problems, and they’re a big challenge for us. They’ve done a good job on both sides of the ball, as it pertains to running the football and defending the run. Those are ingredients that I know [Coach Fisher] believes in, just like we do in regards to winning football games."
Does pitting Saints running back Reggie Bush against Titans quarterback Vince Young makes the game more intriguing?
Payton: "Yeah, but that draft seems like about 10 years ago to me right now, but those are exciting players. The fans get excited for good reasons, both Tennessee and New Orleans fans, to see guys like that obviously contributing and playing a bunch. They were exciting in their college days, and they were successful players in college. Now that’s carried over, obviously, with these guys at the pro level. Both of them are going to be exciting for a long time I think."
What are your impressions of Vince Young?
Payton: "I met him at the (Scouting) Combine first, and at that time we were still kind of in that mix with the second pick in the draft. (Saints quarterback) Drew (Brees) wasn’t available yet at that time; it was shortly after that period of time. So you go through the evaluation process. The one thing about him, just having the chance to follow some of his career when I was living in Texas, was that you saw someone who was a real good leader, very similar to the traits that Brees brings in regards to the leadership, his winning ways. Drew is someone that in college and then with the teams he has played for in the NFL, his teams have found ways to be successful. You see that same thing in Vince’s case, and that’s not by accident. Those are some of the specifics you look for at that position. Obviously those two are uniquely different, but there are some common characteristics that I think are essential at that position, and I think he has those."
Is this a must-win game for the Saints?
Payton: "I think the approach is that it is a ‘show-me’ game each week. We understand that. The games are broken down more and talked about more than ever before. As long as you understand that and you understand the type of game we’re getting ready to play. Where it is on our schedule, we, just like Tennessee, have a bye after this. So, you probably tend to downplay some of that, but you do want the sense of urgency and the understanding of the importance of us getting our first win. So there’s a balance there, and it’s a good question."
What is the level of hype leading up to a Monday Night Football game?
Payton: "Well last year before we played Atlanta, that was a big concern that we had. You knew the players were going to be physically ready, but it still comes down to the assignment. It still comes down to the technique and the execution of the fundamentals. You know, it comes down to blocking and tackling well. It comes down to not turning the football over. So you try to preach that as much as you can. The other things, in regards to the excitement of the game, they kind of take care of themselves. Now that being said, you want to make sure that there are no dumb penalties, and you limit the penalties. When you play a team like Tennessee, the margin for error that we have against a team like [that], that we have, is small."
Are cornerbacks becoming more important defending against the run?
Payton: "I think that often times, scheme can dictate that, depending on what type of support defensively you’re in from a coverage standpoint. Obviously if you’re in ‘cloud’ support, where the corner a lot of the times is counted upon to be part of the support, you want those guys to be guys that are willing tacklers. Some of your man schemes and some of your quarter schemes, they become secondary in support. I think when you talk defensive football, you want guys that are willing and capable tacklers, guys that are not afraid to be physical and use the proper technique. There sometimes is a give-and-take when you get a real good player, but I think the real good ones end up both being good in coverage and good in tackling."
Do you see Titans cornerbacks Nick Harper and Cortland Finnegan having an affect
on run defense?
Payton: "I see those guys being real physical. [Middle linebacker Ryan Fowler was with us in Dallas, and he’s having success playing the [middle] linebacker position. Bulluck has been there quite some time and been real successful. I can always just remember Tennessee on film. The year we went to the Super Bowl in New York, we played them in 2000 in Nashville, and I think we had about 115 yards of total offense that day. So they’ve been, traditionally, a real good and well-coached defensive team. So you see some of that right now. You see the young players flying around. You see the veteran players up front doing a good job. They’re stout, they’re physical, and it is a real good defense."
Is Vince Young’s leadership quality the main strength of his game?
Payton: "Well, I think as he gets exposed more and more to the live reps in each game, there is nothing like that from a learning experience. It’s hard to simulate that. He is someone that obviously can threaten you not only with his arm but with his feet. I think he’s a strong, tough sack because of his body size. He’s physical. He has got a presence about him. The first thing I remember when I first saw him was how imposing or how strong he looked. That becomes challenging in regards to putting pressure on him and trying to get sacks. He’s strong in the pocket. I think (Titans offensive coordinator) Norm (Chow) and the coaches there have done a good job in their implementation of their scheme, and they’ve really put him in a good position to be successful. Certainly the reps you get as a quarterback at a young age build confidence, and you can see the confidence in his teammates."
What are your thoughts on game-day deactivations and the 53-man roster?
Payton: "I’m content when we’re healthy and we don’t need players 48, 49 and 50. Then I’m not content when we need those guys. I think it’s challenging. They were able to put the quarterback in as a non-counted player when you add a third quarterback, which helps a little bit. What’s tough is when you have that player that is injured for two or three weeks, and you’re trying to help on special teams. Right now, I don’t know if I have a strong feeling for or against (the 45-man active roster), but I know that sometimes there is added pressure on those guys playing special teams because the number is what it is. If it ever does change, I’m sure it won’t be that drastic."
What is the progress of injured rookie wide receiver Robert Meachem?
Payton: "He’s progressed. He fell behind in the spring. He had a knee scoped in the spring and missed most of our mini-camp and OTA work. Training camp, he struggled some. It was just him getting used to it, number one mentally and then number two physically. He wasn’t 100 percent. He’s getting close to it. He’s been inactive and still has a ways to go, but he is a guy who has worked hard at it. We’re looking forward to big things from him. He has just got to keep learning and get to where he is 100 percent, and he can go. There is a learning curve, and for him it has been a little steeper than we had hoped."
How was wide receiver Marques Colston able to succeed so well as a rookie?
Payton: "That’s a good question. Sometimes you can’t pinpoint it. He, after the rookie mini-camp and mini-camp in the spring, looked like it was going to be a while. He wasn’t real impressive then. It wasn’t until training camp after the summer, and he was in real good shape when he came back and had a tremendous training camp. He caught most everything we threw to him. He picked things up quick. If you just paid attention to it as he was playing, he got more reps at that time because (Donte) Stallworth was nicked up and wasn’t able to play, and he just caught on. Sometimes for whatever reason, and often times you’re talking about a guy who is a quick study, it came to him real quick. He was able to help us right away. Hopefully we can get Robert (Meachem) going to where he is up to speed, and he is 100 percent running, because he is someone who has ability and has speed."