<span> <span style="">New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton</span> <span style="">Monday, September 22, 2008</span>
"After having a chance to see the tape, it's what we thought after the game this time. It's a tough loss. It's tough to come back and put ourselves in a position to win and that's what makes it frustrating. There are a number of things that we're going to have to clean up. We have to get some guys healthy and we're going to have to play a good San Francisco team this weekend and be ready to do that. That's one of the reasons why I got these guys out of here today. There were points in the game where we had opportunities; obviously the goal line situation, the short-yardage situation, the early short-yardage fumble were things that swung momentum. The momentum went back and forth. I was pleased that we came up with a big stop defensively to put the ball back in our hands for an opportunity at the end but we weren't able to score and we go from here."
One of your points of emphasis in the offseason was a fast start to the season. Do you have to remind the team of that now?
"We're 1-2 and coming off a tough loss. There's a lot of football ahead of us. We're going to have to play well this weekend at home. It starts with this game and you really can't go past San Francisco. They played well this weekend and got a win. We have to find a way to get to 2-2 and play well at home and put this game behind us, yet learn from the mistakes in the game that changed the outcome. That's really where we're at. I thought we played with great effort. The encouraging things with some guys that were nicked up and even with some of the guys that in the course of the game got hurt was that our guys battled and competed and I thought we played hard. I didn't feel the same coming off of that Washington game. I think there are some positives to be gained from that game and yet we didn't have a chance to finish it. The focus has to be clearly on this week's game now for this team and for us as a coaching staff."
What happened on the 3rd-and-1 play?
"That's on me. It was a goal line defense and I should've taken a timeout. The clock had gone down and we have a package where we can out of a play and into another play and the clock was running down; Drew was doing a good job of trying to use the time to our advantage. The play-design all of a sudden becomes problematic in that there's an extra guy on the back side. I thought that at the point of attack we blocked it well, Pierre did as good a job as he could have done and they were in a front that really made it tough for us to run the play.
"The thing that's disappointing for me on that play was that earlier in the game we got called for a neutral zone infraction on Jo-Lonn Dunbar, and I'm watching the game today on the coaches' tape and on that 3rd-and-1, their linebacker to the point of attack looked to be in the neutral zone. I went back and I looked at the TV copy and he's a yard-and-a-half in the neutral zone on our side of the line of scrimmage. That's a hard pill for me to swallow on a critical play like that. Now it had no bearing on the outcome of the play in regards to the result but when something like that happens, it's not a judgment call. It's clearly a call that's right in front of you as a line judge and you make it or you don't make it. Usually when it's close, the play goes on but my problem was that it wasn't close. My problem was that this player not only was in the neutral zone but his whole head is across the line of scrimmage and past the ball before the ball is ever snapped and no call was made. I have a hard time swallowing that because obviously all these plays are important, but from a consistency standpoint, that same penalty was called against us earlier in the game. I can understand some judgment calls – ones that maybe could go either way – but when something like that isn't called and it's a neutral zone infraction, it's discouraging.
"But we had plenty of opportunities. I didn't want to get up here and start complaining about a lack of call. The play wasn't a good play versus that front and I don't think who the running back was would have mattered because there was guy coming free. That one's on me."
Could that have been a big play if not for the man coming free?
"It's a big play, it's a big gain the way it's blocked. The problem is in a gaps defense there is one extra guy and Zach Strief was doing his job to handle the down lineman and then there was one extra. To battle that you get into tighter formation and bring a receiver in tight to handle that extra guy, but those are all things that are hindsight. I think at the point of attack it was blocked extremely well considering there was a guy a yard offsides on defense."
Would it have mattered who the running back was on the play? People are wondering why Pierre Thomas and not Deuce McAllister.
"I'm sensitive to that and let's talk about it. Deuce McAllister has been a great back for this club and this team, but we have to make a gameplan at the start of the week and we have to trust that our gameplan is the right one, not only by play-design but also by personnel-design. By personnel-design, Pierre Thomas went into that game as our primary short-yardage runner with Reggie Bush as someone that could potentially be in there. Deuce answered this question last week and I know he's in a tough spot. He's not getting those practice snaps in preparation for the short yardage plays. He may not agree with that, but he hasn't come out and said that. It's really our decision as a staff to say that this week in this game, our feeling was that we had the right runners in there. I understand the questions; I don't get frustrated with them. But we have to make those decisions and that's the decision. The decision was Pierre Thomas and the decision last week at Washington was Pierre Thomas. Reggie was in also in short-yardage; both of those guys are guys that are getting the work in the week of practice in our short-yardage and goal line right now. That's not going to stay the case all season; we'll see how we progress. But in yesterday's game, I thought we had a good plan."
After the first game you called Deuce to let him know he's still in the plans. Did you have to do that again?
"I wanted to call him two weeks ago just to let him know that we got a big win and I wanted him to know that his time is coming. Mike McKenzie's time came yesterday, he got a lot of playing time, and Deuce's playing time is coming. At the same time, it has to come at the right time when I feel like he's ready. I think he's healthy, I think he's free from the pain of his injury and I think he's moving around well. Each week we sit in there on Tuesday nights saying, 'Where do we see our personnel?' Not just at running back but throughout the plan. We have to make those decisions. I think we would have been hard-pressed to shove Deuce in at that point in the game not having had any carries and say, 'Hey go get us a yard,' when he hadn't worked on short-yardage during the week. One could argue why and that's a whole different discussion. I felt like we were moving the ball. I felt like we had good balance when we needed to run it and certainly I'm as frustrated as everyone on the team with the short-yardage situations and the goal line. We decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 and we didn't make it and that was my decision. Fortunately we were able to get a safety and put ourselves in a position to have a field goal attempt at the end of the half. But those are decisions that I make and it's that simple."
Is there a fine line between teams that are able to pick up those 3rd-and-1s with regularity and those that aren't?
"It's an area that we are obviously going to have to improve on because we're going to have more 3rd-and-1s coming up. Last year, I think our numbers were pretty good in that category. We're going to have more goal lines and I don't think we were very good in our goal line offense a year ago. Those aren't going to go away, but you might go four weeks before you get another goal line snap with the true goal line offense. At the end of the season when we do our cut-up evaluation, typically there are somewhere between 14 and 20 true snaps of goal line offense in a season. Oftentimes we might get four in one game, so they come in spurts and we have to be better adjusted and we have to improve in that area."
Are you concerned with the ability of the front four to pressure the quarterback?
"No, I thought we played pretty well. Obviously we played a good offense. He gets rid of the ball pretty quickly. He's a tougher quarterback to sack, much like our guy is. It became a high-scoring game; it became a game of momentum back and forth. I was pleased that we tackled better. We came up with two turnovers on defense – McKenzie's interception and then the fumble recovery by Jason David. Sure, there are some areas that when you look at the tape you want to improve on. I think we can get better on our third down defense. But it became a game that went back and forth and you hope that when you play a team like that on the road you're in a position to win. Especially after their early lead. We fell down 21-3 and that start obviously didn't help us but I was proud of the way we came back and got back into it. We were in a position and we had a chance and it didn't work out."
On the 2nd-and-1 at the goal line, could Pierre Thomas have dived over the line?
"There was a little penetration though that got into his feet and kept him from getting across. It became a scrum, but I saw what you're saying. There was a little penetration on the back side where one of the tackles was able to slip off and get into the 'A' gap and slowed things down. The third down we were going to run a quarterback sneak because we felt like it was inches. I just walked down to the side judge and said, 'We're going to sneak this, so the ball just needs to cross the plane and let's get the touchdown called.' We just didn't get the snap, we didn't handle it and then that put us in that fourth down call. Those are the areas that offensively we can tangibly identify and say that we need to improve here. Maybe we need to allocate more time in practice and look at it. It's always hard because you simulate that live contact when we're practicing during the workweek. We might have to find a way to move it up in the workweek and get it while we're in pads. Those are some of the things that are disappointing."
What happened on Martín Gramatica's missed field goals?
"Fundamentally, I didn't see it. The first one was wide left and then the second one it looked like he just pushed it. He said to me on the plane afterwards that he was disappointed because he didn't come out and hit a full stroke. He backed off of it some. There was plenty of distance and it just comes down to hitting that thing solid and having confidence. It's a little bit unlike him. He was as disappointed as anyone."
Did he try to overcompensate on the second one?
"That's a good question. I don't know that he tried to overcompensate, I just know that the one thing he mentioned to me was that he was disappointed that he didn't take a full swing at it. He just tried to push it through. Generally when you're lining up to kick those at you're at 41 or 42 yards, he knows he has plenty of leg. You have to strike it solid though and not try to guide it. That was the one thing that he was disappointed in that he felt like he did and would have done differently. It went wide right and it stayed wide right."
How is Jammal Brown? Did you lose anything with him out of the lineup?
"I thought Zach Strief did pretty well. Jammal has a hip and we'll see where he's at on Wednesday. But I think Zach did really well. He had the one holding call on the screen and fortunately we were able to overcome that and still score on that series. But I thought he handled it well. He has played before for us and it's always hard because you don't get a ton of work during the workweek and then all of a sudden you're in there and you're playing. I thought he did a good job in protection. I thought he handled it well. He did a good job in the running game and we kept going. I was pleased with how he played. We'll see where Jammal is at."
Was there a setback with Randall Gay's hamstring?
"I don't think so. I asked that same question this morning. The good news is that it was more of a tweak and a twinge and he felt like he wasn't going to be able to run full speed, but it isn't like we're starting over again where we were with Aaron Stecker for instance a week ago, where he hurt it again. The reports this morning were positive in regards to Randall."
Can you teach a team how to finish games?
"The only way I know how to is to teach the game of football in its segments and improve in goal line and improve in short-yardage and improve in two-minute. Yesterday was different than finishing. Washington was a case of finishing, up nine in the fourth quarter. Yesterday was a game that went back and forth and came down to a series of plays. Usually when you play a close game like that you're going to be able to point to six or seven plays that make a difference. Fortunately we made some plays. Defensively I was pleased; we came up with some turnovers and gave the ball back to the offense. We came up with a safety which was pivotal because it gave us two points and eased a little bit the failed fourth down attempt on the goal line. There were some things that I was pleased about, but I think it's the details and the little things that we can't talk about and work through enough."
Where does Usama Young fit on the depth chart?
"He's healthy, he's done a good job on special teams and he's in the thick of it. He got work last week. The plan was for him to back up at left, Jason David to be the backup at right. Tracy Porter played and really unnoticeably came inside in the nickel. He's our number two nickel. When Randall Gay went out of the game that was the first game for Tracy Porter to come inside and play nickel. I thought he handled that adjustment pretty well. We have been nicked up there and at other positions. Jo-Lonn Dunbar has played two weeks in a row quite a bit. We've had Antwan Lake out at down tackle, Mark Campbell, (Marques) Colston, you can go down that list. That is giving some other guys some opportunities to play and hopefully we can get some of those other guys back."
How do you work on short-yardage and goal line during practice?
"We do it live in training camp and I think we maybe need to move it up earlier in the week when we're in pads. We wear shoulder pads on Wednesdays and back off as the week unfolds. It's harder to practice physically on Friday. Mentally is half the battle of making sure we understand the angles and our blocking. It's harder to do during the course of the week, especially when you're nicked up and trying to get guys back. Anytime you do that, even in training camp, you hold your breath a little bit during live goal line, because you don't want an injury. That's the best and only way I know how to simulate it. It might be something we look at doing this week."
Does everybody talking about your team's inability to convert on 3rd-and-1 bother you more than anything?
"I think it eats at me, because I look at it as calls that I would have done differently. The first down play in that sequence, Reggie (Bush) gains about seven yards. Then on the second down sequence we have a run that gets three yards or two and a half and we come back with a third and one call. Those are the things that you beat yourself up on as a coach and I think that's pretty common. After a while, by Wednesday, it has to be out of your system. Those are the things that I look back on and think that we need to help our guys and give them a better opportunity."
How do you feel when people second-guess your play-calling?
"I feel pretty good as a play-caller. I feel pretty confident as a play-caller. It's easy to second guess a lot of things, but if you get 500 yards offense and move up and down the field…I thought we handled some of the adjustments they made pretty well. They played a lot of zone coverage than man. I thought Lance Moore stepped up and made some nice plays in traffic. (Jeremy) Shockey played well and had one of his better games. Drew (Brees) was very patient. He was very sharp in his read progression and understanding what he was seeing defensively. By and large what he was seeing defensively was a lot different than what we had worked on and seen against San Diego the week before, so those plays we look back on and say we should have been able to do this a little better. I think oftentimes, they are covered up in wins and talked about more in losses and I think that's the nature of the NFL. I think that locker room and our players will handle that well too. I think we're pretty strong. I said after the game to our players that I feel pretty good about this team. We have to improve and play better, but I feel pretty good about this team right now."
On the next-to-last offensive drive were you in a situation on the third down play where you couldn't maneuver out of it?
"There were five or six seconds. What I was hoping for was a finish much like the Philadelphia game two years ago where Andy (Reid) and those guys have no timeouts and we get the ball inside the 20. If you recall, the flow of that game was back and forth and I was hoping that we just didn't have to go back on the field on defense and we could get that thing down. I had one timeout in my pocket and we could get that thing down to single digits and within field goal range and kick the field goal. That was the focus, but you don't want to get too fancy, because you're trying to score and honestly, if we have a chance to get through the third and one on that hole, you might score, but we're short one guy on the backside, so we can't overlook that. At that point, once we hit the completion to Lance and Bush had the long run, now we have plenty of time, almost too much where we're starting to use the clock to our advantage. In that situation in that 3rd-and-1, the clock had gotten too far down for us to audible and the one thing we could have done and I could have done was taken the quick timeout right there and regrouped on that 3rd-and-1 and gotten us in a better play, but that didn't happen and that's something that I'll learn from."
Were you trying to save that last timeout?
"Where we were at from a field position standpoint, we were in good shape. We were clear inside field goal range. Once they have no timeouts, that's what's important and it's really easy to run a unit on at 20 seconds, lineup and kick a field goal, so time was one our side at that point. We were just trying to not be in too much of a hurry and still move the football."
Do you miss Marques Colston in those red zone situations?
"I think we miss Colston period. I think in those areas, sure. He's a special player for us with strong hands and tight coverages. Sure we do and the sooner we get him back, the better we'll be. There's nothing we can do about it."
Doesn't a defender need to keep an eye on him in a situation like that?
"Yes. It's much harder to single a guy up when you feel like you can get a quick slant or a quick fade or a little back-shoulder throw. We miss him in those situations, but that's the hand dealt to us right now. Someone asked me yesterday if we considered going for it on fourth down and I did. We had lost about a good half a yard on that play which made it a fourth and short two or yard-an-a-half before the field goal and I considered it there, just because not from a standpoint of not feeling we were not going to hit the field goal, but from the standpoint of there's a lot of time left and it's just going to give them a chance to make the field goal. I wasn't going to do it. I had asked for the distance and upstairs they thought I meant the field goal. They said it's going to be 42 yards. I said, no, I want the down and distance. It looked like we lose half a yard on the run, but I think we did the right thing in kicking the field goal obviously. You have to there and there are some things that are frustrating about the game that don't sit well. When you guys take a peek at the television copy and I see a no-call, that's that much of a violation, I have a hard time swallowing that, because at some point there's a decision made to say I'm just not throwing the flag. At least that's how it appears to me. It's not a judgment call. You're either offsides or you're not. I have a problem with that."
Did you see the offsides during the game?
"No, not until today on the coaches' tape. You can't really see it that well, but looking at the television copies, it's terrible."
Have injuries changed the complexion and personnel of this team?
"It changes things. I'm kind of a glass half full guy, and hopefully we can lean back on this experience when our guys are healthy and feel like the (Jo-Lonn) Dunbars of the world and some of these other players now that are getting more playing time; hopefully we can lean back on that down the stretch and know that some of these guys in backup positions have more playing experience. But I think we're no different than anyone else. It comes sometimes in numbers. Sometimes you're healthy. We just have to be able to fight through this right now and we have a great opportunity this weekend to get this thing evened up at 2-2. We're playing a good team, a team that's certainly improved a lot from the last two times we've played them and that has to be our focus from here on out. I think our players understand that. I think we'll be able to get over this one maybe quicker than you think."
Is Deuce McAllister's health an issue?
"He's not on the injury report. He's healthy. He's off the injury report. He's rehabbed. He just hasn't played in a while. The bottom line is he's recovering from a significant knee injury, he's working his way back in the lineup. My call to him two weeks ago was to ensure him that it's going to be good and he has to be patient here. There's no secret with him."
On the last third and one play, before it, do you go to Martin Gramatica and ask him what hash he'd want to kick from?
"The only problem is that I do that after we convert like I did with (John) Carney two years ago and then we kind of get that thing centered, but not on 3rd-and-1. 3rd-and-1 I want to get the first down so I'm in the position to work the clock and then go ask Martín where he wants it. I assume he wants it in the middle. That 3rd-and-1, we want to get the first down, so there's no thought on where to leave this thing."
What swayed you on not going for it on the fourth down?
Did you ask the league for an explanation on the neutral zone issue?
"Yes. There isn't any. I don't want to get into the specifics with it, but there's nothing to say. It's a miss and back at Mile High Stadium with a miss. You can't go back and get it. There's no explanation. It's a missed call. That's the explanation and you move forward."