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Q&A with Saints coaches Sean Payton, Pete Carmichael and Dennis Allen

Saints coaches met with the media ahead of Falcons game

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton

Media Availability

Friday, December 30, 2016

Just how important would it be to finish the season strong?

"Each week I think and I said this earlier in the week on a conference call, I think that our jobs are obviously are to dive in, prepare and plan to win and we have been able to do that the last few weeks. Obviously I think we are playing one of the better teams on the road. It will be a good challenge."

Does this division feel like it has some good young players?

"Yeah I think that if you see the turnover. It's easier to see from my position just because of the time in the division. You see the growth, you see players come in, sometimes through the draft. They're (Atlanta) playing some younger players on defense (at) middle linebacker, strong safety, corner and yet there is a veteran center Alex Mack who came in via free agency. I think with each team you see that. Tampa Bay certainly we felt like they had some good young players that they have been receiving playing time and playing well. It's a little easier to see if you've been here quite a while."

What about the strong safety Keanu Neal?

"He's physical, we had good grades on him. He is someone that I think does well in the man coverage skills. He'll be matched up on (Coby) Fleener, typically, the tight end when they are playing man. They play quite a bit of zone coverage. I think he's excelled in their defensive package and you see him kind of playing the same spots you would see defensively Kam Chancellor play for instance in Seattle. It's the same defensive package."

Do you think Matt Ryan is the MVP of the league this year?

"I have a hard time picking one guy. There have been a lot of great performers. He is certainly a strong candidate. He has played outstanding. When you look at not just the numbers, the totals, I think he's done a real good job (with) ball security. One thing you see with this team offensively that is noticeably different this year is they're in the top five in the league, in regards to fewest giveaways and you know it's not like they are playing very conservative. I think they run the ball very well, but they are pretty wide open. They get the ball down the field, but very few fumbles and interceptions. To get a takeaway you're going to have to earn it."

Is it rare for a guy to spread the ball as much as Matt Ryan did this year, I think he set an NFL record?

"Each week we put up the targets and when we meet Thursday on third down. We talk about the numbers and the down and distances and then for the defensive side of the ball we will put up where it's going. Some weeks, a few weeks back Arizona you felt like man it's (Larry) Fitzgerald and (David) Johnson. In other words there were some high targets and it can vary based on the team, but I would say what stood out in third down were the varied targets. There's Julio (Jones), (Mohamed) Sanu, the tight ends it just keeps going. I would imagine there is a pattern there. Where there's a lot of guys getting involved and I think that makes it more challenging. The same occurs in the red zone. That is a credit to what they're doing and they're doing it well."

Has the touchback rule change the game a lot in the first year?

"I don't know. I think the purpose of it was to reduce kick returns. I don't know that it's accomplished that. I'm probably more of a traditionalist. You punt the ball and it's a touchback it's on the 20. The ball goes out of the end zone for some reason it's on the 20. I think it's a one-year rule so they will revisit it. I think there are other ways to help reduce injury on kickoff (other) than (that). Obviously during the course of a game the feel is to, look we get the ball caught in the end zone we'll take it on the 25. There's times where you might greenlight a return, but more importantly from a kicking standpoint you're planning on kicking for a touchback, but there's times where you might (kick) directional and might try to cover and not concede the five yards and I think a lot of it's based on who you're playing and also the conditions of the game."

Do you feel the touchback rule has helped player safety?

"I don't, they will do studies I'm sure. There's just a simple stat line that we'll all look for at the end of the year. What were the percentage of returns versus (touchbacks)? That number is equal to or higher than you would say well less returns less chances. If it's not, then you would say (otherwise). I don't have that off hand."

How much do you think the team has improved from this point last year until now?

"I think the one thing noticeably would be the draft class. I also think we've had some good acquisitions at corner some guys that are playing, starting. You're going to see Sterling (Moore) and (B.W.) Webb as starting corners who weren't necessarily part of the offseason. I think in some areas specifically. I don't know at this point last year that we could have said hey there's three or four games here where we could have had that opportunity, very easily had a chance to win, but I would say from a personnel standpoint not in any order Sheldon (Rankins), Mike (Thomas), Vonn (Bell), (David) Onyemata, (Daniel) Lasco. I think that was a real good class and I think that will help us going forward."

How would you say Dennis Allen has done throughout all the injuries on defense this season with the defense?

"I think that man we've had some tough games early in the season, but I think we've done a good job, had to adjust after the bye and adjust a little bit with who we're playing with, but I think I'm encouraged there."

What did you know about Craig Robertson before he signed here?

"Here is what we knew. We knew this, we saw a player that had games started (in his career). In other words it was not like he had not played in the base defense, but we saw him play multiple games in Cleveland. We saw him play in the kicking game. We knew he was smart. Then having an Aaron Glenn on our staff who was with Cleveland. That's always a (positive) when it comes to free agency that's always helpful. (Craig) He and I flew in from Dallas together when we brought him in for a visit and sometimes your initial vision can change. Certainly, we saw him as a guy that could play for us inside, but also someone who had versatility to be a core special teams player. His snap count obviously is a lot higher on defense so we've had to be mindful of that in the kicking game, but I would say a good addition for us. He has all the makeup, all the intangibles that you look for and I'm glad we have him."

Do you believe in New Year's resolutions?

"We haven't gotten there yet so I haven't even thought about (it). I don't even know when New Year's is honestly. (I) Lose track of it all. I believe in them. I believe that also 90% of them are broken within a year, but yeah I just haven't really thought about New Year's honestly."

New Orleans Saints Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael

Conference Call with New Orleans Media

Friday, December 30, 2016

Your three players with the highest snap counts have been Drew Brees, Jahri Evans and Zach Strief; what does it mean to have those guys playing so consistently year after year?

"That has been the way it has been for a majority of their careers. All three of those guys do a great job keeping themselves in shape over the offseason. We all know we're going to get their best effort the whole season."

What do you think now that you have seen a whole season of Andrus Peat?

"I think he has had a very good year. We're excited to have the player."

Do you think his best fit long-term is at tackle or can he still make strides at guard?

"I think those are things that we'll discuss at the end of the season. But you would say that we feel comfortable with him at either of those spots. He has played well."

How does it feel for you to be at the helm of this offense that ranks near the top of the league year after year?

"The number one goal though is to win more games and to be in the postseason. We have a lot of good players and there are a lot of good coaches on this staff that all contribute to that."

Where do you think you guys have made the biggest strides this season?

"I think we have played really well up front. I think we have run the ball well and protected well. You can see in the games that we're running the ball efficiently and having success there, those are the games where we have been able to have our better numbers. I think, again, we have been playing well up front. One thing that we'll have to look at at the end of the season will be just trying to be better with turnovers."

What were some of the challenges for Jahri Evans when he came back prior to the season and had to re-adjust?

"Really the system is the system here and it has been that way for 11 years since Sean (Payton) has been here in 2006. As far as the terminology and all of that, there obviously was very little change, if any. When he came back, we felt like he just fit right in since day one."

How has Michael Thomas grown the most as a rookie?

"First of all, he is so competitive. Week in and week out, he really focuses on the gameplan and really learning. He has really made strides just as player. (Wide receivers coach) Johnny Morton's done a great job with him. I think he's just learning through experience the way our offense works."

What has been the biggest thing (offensive line coach) Dan Rousher has done to help that offensive line?

"First of all, I think he is excellent in that room. I think he grabs the players' attention. He is not necessarily going to be their friend. He is going to tell them like it is. I think they respect and appreciate that honesty."

New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen

Conference Call with Local Media

Friday, December 30, 2016

Matt Ryan is having a pretty good year, what looks different about him compared to years past?

"Well I think the biggest difference this year is he hasn't turned the ball over. He's done an outstanding job of protecting the football. I think he's always done a really good job of moving the team and being able to amass a lot of yards and things of that nature. They've got a lot of explosive weapons on their offense but, I think the biggest thing is he's protecting the football and that's helped show up in the win/loss column."

When you've got a guy who's protecting the football like that does it change what you tell your defense week to week or how do you approach it?

"I don't know if it changes exactly what you're telling them maybe philosophically or whatever but, you do have to make them realize they're not going to give you ball and we have to take the thing away. As you watch the tape you have to do a great job of understanding formations and where he's going to want to try to go with the ball based on the look we're giving him, as well as our rushers have to do a good job of creating some pressure inside and it is that way with most quarterbacks that you face. If the quarterback is able to stand there comfortably in the pocket, he does a good job of distributing the ball and very rarely does he make a mistake and yet mistakes happen usually when you're able to get pressure on the quarterback."

Since this our last opportunity to ask you, what do you think of this season as a whole from your defense?

"I'm proud of the guys and the way they've competed on a week to week basis. Obviously, we haven't been as consistent as we've needed to be and there's a lot of variables that go into that. When you look back and say 'OK, you've had a lot of young guys be able to play and get a lot of experience' I think that is something that is a positive that will bode well for us in the future."

Craig Robertson had sort of a unique path to the league when he came out as a rookie in 2011 did you know anything about him?

"Absolutely not. I don't recall studying him coming out in 2011. That would have been in Denver when I was a coordinator there. I don't remember him coming out but he's obviously been a pleasant surprise for us and he's done a really nice job for us."

Do you have any idea when he first got on your radar?

"When we said there's a free agent in Cleveland that we're going to look at. Up until then I didn't really know anything about him. He was a free agent that our personnel people had identified and then obviously having AG (Aaron Glenn) who was with him in Cleveland gave us a little bit of inside information just not about the player you're looking at on tape but more about the individual and really his makeup and his love for the game of football and those are things in my mind that really make a difference in the player is 'how much does this guy really love football, is he a football junkie?' Those guys can usually succeed in whatever role it is that you give him. When you've got a guy that's doing it because that's their job and you get a chance to make a little bit of money doing that then generally you come up short as far as what your expectations are and what you're able to get out of him."

You guys signed him in theory to be a backup but how has he performed compared to your theory?

"I think he's performed like a starter in the National Football League. I think he's performed really well. I think he's grown as the season has gone on and we've put more on his plate, more responsibility on his plate, as far as being the signal caller for our defense. I think you really see him grow in that regard and again, a lot of that is based on the fact that he's a football junkie, he loves the game, so the more information he just eats that up. That's been really good for us."

I was asking Sean (Payton) about this the other day, you guys have three guys on defense (Paul) Kruger, (B.W.) Webb, and (Sterling) Moore who are going to start the majority of the games and they weren't even on the team in August. How unique is that and how different is their roles because they came in so late as opposed to you guys being able to see them for a few months?

"Yeah, I would say that's probably not the ideal situation because you do so much to create the culture of your football team throughout training camp and obviously, if training camp wasn't important I don't know why we do it. They missed all that time and not being with us obviously, there was a lot of catching up to do as the early part of the season started and so I'd say that's a little but unique and as we've had a chance to have these guys and you get a chance to watch them play and be in the meeting rooms with them and stuff like that, you get a better feel for what they're capable of doing, what are the things they do well, what are the things they don't do quite as well, and you're able to tailor a few things around that based on the information that you gather. Unfortunately, you're gathering that information in a critical stretch of the season which is the early part of the season and trying to start fast."

What's your evaluation of Sheldon Rankins now that you've had eight games with him?

"Yeah I think he's done a really good job. It's hard when you come off an injury like that to just jump right in and be 100 percent at your best and so I think it took him a few games to kind of get comfortable. For lack of a better term he went through a stretch there where he probably had a little bit of camp legs. Which you usually get that out of the way in training camp unfortunately for him this happens after the first couple of games for him but, I think for him as he's gone on I think he's gotten a lot better, I think he's gotten a better understanding of what we're asking him to do and he's been really a really productive and disruptive player for us."

How good would it be for Sheldon to be able to keep playing with Nick (Fairley)?

"I think that would be good to be able to keep a lot of these guys because I think the more consistency you have with your football team, the better that you're going to be. We'll be able to grow from these experiences this year and be able to carry over some of those learning experiences into next year so we'd love to have a lot of the same guys back but we also realize that this is a business and very rarely do you bring a full team back so we'll let the decision-makers make those decisions in the offseason and then we will go to work and try to get better."

What have you seen out of Vonn Bell's every changing role as a rookie?

"I think he has done a really good job for a rookie. When you talk about as a rookie, he came in (and) he was a free safety. Then he's played strong safety. He's moved out to the nickel positon. He has played a lot of different spots for us and for a rookie to be able to handle that volume of information. That volume of different job descriptions of the things we have asked him to do. I think is actually somewhat amazing. I think he's grown a lot. All of these different experiences that he's dealt with this year is really going to serve him well as he moves forward throughout his career. I think he has a bright future, still has a lot to learn, but the great thing about him is he comes in everyday willing to work. He is like a sponge man, just wants to soak up as much football as he can. He's been really fun to be around."

When there are Sean Payton rumors how does that affect the assistants?

"We really don't focus on that. You try and focus on the things that are in your control and the only thing that we control is how we prepare and how we get ready to play Atlanta. There are different times to worry about those types of things. What you worry about right now is how do we try to put the best plan together to get our guys to play as well as they possibly can and give ourselves a chance to win against Atlanta and that's what we have tried to do. I think in this league you learn really quickly not to pay attention to any of the white noise outside the building. Just focus on your job and the people that are able to do that are the ones that are able to have the most success in this league."

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