Photos from the New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers game. Photos by Michael. C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)
Brief takes from New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton's Wednesday teleconference:
- Payton said that Tampa Bay's pass rush has been as disruptive as any team's in the league as of late. The Buccaneers have 29 sacks this season, seven by standout defensive tackle Gerald McCoyand 5.5 by defensive end Noah Spence. "They've changed a little with their rush pattern," Payton said. "You're getting great production inside with the tackles; McCoy has been outstanding. Spence is a young player – all those guys have done a good job. The last six, seven weeks, this team has taken the ball away at a record pace. Their turnover numbers, if you studied prior to the bye and after the bye for them, have really been dramatically different. They're getting guys in third-and-long situations, they're playing real good third-down defense."
- McCoy will be the second All-Pro level defensive tackle that the Saints have played in the last three games; Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donaldwas the first. "There are some similarities in that they're playing the three-technique and they're explosive off the snap count," Payton said. "They're obviously two of the better three-techniques in our league. The challenge when you play him at Tampa is going to be the get-off and being able to mix up the snap count and try to help slow that down. Depending on what formation you're in, right or left, you can find him over either guard."
- Buccaneers second-year quarterback Jameis Winstonappears to have made a significant stride forward from his rookie season. Last year he completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns, with 15 interceptions in 16 games. This year, through 12 games, he has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 3,180 yards and 23 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Tampa Bay is 7-5, has won four straight and is tied with Atlanta for the NFC South Division lead; last year, it finished 6-10. "You're seeing him longer with his progression," Payton said. "His confidence in climbing in the pocket, throwing off the wrong foot possibly – I don't mean the 'wrong' foot, but the right foot instead of the left – he'll climb and make a throw, check it down. He's very patient. I think you've seen a tremendous amount of growth."
- Fullback John Kuhnhas proven to be much more than a blocker. He leads the Saints in rushing touchdowns (a career-high tying four, on just 15 carries) and also has shown skill as a receiver (12 catches, three off his single-season high, for 59 yards and a touchdown). "I think there's an element of flexibility where you know exactly the type of player you have, and you know exactly what he does well," Payton said. "There's a lot to be said for that because you can gameplan and know exactly what you're getting. He understands football beyond just the fullback or running back position. He understands the game, I think (he) has an interest in the game regarding scheme and defenses, and I think that's a positive."
- Payton said there has not been a team discussion regarding the Will Smithtrial (the former Saints defensive end was killed in April; Cardell Hayeshas been charged with second-degree murder and the trial began Tuesday). "I've heard on the news some of the information and I know a few of our players were there recently to show support, and I think it's fantastic that they were able to do that. And hopefully, I'm able to do that soon."