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Saints Head Coach Sean Payton Discusses Win Over the Panthers

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    <span>New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton  

Monday, November 9, 2009

Opening Statement:

"From a transaction standpoint, last week we put Kendrick Clancy on IR and we moved DeMario Pressley up to the 53. He played in the game. From an injury standpoint, we're really just talking about Jabari Greer yesterday with a slight groin. I felt pretty good about today's findings and I don't think it's anything significant. I'm encouraged with how we came out of the game from a health standpoint; that was positive. I thought there were a lot of things that were sloppy early on. I was glad that we were able to come along and get the win. There will be a lot of things we can clean up. We spent a week without pads; we obviously were coming off a late game on Monday and you just try to get their legs back. But we made a lot of mistakes in that game that after watching the tape, there are a lot of areas that we can improve on and that's where our focus will be on Wednesday. We gave up the big run defensively and I don't think we tackled as well as we would've liked. Offensively, we had the two turnovers, we had dropped passes, we had penalties – one on a third down play that was going to convert and set us up for a touchdown and we had to kick a field goal. There are a number of things. I do think that we played very well in the kicking game. We covered very well and that was critical."

Even though you've been able to overcome those mistakes, is there concern that the mistakes are becoming a trend?

"I think yesterday's game was more sloppy than we've seen. When you have an illegal formation or you have 'x' number of drops or 'x' number of turnovers or another big run for 50-plus yards against you – that concerns you any week. I'm glad we've been able to overcome that and we talked about that yesterday in the post-game. The role of players and coaches – our challenge is to be better and not try to say that was good enough. We have to be better and we have to look to improve and play better football, have better ball security, tackle better, create the plays that we're looking for and not have to settle for a field goal where we had to yesterday. All of us – that includes the coaches and starting with myself with a timeout and a challenge – those are all areas that we have to clean up and look closely at and try to be objective when we look at the film and find where we can improve. You're not going to play a perfect game and certainly we didn't yesterday when you watch the tape."

How has the play of the defensive line been?

"Some of the depth has been important for us. A guy like Remi Ayodele is a guy that not a lot of people knew about a year ago. He has stepped up in the absence of a few guys. Kendrick Clancy has gotten hurt, Sedrick Ellis is out. DeMario Pressley is playing; Anthony Hargrove – all these guys have stepped in and done a good job of holding up the fort. It hasn't been perfect, but I think the players understand. You take a guy like Pressley who a few weeks back was disappointed he was going to be on the practice squad and then six weeks later, he's playing a lot of snaps in the game. That happens in our league more than in other leagues where you might be a week removed – Jo-Lonn Dunbar for example – from being a starter to being inactive. Those guys have stepped up. It has happened on the offensive line with Jammal (Brown)'s injury. I was encouraged with the way DeMario played in his first heavy amount of playing time."

How did Jermon Bushrod play? Was it a group effort in slowing down Julius Peppers?

"Overall, I think we played pretty well. The protection was good. We did a good job of getting the ball out; we took the one sack-fumble, but that was more of a coverage deal. I thought the protection was good on that play but we really didn't have anywhere for the quarterback to go. I thought overall the line play was solid."

Did you give Bushrod a lot of help or did he hold up on his own?

"We try each week to change up the looks. From the very beginning of the game, I'd say that most of the time Peppers lined up over him. I think Peppers was battling an injury a little bit too, to where he was on and off – he wasn't on the field the whole time. We tried to make sure that we weren't going to allow him to disrupt the game. I thought the tackles held their own pretty well."

What happened on the timeout/replay challenge play?

"It started with the clock running down. We spent some time trying to really look at whether or not we should challenge it. I knew we were going to call a timeout, so the timeout was called by me and then shortly thereafter there was the gray area. The mistake made was not in the timeout; the mistake made was in the challenge because the rule is pretty simple. If the ball ever comes rolling around after a completion, it's going to be incomplete. Fortunately for us, we were able to regroup then and get a third down play called. It's the play where we ran the screen pass, but that being said, it's one or the other – obviously you don't want to use two timeouts in a situation like that."

Do you have a designated guy in the coaches' booth who is the replay review guy?

"No one wanted to know who that guy was last week when we challenged the touchdown by Atlanta. No one cares about who that person is. We have two or three people up there that pay close attention to the look and really, that decision yesterday was on me. The complete/incomplete rule in our league couldn't be more clear. If the ball moves after the receiver falls, chances are that it's incomplete. The timeout was the clock running down and we spent time looking at it. Like I said, that's something that I have to be better at."

How did holding Carolina to a field goal instead of a touchdown on their long drive in the third quarter change the game?

"If my memory is right, they had a possession that lasted about nine-and-a-half minutes. The concern you have is that right in front of your eyes you see the game being shortened. We had scored, but then here they come and almost the whole third quarter is eclipsed. I thought it was significant that we were able to hold them to three, because had they scored, basically you could've taken the whole third quarter and said it was a wash; we scored, they scored and now we're on to the fourth quarter. And I think that would've benefitted them more than us. I thought we were able to play good red zone defense at times and we were able to force them into a field goal instead of a touchdown."

Have you been surprised with how well you've been able to run the ball this season?

"No. We've worked at improving in that area and I have been encouraged with our ability to run the ball."

You have outscored your opponents 91-18 in the fourth quarter of games this season. Did you change anything in the offseason that has allowed you to finish games better this year?

"I think if you're playing better in the fourth quarter, it probably means you're playing better defense and it means you're probably rushing the football better. In other words, I don't think it's the mouthpieces…I think it's hard work. Certainly those were goals of ours. I don't think there are any shortcuts to playing better in the second half of games or in the fourth quarter. We've been able to play better defense; we've been able to turn the ball over on defense and we've been able to run the football on offense. I think that – along with the emphasis of finishing – I would say those are better areas to look."

Is that one of the things you're most proud of at this point of the season?

"I'm proud of the players and how they've been able to hang together and coaches the same way. Each week there are some things that are different with how we've won. I do think we have to be more consistent though. I do think we can play a lot better than we played yesterday. And I'm not just saying that because it's time to come in here and throw water on a party. I thought it was sloppy yesterday. If we had played well and won it would be one thing, but we didn't. It's frustrating because as a coach the first thing you look at is yourself. If what we're seeing on film is what we're coaching, it becomes an indictment on us. We have to get some things cleaned up and we have to do that before we sit in here and say it finally cost us a game. I really mean that. They'll be back Wednesday and we'll have a tough practice and clean up a lot of the mistakes that hurt us not only on offense, but on defense, and see if we can get this return game going."

What game has come closest to satisfying you this season?

"There were games earlier in the year where we clearly won the turnover battle and we didn't put a team in quick position. I thought we played pretty well against New York; I thought we played pretty well on the road at Philly – those are a couple of games. But I know that the game I just saw certainly isn't in that list."

Has there been an emphasis from a play-calling standpoint on patiently sticking with the running game, especially in the fourth quarter?

"That was the minus-two drive where we started backed up and we ran the belly play to get off our goal line and I think we gained a couple of yards. I thought the significant play on that drive was the second down play-action where they covered Colston pretty well and Drew dumped it to Pierre and he managed to get the first down and give us the breathing room. I thought that was a big play on that drive and then we had some balance. We had some good runs and some completions in there. When it's tied and you have a whole quarter like that, your thought process would be much like it would be at the beginning of a game. You have a lot of time on the clock and your first thought is to change field position back in our favor. Let's get two first downs to make sure that we're not backed up punting and we were able to do that. We just would've liked to have finished with a touchdown rather than being forced to kick a longer field goal, which we had to do. Like I said yesterday, I was pleased with the special teams effort. John Carney made a big kick for us there. That was the first time that we had the lead at 23-20 and that was pretty significant."

Has your ability to come back in the second half been due to halftime adjustments you've made?

"I think it's more of a focus by our players to come back and improve on some of the things we didn't do as well in the first half. As coaches we're trying to be mindful of what's taking place in the game and be flexible enough to see how a game is headed in one direction and if we want to change that course. I think maybe we did that a little more so in Miami, but that being said, it still gets back to the players having the resolve to come back and eliminate some of the mistakes. It would've been hard for us to play any worse in the first half. It was good to see our guys respond."

When you go home at night, do you rest more easily this year?

"I think it's probably the same. I think what drives all of us, the players as well as the coaches is just the workweek and improving and trying to do your best. I think that's the focus. Honestly, last night, no differently than for a lot of other people, I end up in a car with my wife and two kids and we head home. We unwind a little bit. You think about things you didn't do as well and those things bug you a little bit. It's certainly easier if you win and make some mistakes, it's easier to come in and coach off of a win than a loss. Nonetheless, I think the mistake would be to shove the film away and move on to St. Louis without really pointing out what we're talking about. We talked about this in Miami and here it is again, another big run, a turnover here. We shouldn't have alignment errors, formations. We had too many dropped balls, which has been uncharacteristic of our receivers and there's some route issues that we have to clean up. Defensively, I think we can tackle better and get to the ball better. I thought the turnovers were key. We had another opportunity with the ball that went out of bounds, so these are the things that run through your mind, but I think as important with younger children, it's important that the switch get clicked over as to how they're doing in school and be a normal dad. I think that's maybe more challenging."

How much has it hurt not against the run not having Sedrick Ellis and Scott Fujita?

"That's the reality of our game. The starting fullback and backup fullback for Carolina didn't play. The starting tight end for Carolina didn't play yesterday and the best blocking receiver arguably in the NFC – Muhsin Muhammad – didn't play yesterday. We didn't have Heath Evans. We won't for the rest of the season, but to answer your question, I think that's the league. That's the attrition. If (DeMario) Pressley's in there, he has to handle it. If (Anthony) Hargrove's in there or Remi's (Ayodele) in there, he has to handle it. I think when you play 16 regular season games, you're not going to be able to take that depth chart and just say he's going to be our 11 starters for the year on any side of the ball. I think it's more about the fundamentals, the fits, the pad level and the tackling than it would be the specific player. Those are things we can improve on."

How close are Ellis and Fujita to coming back?

"The news today was positive. It was the first time coming off a game where the injury report was light. The news was positive about Jabari (Greer), so we have a better idea Wednesday with the rest of these guys."

How does the flexibility and interchangeability of your three main running backs make it more difficult for opponents to prepare?

"I think the thing we tried to do this week a little bit more was involved Reggie (Bush) in a number of different aspects. The key is versatility with the backs. You don't want to send a running back in and have a defense say it's 70 percent run and 30 percent pass when that running back's in the game. I thought Reggie played pretty well. He had seven receptions and ran pretty well. Pierre (Thomas) gives you the versatility and we have to do enough with Mike Bell. The same way with Zach Strief who reports at tight end. It just can't be run, so the self-scout aspect of the runners is an important take that we have to look at each week in regards to what they're doing in the game. Having three guys that have experience or are playing early in the game is a plus and we continue to preach ball security at that position from a week ago. As long as those numbers don't get skewed one way or another and it doesn't become too predictable, I think that's important."

Are there things you can do as coaches to improve the efficiency of the return game?

"We put a lot of emphasis this week on the punt return and we really didn't have a lot of opportunities. There were a couple fair catches and a couple touchbacks, but I thought overall in the kickoff return game we had the big one at Miami. It's really just trying to get the punt return game going. I thought this week was a little tougher with the opportunities they had. Overall I was pretty pleased with the kicking game. I thought they did a good job."

Have you ever been 8-0 to start a season?

"I can't look back on a specific team. I think all of us have competed or played on a team that wins a string of games. To answer your question, I can't recall having been on a team at 8-0 and remembering the last time I was. We're halfway through the season. I think it's a very competitive NFC right now when you watch the games unfold. We're seeing a lot of good football teams that are going to be playing well here in November. I think our emphasis is to play well in this month in December and to get better. That will be easy to point out on Wednesday. I look forward to getting these guys back with us. Part of you wishes they were coming in today to clean up the mistakes, but I think the rest is just as important for them mentally and physically. We'll have a good workout Wednesday."

What impresses you about St. Louis the most?

"They have an outstanding running back that we think can hurt you in the passing game and the running game. I think they run very well on defense. I think they're extremely well-coached. I think going on the road and playing in that environment, each week the challenge is more internal than external. It's the focus from within as opposed to the team. There are certain things we need to know about this team from a scheme standpoint, but really the challenge is being physically and mentally prepared on our side, making sure we're able to play our best game and improve on the things we saw in yesterday's game, so early on, those are the two things. I think they're speedy and I think they're a pretty physical team."

Do you ever think of throwing Zach Strief the ball when he's eligible?

"Not really, I'm sure at some point we may come up with something."

Has the improved run game and defense allowed you to stay with your gameplan longer?

"I think to some degree, yes. I think again, all of us are paying close attention to a game and how it's unfolding. The two greatest allies for a quarterback are a good defense and running game. Those two things can help that position play better and the lack of those two areas can put a lot of pressure on that position. It allows you to be a little bit more patient if you feel like you're playing well defensively and if you feel like you can run the football. We feel like the balance is necessary and complementary to playing good defense. They go hand in hand."

Did you feel that you had to abandon the run more often last year because you possibly didn't have the defense that you have now?

"I really don't want to get into last year. I think all of us can look at and notice this is a different team. There are 20 something different players here. There are a lot of things that we can point to as to why we were 8-8 a year ago. The comparison of why we're playing better football this year, I would say we're playing better defense, we're rushing the football better. We're creating the turnovers. Those are the three things that I don't think we did very well a year ago. We didn't run the ball well enough offensively and that puts pressure on the defense. We didn't take the ball away. I think those would be the things that are different about the team we're seeing now."

It seems like you and Gregg Williams coach complementary games. Are there any times when you have to tell Gregg to dial it back?

"Every once in a while when you think you have the right person in the right position, I don't ever want to handcuff him. Half the time I'm talking when the defense is up, it's telling them to get back, because they all want to get on the field. Very rarely, do I interject something differently. Occasionally I might just tell them to what I think the offense is going to do, whether it's screen, take a shot or something. I think it's important for whoever's calling plays, they can get in a rhythm. I think the conversations or the workweek leading up to the game is what's important. Every once in a while something might come up where I might say something, but I think that the communication that I hear when we're on defense through the defensive coaches and the substitutions and all that flows well. It's fairly complex, because we have a lot of packages. I think by and large that process has gone well and really it's leading up to the game itself that you pay attention to how you want to play this game. That can vary a little bit. I like the fact that our players feel confident in a pressure cover zero call or a two deep prevent, whatever it is we're calling. They understand the need for multiple looks and the same way on offense."

Philosophically it seems like your units are aggressive on both sides. Even though you don't want turnovers on offense, are you a little bit more willing to accept them from a risk-reward perspective?

"I think from an offensive standpoint, I don't think our aggressiveness is the excuse for a fumble or an interception. On defense at times you might give up a big completion and you just have to rally back and here we go. I think that can happen at times. We need to be patient and smart enough offensively when the big play is not there, that we're able to take alternative throws. I think Drew (Brees) does a great job with that. I think that's one of his strengths that he can be aggressive. Sometimes you might say the ball didn't go down the field, well we just called a fairly aggressive play and dumped it off . I think what's most important is the plan going in, in regards to how we want to play an opponent and knowing that can vary."

How did you want to play Sunday's game?

"I think the key to Sunday's game was the emphasis and what made it frustrating were the turnovers. We were not going to be conservative, but we were not going to allow (Julius) Peppers (dominate). If you watch the game the week before, you saw him almost singlehandedly take over the Arizona game. He had the sack, the interception. He had the hurry. The ball's up, five turnovers by (Kurt) Warner. We knew we didn't want to do that. We felt like if we could make them play on a long field, that would benefit us. One of the reasons you get frustrated early on, if that was your goal, if that was how you wanted to play the game and early on you have a sack and fumble and a couple series' later you have an interception, all the acetates and PowerPoint presentations and everything you do in regards to getting ready to play the game, we didn't do a good enough job in that emphasis, but we knew we needed to hold up against the run, win the turnovers, protect the quarterback and win the field position battle in special teams. It took us a full game to achieve some of that, not all of it."

Do you find it unusual for certain statistical milestones to have already passed last season's level, such as takeaways?

"I think the good news is we are taking the ball away. Without really looking back and you're really looking forward and saying this is one of the reasons you're winning football games and the turnover statistic in our league each year is probably the most telling statistic in football."

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