New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean PaytonPost-Practice Press ConferenceWednesday, December 8, 2010Opening Statement:
"With today's injury list first, Pierre Thomas (ankle) was full; Julius Jones (ankle) was full; Charles Brown (back) was limited. In roster moves, we placed running back Ladell Betts on injured reserve and we signed linebacker Kawika Mitchell; he'll be in jersey 94. In practice squad transactions, we signed running back Chris Taylor and released quarterback Sean Canfield. It was a pretty normal Wednesday in regards to the emphasis being on first and second downs."
What do you envision Kawika Mitchell's role to be?
"He had a good workout the other day. With the injury to (Stanley) Arnoux, we were able to bring in (Ramon) Humber as a special teams player; Kawika is a player that has a lot of experience and will number one give us depth and we'll look to see as we move forward how we can work him into our various packages. But he's someone with a lot of experience and we felt like his workout was very good."
Sam Bradford has only thrown two interceptions in the Rams' last seven games. How impressive is it for a rookie quarterback to not be turning the ball over?
"He's done well, considering that they've been on the road for a couple of those games and won the last two. He has very quickly picked up what they're doing. He gets rid of the ball on time; he has a great grasp of what they're doing offensively; I think he locates the ball extremely well and he can escape and make plays outside the pocket and he's been able to do that. He's been very good protecting the ball and they have been on offense when you look at where their ranking is turnover-wise. They've been very good in that statistic and I'm sure that has a lot to do with their success and their turnaround."
You've had a chance to see just about all of the rookie quarterbacks this season. How does Bradford stack up against the others?
"Clearly he's a guy with what he's done in his first season who is very comfortable. I see a player who is very accurate; he has a live arm; he has the stature you look for. A lot of what everyone saw on college tape and in his workouts is what we're seeing and he hasn't disappointed; he's been everything plus more than that. I think that learning curve for him is gone and has been accelerated and he has handled it well. In the two-minute situations and the no-huddle offense that they run, he's very effective. He has a real strong future and he's showing it right now."
How much improvement have you seen in the Rams since you played them last year?
"It's a different team now. They're doing so many different things better than a year ago. They're playing better defense; they give you a lot of different pressures and they're very well-coached. They have good team speed; they're in the top three in the league in sacks so they pressure the quarterback. They're getting pressure not only from their front, but they're getting pressure through the various zone blitzes. Defensively it's a different group and you can see that on tape. Offensively, we just talked about the addition of their quarterback. I think they have gotten a lot better in their offensive line play. So in all aspects, along with special teams, this is a much different team than a year ago and their record indicates that."
Why have you guys been able to get the ball downfield more in recent weeks? How would you grade Drew Brees' performance over the last month or so?
"He's playing at a high level. He's playing very efficiently. Each week we keep looking at opportunities for our players and it varies where the shot plays go. (Robert) Meachem had a few this past week and Devery (Henderson) at Dallas. It's something in each plan where we want to aggressively get the ball down the field. Sometimes you get a receiver that's open or the look that's good and other times you end up checking it down and looking for an underneath throw. That part of what we has been more effective and conversely I think we're running the ball a little better in this last quarter of the season, if you look at it statistically. If you're able to do that, you're able to get some of the looks that you would prefer in regards to your down the field shots."
Have you been getting different looks on down the field shots?
"As you effectively run the ball, it's a little bit harder to sit in the same soft zone coverage and two-deep safety looks. I think it all goes hand-in-hand. Our ability to run the ball efficiently and then come off of it with play-action or a drop-back pass, I think that goes together."
It seems even as Brees has played very well that there has been about one interception per game. Are those anomalies?
"I think you look at each one for what it is. Specifically, there have been ones where there was really nothing that he would differently while there are others where you can correct them. No different than anyone else's play, you try to look at those and grade them accordingly."
Has Jahri Evans been a disappointment this year?
"No. The penalties are one thing that we need to clean up and it's certainly an aspect of his game that he looks at closely but to answer your question, no. He's playing at a high level and is a big reason why we've been able to run the ball the way we have. We'll clean that aspect of it up; we had the officials out there today at practice and we'll look to make a point of emphasis and that's something that I think we can be better at. To have 100 yards in penalties is too much, way too much."
When linemen get penalized, do they grade out lower?
"Yes. If it's clearly a penalty, then yeah that's a minus play."
Have you brought officials in during the season a lot?
"Not as often during the season. In training camp we always do. We did it today as a point of emphasis."
Do you find yourself calling more screen plays with Pierre Thomas in the game? Does he operate them a little better?
"He has a good feel for them. There are certain screens that are isolated for Reggie (Bush). There are certain screens that we would run with Pierre or Julius (Jones) because I would describe him in a similar fashion. A lot of it depends specifically on the type of screen that we're wanting to run, but it's certainly a strength of his game."
What makes him good on screens?
"He's patient from a timing aspect. A lot of the screen game is timing and he has a pretty good feel for that clock in his head to sell what looks to be a protection and then slide out. That's something that he does very well from a timing standpoint and understanding how to get to that landmark because it varies. You get movement inside or you get a defensive tackle that spikes across your face; you have to be able to deal with a little bit of traffic and still have that clock inside your head and understand how it's all affected if you get pressure, if you get a linebacker dog. That's something that I think he has a pretty good grasp of."
Was the way you used Reggie Bush in the last game the gameplan going in?
"It was more snaps and he had more opportunities than in the game prior and we just continue to look at those. Sometimes within the passing game, a route may or may not go to him but I thought he handled the runs the other day pretty well. A lot of it is how the game is unfolding as well. I think he's running close to 100% now, which is encouraging. The first play from the line of scrimmage the other day was a good run. He's at a point where he's 100% or close to 100% right now, so as we package the offense, we package it knowing that."
How rigid is the gameplan in determining the number of snaps a player might get as he returns from injury? Is it like a pitch count?
"No, it would be less than that. You pay attention to the game as a coach and there are a number of plays where any number of those guys would be in and then there are some specifics that are targeted for this running back – whether it's Chris (Ivory), whether it's Julius, Pierre or Reggie. It would depend on the plays but it's not as rigid as you might think. If a guy is going and playing well, there are times where you'll leave a back in there and we've done that, and then there are other plays where we'll make substitutions."
Is the plan to make Pierre Thomas active on Sunday?
"That's the plan at this point. He was full today."
So that means that he will be up then?
"No, it just means that that's the plan."
Have you liked what you've seen in your kick and punt return game?
"That's an area – and we pointed it out in this morning's meetings – that's an area that I think we can be better at. That's an aspect that we have to get going. Whether it's been balls on the ground in the punt return game; whether it's the assignment or the technique that we're using, but I'd like to see us be more effective in both of those aspects. We'll look closely at who we're asking to do certain things. We're at a point health-wise on the roster as I go through this where we're as healthy as we've been in a while. So now you get into actives and inactives and when you look at your backup players, the first question now is not as much injury as it is who helps us on special teams. We'll look closely at those two units and I think we need to improve in those areas."
Is part of it that Reggie Bush has been out?
"We've had opportunities with Lance (Moore) though. I think the ball has been on the ground too much from a punt return standpoint. Early on we had a real big return with Lance and I'd like to see us do a more consistent job in that aspect."
Would you consider using Reggie on kickoff returns?
"That's not something that we've done and it's not something that we're probably looking to do."
Garrett Hartley has hit 10 of his last 11 field goals and five in a row. Do you feel better about your decision to stick with him now?
"Honestly we weren't at that point that maybe you guys were in regards to a change with him. We see too much and too many things that he's doing well. He has too much leg talent and he's produced in big spots for us. We've been at that point before and that's not a fun spot when you're looking each week to possibly make a change. But he has proven himself and he's playing very effectively and has been efficient. We just keep working on improving the technique. He has done a good job of it and we'll continue to go."
Is he doing anything differently now than he was early in the season?
"I think like anything else, you're constantly evaluating your approach, your swing, your stride, much like a golfer would. I think he has been very consistent and he kicked well today."
Last year you were the story of the NFL while this year it feels like you're kind of under the radar. Is that something you like or don't like or even care about?
"Week to week there are a lot of teams at the top of the AFC and the NFC and it's awfully competitive. If we're under the radar, that's not a bad spot to be in. It's a spot that just means that you may not have received the national exposure. I think a lot of it is week to week though and a lot of it is based on the national games. We saw Philadelphia play against Washington a few weeks ago and that was an impressive win. We saw New England play Monday night against the Jets and that was an impressive win. I think when you play in those games, much like a year ago when we had a few of those primetime games, that can put attention to a specific team. But really, all of that is unimportant. What's most important is just putting yourself in a position week in and week out to be in a position to win and the other stuff kind of takes care of itself."
Is it almost a nice thing to not be noticed as much because you can keep your attention more on football?
"I would always prefer that because that means that there are less distractions. Yet as you march into this last month, and we have a quarter of the season left, four weeks, you're always hoping to be in a position where you're playing for something. What's most important is this game and that's it really. What's written, what's talked about is not as important."
As well as the defense has played all year, they've given up more yards and more points in the last few games. Is that concerning to you?
"I think we've played some pretty good offenses too, when you look at what Dallas has from a skill standpoint and what Cincinnati has. We've played veteran quarterbacks with experienced receivers and running backs. I think we're playing with the effort and energy level that we look for and what's most important is the wins. We make the corrections off the tape but part of it is the skill level of some of the opponents that we've played recently."
With a win this week, you'll have consecutive 10-win seasons. Is that a significant accomplishment for your program?
"I think our goals are set higher than that. I don't mean to diminish the importance of winning seasons or double-digit winning seasons or any of those other things, but I think that when you have a chance to experience success, it's something that you look to duplicate again and again and again. I don't know that a lot of attention has been paid to that."
Was Robert Meachem taken out by opposing teams earlier in the season because of his toe injury?
"I don't know that. Is he healthier now and running faster now and maybe feeling better now? I'm sure, but I don't know that the toe was something that held him back. Part of it might have been that we were playing some defenses early on like Minnesota and San Francisco that are pretty salty and pretty effective. But he is moving around better and has had some big games for us. Certainly the catches last week were significant."
Can you talk about Doug Marrone and the success that he's had since leaving here to become the head coach at Syracuse?
"When we travel, occasionally we have a chance to see some of those games on Saturdays and we follow the scores and pull for certain guys. All of us here that have worked with Doug have been following the success that they've had at Syracuse. That's a challenge when you come into a new program; that's a place that he's very familiar with, having gone to school there. We're fired up to see him winning and having the success that they've had this year. That's one of the teams that we follow and keep track of how we're doing. It's good to see."
Does that start aging you a little bit when you see former assistants of yours having success as a head coach?
"You're always hopeful – and I talk about this all the time – you're always hopeful that guys that have worked under you have a chance to go on and have success. Certainly in Doug's case, that's been so. He was one of the first coaches that we brought in here back in that '06 season and it's always good to see."
New Orleans Saints QB Drew BreesWednesday, December 8, 2010
What do you think of the way that Sam Bradford has taken care of the ball and avoided interceptions?
"That's pretty impressive. The adjustment especially at the quarterback position going from college to the professional level is huge. The learning curve is huge and I think that what you find is that nowadays it just seems like guys are running these complex offenses in college and defenses are becoming more complex. They seem to be coming in to the league so much more well-prepared than maybe guys did before. It's impressive to see guys as rookies be as good as they've been and Sam Bradford is maybe the most successful out of all of them at this point. I think you admire that."
Bradford said he had a couple of text conversations with you following his shoulder issues. What did you tell him in regards to the injury? Do you find young quarterbacks coming into the league now seeking you out as a mentor?
"We have the same agent. That's how I got ahold of him last year when he was going through that whole ordeal with his shoulder. I think more than anything the frustrating part of him coming back for his senior year having forgone the draft to come back, all the expectations of a great season and a national championship hunt and then to go down in the first game and again midseason. I know how frustrating it was for him. Then, not only that, but the rehab itself is not that easy. It was really the opportunity to reach out and help him through it anyway I could, answer any questions he may have and give him some advice. I saw him again at the draft when he got drafted number one and just wished him the best of luck. I knew obviously we would be playing him, (said), see you week 13 or whatever. Here we are."
What's gone better for you guys during the five game win streak?
"I'd say just kind of hitting our stride, midseason form I guess is what you guys like to call it. We're getting into December. These are the games that you want to remember. These are the games that define your season in a number of ways in how you fit into the whole playoff picture and you want to be playing your best football in this stretch, so I think that for us when you look at us statistically we're running the ball better than we were earlier in the season. We're healthier right now than we were earlier in the season. All those things contribute to the better play, more points being scored, the big plays occurring and that type of thing."
Do you think you're playing better?
"I do. I feel like early on for whatever reason some of the breaks just weren't going your way or my way. I wasn't quite as sharp as I wanted to be. I think some of that was timing and just kind of getting into it and just getting going again."
Do you think that's the case with the interceptions? Even in these good games, it seems like there's one that sticks up somewhere.
"That's frustrating. Sometimes there's three different types of interceptions. There's the bad throws, the bad decisions and the not sure I could have done anything about that one because it was a tipped ball or just whatever, circumstances. So, there have been a few of all of those, maybe more so, some of the ones where you feel like you threw it right where you wanted to and for whatever reason it ended up in their hands. The fact of the matter is I'm still responsible regardless. I definitely early on, had a few that were poor throws, poor decision where I knew better. I tried to fix that"
How much of your ability to get deep lately has come off of play action and how has the emergence of Chris Ivory affected it?
"It definitely helps. The more effective you are running the football, more teams feel like they need to get an extra guy in the box or they respect that run fake a little bit more. That can definitely open things up down the field. I think it has helped."
I know you look at one game at a time, but your next four games are all against clubs fighting for playoff lives. How much do you guys know this is coming?
"This is good though because you know that you're going to need your best effort to win. If we are where we're at at the end of the season where we want to be, it's because we earned it and we know we played well down the stretch and that we are playoff ready. We're battle tested. This is going to be a tough stretch starting this week against St. Louis."
What do you think about the possibility of a Wild Card team with 11, 12 or 13 wins playing a division winner with few wins?
"I remember Indianapolis for example was 12-4 behind Tennessee. So they're the five seed playing at San Diego at 8-8."
What did you think of it back then when it wasn't affecting you directly as opposed to now when it possible could be?
"I don't know. You won the division so you get a home game. I think we all know that. There's just those times where you happen to have a division that's really strong, much stronger than another maybe, so all of a sudden you have the team at 14-2, 13-3 or 12-4. The 13-3 or 12-4 teams are the five and six seed or they're having to go play at a 9-7 team. It's just the way it is. We don't look too far into it."
Does the fact that you could be playing for the one or the five, heighten things?
"It's motivation to win your division. That's why you talk about winning your division. That's why those games are so important."
Is there a different dimension that Pierre Thomas brings to screen plays?
"He is a great player all around. I feel like he has a great feel for the game running the football, catching the ball out of the backfield, all those things, including the screen game. I think he has a great feel for the timing elements and setting up blocks and all those things."
That's not coachable is it?
"No, you could coach. You coach timing and landmarks, where you want to be catching that screen and where the linemen are going to be, but anytime you run a screen you're not exactly sure how the linemen are going to be able to get off their blocks in order to get downfield. You're not exactly sure about the path you're going to have to take to get to your landmark and sometimes the timing's thrown off a little bit. For me, throwing the ball, sometimes a defensive lineman gets off the ball really quickly and he's on you and now you're having to get rid of the screen a little bit earlier than you used to, so there's elements that go into it. It's not just an easy pitch and catch. There's a lot of elements to it"
Would you say that when the playoffs start, you guys will be the team floating through the draw that nobody wants to play?
"I hope so. When you look at it historically the teams that have been ascending into the playoffs are the ones that make a run into it. Pittsburgh Steelers when they won their first on. They had to win five games in a row to get into the playoffs. The New York Giants back in '07. There are plenty of teams that had to be playing their best football in order to get in and it's like they've played five playoff games. I know you guys love it when the must game wins come around so you can use the term. Those are must win games or you're out. You're not in the playoffs. I think that as you look at our situation, everyone of these games are so important and we're playing against teams that have a lot to play for as well, so they're going to be hard-fought."
Are the last four must wins?
"It's as close to it as you get. Our season's not over, but the fact of the matter is that each game is so important. It's so important because of the situations we're in being one game behind in the division right now. Granted we face that divisional opponent in a few weeks, but the fact is that's a few weeks away and we have two extremely tough games prior to it."
If there was one game this year you would take back or one loss, would that Atlanta game be it?
"Yes, just because mathematically it's worth two games. Yes that was a big one. There's nothing we can do about it. We just control what we can control at this point."
Technically this is a game between two teams in playoff position. I think a lot of people tend to smirk just because a lot of people view the NFC West as a joke for a lack of a better term and you've already destroyed the team they're battling with in Seattle. I know you don't look at it that way and wanted to see if you could explain why and tell us what this might mean to the Rams?
"The last time they came into our building was in '07 and they were 0-8 and they beat the you know what out of us. We remember that. Last year when we played them, they gave us fits. I don't think we played very well, but that was the closest we came to losing last year until we ended up losing. So, they've always played us well since we've been here. They have a lot to play for. Typically whoever wins from week to week is the team that wanted it most and needed it most and we both need it pretty badly right now."
In regards to Sam Bradford and I think this is a little manufactured, but he's 1-1 against the two top quarterbacks he's played. You'd be another one. When you go against another great quarterback, do you think it's fair to measure it when two great quarterbacks are playing against each other to say will this guy beat that guy or to call it a statement game?
"There's no question there's a competitive nature and there's this competitiveness that comes out when you know you're going up against one of the best signal callers in the league on the other side. Granted you are not playing against him. You're playing against his defense. He's playing against your defense. But there's a little bit of a tendency to feel that if I play better than him we have a better chance to win. I try not to get too caught up in it. Once the game starts, it's the furthest thing from my mind and it's not thinking he completed a big one. That means I have to go out and complete a big one. Because you don't want anything to alter your thought process or judgment out there. Certainly there's a competitive fire that comes out when you're going up against a Brady, Manning or one of those guys."
When you're walking out into the huddle in the no brainer freeze, you know what you can and can't do as a quarterback within the rules. What can you do and can't you do to draw them off? How much of it is acting?
"I think the one thing that the officials look for and they'll call you on it is any sudden forward movement. So, like a real quick head bob is something that they would potentially call. That's tough for quarterbacks sometimes because it's loud. If you're screaming as loud as you can like in a snap count, your body is going to flex, twitch and move. You can't help that always, but I think it's how drastic it is. If you look like you're very animated doing it then they might call it."
You're worried about it not working out if they're looking at your feet?
"Sometimes if you look at a guy's feet or eyes, you'll twitch and stuff because you're screaming as loud as you can. Plus you're going side to side down the line as you normally would if you were running a play. I think for me, it's not necessarily acting because I'm barking out the same signals as I normally would by a live snap count or if we're really going to snap the ball and run a play, saying things that would be checks, that we would actually do and make. It's not like I'm saying things like apples, bananas."
Your teammate said you did something like that?
"But, point being if I was changing a play and trying to get something communicated I'd be up and down the line. I'd be moving guys around, making it look real."
Someone from the Bengals claimed you moved your foot?
"I guess you have to look at the tape."
Have you ever drawn anybody offsides in that situation?
That was a pretty unique situation because it's one of those one you might think obvious kick a field goal situation to tie the game. If it's fourth and six inches, I think It's a little more believable, but it's fourth and two, so you really got to love the play you're going to call if you're going to call something. The opportunity to win the game because you're that close to the goal line. We've done some pretty gutty, risky things during out time here, so I think it's made it more believable. We did it last year. In the Jets game we got them to jump offsides in a critical fourth down situation down the stretch. You get in those critical situations. Those guys are looking for an edge to get off on the ball and stop the play, so you can get guys. They just don't want to be sitting flat footed when you do snap the ball and they get blown off the line. That looks bad too."
You could do a quick snap with the same effect?
Is there anything you can do in meetings or practice to get the team back on track in penalties?
"You kind of designate them if they're pre-snap penalties or post snap. I think for us more have been post snap, the holdings and some of the other stuff. Holdings are going to happen from time to time. I think for us we've had too many. It's one thing if it's unsportsmanlike conducts or late hits. That stuff is discipline. Holding, you want to keep them to a minimum obviously because they're drive killers. Look at what it did to us last week. It seemed like each of our holding calls occurred on a play where we were getting ten or more yards, so it's not just a ten yard penalty, it's a twenty yard penalty putting us back. That's one of the reasons why we were one-of-eight on third downs, so bad, because we were in some third and long situations. That's definitely something we're working on."
Do you sense any frustration on the part of Jahri Evans?
"I don't know. It seems like he's getting picked on a little bit. You watch the plays and I can't see it from this vantage point. The officials have different vantage points. They're going to call what they see. You have to abide by the rules. I think different officiating crews have different tendencies. Some would say, these guys are the least penalizing crew in the league, so they typically let you play. There might be another crew that where these guys are a very heavy penalizing crew. For example, last week's crew we noted that they called a lot of holding penalties. They didn't let us down. They called a lot of holding penalties. I think that's part of it. You have to recognize it too. Typically the really good corners in the league, they don't get called for a lot of holding calls because I think you figure if it's close, you're a good player, he's just a better play. Well, Jahri's the highest-paid guard in the league. Can't we just say he's really good. I don't think he's holding. He's really good. They're just not getting off the block."
Is there any connection where there's an extra official back there for a lot of these plays now?
"I'm not sure. Like I said, some crews tend to call more than others. Obviously the rules are the rules. You know what's holding and what isn't. There's a slight gray area where that didn't seem so bad. Others, if the slightest little deal it's holding and they'll put a flag out."
Did you think Robert Meachem was having problems getting separation earlier in the year because of his toe?
"I don't know if I'd say that. Here we are late season, it's crunch time. We need to make those plays. We've had a lot of time to work at it, hit our stride again and get back to timing and the rhythm. We just have a few of it. I hope that continues. The fact of the matter is we're going to take what they give us. There are going to be games where teams are going to take that away. They just happen to be calling the right defense at the right time. You have to check it down, move on to the next play and go on a 15-play drive as opposed to hitting a big play. I hope they continue to happen because those are huge plays in a game, big momentum changers."