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Head coach Dennis Allen believes New Orleans Saints aren't far away from contending

"We're not as far off as maybe some might think"


Dennis Allen said Monday he has every reason to believe he'll enter next season as head coach of the New Orleans Saints, and that he's positive the Saints, who finished 7-10 in his first season as coach, are much closer to success than their record indicated.

"I'm certainly going forward with that anticipation (of being head coach), that's the indication that I've been given and I'm excited about it," Allen said. "Again, 7-10 is not where we want to be, but we're not as far off as maybe some might think. But there's areas that we have to improve on.

"I think there's a young nucleus of players that we can build on going forward. I was pleased with the way that we kind of changed the tide a little bit defensively – I thought the last half of the season (the Saints held the last six opponents to 13.5 points per game), we were one of the better defenses in our league. I think there's some foundational pieces that we can build on.

"Certainly, we've got to do a better job of finishing. I can think of Cincinnati (a 30-26 loss), Tampa (17-16), this last game against Carolina (10-7), go back earlier in the year against Minnesota (28-25) – I think there were some opportunities for us to close some games out and finish some games, (and) we didn't get that done.

"So that's going to be an area, if we can learn to how to finish games and close some of those games out, not only this season but seasons in the future will be different."

New Orleans lost to Cincinnati on a 60-yard touchdown pass with 1:57 remaining; took a 16-3 lead against Tampa Bay with 8:06 left; had a 55-yard field goal attempt against Carolina blocked with 1:24 left before surrendering the game-winning field goal as time expired; and led the Vikings 22-19 in the fourth quarter, and tied them at 25-25, but couldn't produce a win.

"Disappointed in the record," Allen said. "It's certainly not the standard that we want to be. Our goal is to win championships here. This year in that regard was not good enough, and I think we all know that."

But he has seen how quickly fortunes can change.

"I've been here now 13 out of the last 17 years I think it is, and I've been through 10-6 and playing in the NFC Championship Game (in 2006), to 7-9, to 8-8, win a Super Bowl (in '09). I've been a part of '15 and '16 (seasons of) 7-9, and playoff team '17, '18, '19, '20. So, I've seen how you can turn that around. And so, that'll be our focus and what we're trying to do moving forward.

"I realize that the success of this football team ultimately falls on the head coach. It wasn't good enough this year. I'm discouraged in terms of, I felt like there were some opportunities for us to win more games than we did – that's discouraging for me. But I'm encouraged by some of the things that I saw with some of the young players and feel like I see a path to success as we go into the future."

Allen said that all facets of the operation are subject to evaluation.

"The key is making sure that whatever decisions that we make, we make the right decisions," he said. "I don't think there's a timetable on making right decisions."

QB: Allen said he understood the scrutiny that accompanied making a quarterback change, from Jameis Winston to Andy Dalton. Winston started the first three games, injured his back and foot, and gave way to Dalton, who started the final 14.

"Initially, it was the injury issue," Allen said of Winston. "And then as time went on, I felt like Andy was the one that gave us a better opportunity to win. We didn't win enough games, so all those things are always going to be questioned, and I'm comfortable with that.

"I think the quarterback position is always going to be the biggest position. And so, that'll be a position we'll evaluate, as will everything else."

PENNING SURGERY: Rookie offensive tackle Trevor Penning will require surgery to repair a damaged Lisfranc in his right foot. He made his first NFL start at left tackle on Sunday, against Carolina in the 10-7 loss. He missed the first 11 games of the season due to an injured left foot.

"I thought he played really well, I was highly encouraged by the way he played the left tackle position," Allen said. "He got beat inside on an inside pass rush fairly early in the game, I thought he made a great adjustment afterward. I love the player's mentality about the way he plays the game – he plays the game tough, physical, he plays it nasty with a lot of tenacity."

HELP WANTED: Allen said New Orleans was left with a bit of a hole at receiver due to some of the traits possessed by Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry, who missed 14 and eight games, respectively.

"One of the elements that I don't think we had as much as we needed this year was a contested ball catcher," Allen said. "I think when you get into some of these tough third-down situations, got to have it, the guy that, 'I'm going to make the contested catch,' I think that's important."

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