Interview with New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Interview by Dewey Hammond.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: You've started the season 2-0, a familiar feeling; what is different about this season compared to last?
VILMA: It's a little harder as expected. As defending champions everyone is going to give us their A game. We expect close games like that. Actually we'd be surprised if we got anything different. As we figured about both the Vikings and the Niners, they played us hard, they played us tough, they played us right to the end, and you know, we found a way to win, as usual.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: Statistically so far your team's offensive numbers have dipped compared to last season, while your defense is performing statistically at a higher level with regard to PPG allowed, roughly only 15 points per game allowed over the first two weeks.
VILMA: It really hasn't been too hard. It's a combination of us wanting to get better as a defensive unit, and us being under defensive coordinator Greg Williams for a second year, learning his defensive scheme. Our success is nothing too crazy. It's learning the game plan and executing. We're not too worried about numbers on either side of the ball, as long as we keep winning, that's what matters. We will continue to get better on defense. As long we keep improving each week, statistically and otherwise, we'll be fine.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: With Darren Sharper having been injured for quite some time now, your success on defense has required some of the younger guys stepping up. Talk about some of the young guys on defense who have stepped up and helped close that gap.
VILMA: We got a couple young guys, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Malcolm Jenkins, who have done a great job. Malcolm Jenkins stepped in for Darren Sharper, who has been injured and is out for the first six weeks. Malcolm has done a great job. Almost had an interception in the first week, and he played solid in week two against San Fran. It's been a position change for him, moving from cornerback and this is the first time he's playing safety. He's doing an excellent job. When a guy like that changes positions and works to get better, I always say the sky is the limit for him. He's already a talented guy who was a first-round pick last year, so I'm real excited for him. With Jo-Lonn Dunbar, I'm not surprised he's playing the way he is. He had played sparingly last season when Scott Fujita got hurt last year, when Scott Shanley got hurt last year — he would be the first one to step in. Same thing the year before, his rookie year, he would step in and do the same thing. I'm not surprised he's performing well. I knew he would. It's just a matter of getting out there and letting everyone see him play.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: Beating the Niners was nice, and bating the Vikings got the headlines and probably made your Super Bowl victory feel even a little sweeter, but this weekend's game against the Falcons is your team's first division game this year.
VILMA: I expect a tough game from the Falcons. Even though we started 13-0 last season and beat the Falcons twice during that stretch, they were close games. We won by three points, I believe, at their place, on a fourth-down stop actually, to seal that victory. Then it was a close game at our house, less than seven points, I think. These matchups, we don't expect a blowout. We know it's going to be a grind, and winning a division game is almost like winning two games because of tiebreakers, so we have to get after it.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: With Jerious Norwood out for the season and Michael Turner missing a significant chunk of time so far this season, it has been the relatively unknown Jason Snelling stepping up, earning nearly 200 yards from scrimmage last week for the Falcons.
VILMA: Their offensive line is a really gritty group, real cohesive. They've been with each other for a while and they're starting to gel. It reminds me of the Giants offensive line when they had about 60 starts under their belt with no injuries. You just start to understand the guys and the dynamics, to play with them and for them. You always want a group that has been together and is familiar, like our offensive line has been together for a while. I know where they're coming from. They're a good group and they're really going to get after it.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: Who on your defense in their second or third season is really starting to gel with your defensive chemistry?
VILMA: Particularly our defensive line. Remi Ayodele and Sedrick Ellis, those two guys are now in their second year together and they're starting to play well. They understand the defense better and in turn you can see that showing up on film the way they're getting off blocks, or staying in the gap and hitting lineman, so I'm excited about the things they're doing because it's their second-year together (Ayodele is a fourth-year player) and they're starting to gel.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: After this weekend's game against the Falcons you've got another division game against the Panthers. Do you prepare differently for divisional games?
VILMA: No. We never approach them differently. Each game has equal importance, the old cliche: one game at a time.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: Talk about Reggie Bush's injury and how it'll impact your offense.
VILMA: It's tough when you lose a dynamic guy like Reggie Bush. He can run, catch, every time he gets his hand on the ball he can score, he's capable of scoring, he wants to score. To lose a guy like that is tough, but we have fought through injuries before, like when he was hurt a couple years back, and we feel like for us, offensively, defensively as a unit, we'll hold the fort down until he gets back.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: What do you expect from the Falcons on Sunday? Do you expect them to try to beat you on the ground or through the air?
VILMA: I have no idea. The first time we played them last year it was more through the ground, they tried to pound us. The next game they had 300-something yards passing on us. It's going to be one of those battles where we'll have to go with the flow of the game and see what happens.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: With Matt Ryan coming into his third season, he now has the advantage of being a bit familiar with your defense, having played you a handful of times. Does this change how you approach your defensive attack?
VILMA: You know, honestly I couldn't tell you. That's up to the coaches and how they feel Matt Ryan is playing right now, whether we could get after him or not get after him.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: Looking back on your first two wins this season, where are the failures? Where does your defense need to improve?
VILMA: The most glaring one is our two-minute defense. It has to improve. It's not where we want it. It's not where it was last season. Actually, forget last year. It's just not where it's supposed to be, period. We've got to improve that to keep winning these games. That's our glaring issue, and we also need to get off the field on third down so the offense can't extend drives.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: Talk about technology and how it is changing the way you and your peers prepare for games, watching film, etc.
VILMA: We watch film together as a team, and we also watch it alone on our laptops and things like that. It's a little bit of both. It's always good to come together as a group and hear everyone's thoughts on certain fits, certain plays and blitzes, but like you said technology is starting to play more of a role. I'm one of the guys — I don't use an iPad — but I'm one of the guys who uses memory cards. I'll load up some film onto a memory card and watch it on my laptop anytime I want to. Technology makes it quicker to get access to the film and breaking down your opponent, but nothing beats doing that with your teammates also in the room.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: Do you use technology to stay in more frequent contact with your coaches and teammates? Do you text your d-coordinator in the middle of night with schemes and game plans?
VILMA: I find myself texting my teammates but not necessarily the coaches. I have a pretty good memory so if I see something I'm going to remember to tell the coaches the next day, especially if it concerns me. But with teammates it'll be any time of the day, any time of the night, but with coaches I'll wait. They get enough of me during the day, 18 hours, so I let them enjoy their six hours away from me.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: After playing a road MNF game, how does preparing on a short week change your approach?
VILMA: The mental and physical rest is the toughest. You lose a day of rest. Yeah, you can sleep on the plane, but it's really not resting, not like resting in your bed and actually getting some sleep. So to travel across the country and know you're losing a day to prepare physically and mentally, that's the tough part about it. That's the nature of the beast, it's part of the business.
PLAYMAKER MOBILE: WHo should Saints fans keep an eye on this weekend, a potential surprise performer, on either the Falcons or Saints?
VILMA: Well he's not really a surprise anymore but Jason Snelling. As you said, nearly 200 yards from scrimmage. He's not a surprise to anyone anymore, but we'll have to keep an eye on him. He may have been a third-team back but he's proven to be capable in the NFL.