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The Head Coach's Take

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    <span>              <span style="">New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton</span>                   
            <span style="">Wednesday, December 2, 2009</span>                 
            <span style="">Opening Statement:</span>                  

"The schedule today is a little different. Following the Monday night game we'll end up pushing some of our practice and installations back. Today we spent a lot of time on film study and they'll do some lifting and running, but no official practice. Tomorrow we'll have our first practice, which will be base and we'll get some third down. We'll be shortened by doing that, but I think on a short week with where we're at right now with the handful of nicks that we have, we'll have a chance to get these guys back and get their legs back. We travel Saturday and it will be a short week – the schedule will be condensed to some degree – and we'll have to prepare accordingly. When we go tomorrow it'll be mostly first and second downs so the schedule will change a little bit, even a little bit different than how we handled the last week after a Monday night game."

What are your thoughts into changing the schedule up this week?

"Mainly at this point in the season, my concern in coming off our second Monday night game, I'm always careful about where the team is at and going right back out just because the schedule says you're supposed to go right back out. I just want to pay close attention to where we're at from a health standpoint. I think we can do a little bit more later in the week on Saturday than we might normally do that prior to a game will be just fine. That's one of the reasons behind it. We've done this before. It's trying to keep their routine the same, and their routine really has always been practicing a couple of days after the last game, not just two days after but the third day after and that's what we're trying. You lose a little bit in preparation – we understand that – but I'm hoping we have better practices."

How did you come out of the game health-wise?

"Pretty good. Today we'll list the list with the league later on with what we would have envisioned today's practice status to be, but overall, like I had mentioned the one player was Randall Gay with the hamstring. That was the one significant injury."

What do you have to do to keep the team mentally fresh as well as physically fresh at this time of the season?

"There's a time to get past the game played – we talk all the time about digesting the win or the loss, making the corrections regardless, because there is plenty of stuff that we have to clean up, and getting on to the next task and that's where we're at today. These guys will have a chance to watch film of Washington. They understand that this is a team that has played real well defensively and had one of their better games last week. They're playing with a lot of effort despite all of the injuries they've had and some of the set-backs they've had. So I think the quicker the players and us as a staff are putting the plan together now, and the quicker you get on to the next game and the next challenge the better, but there's still a timeframe. Today basically has been on the Redskins, it hasn't been on New England. We spent a little bit of time on that tape just to be sure we had the corrections made, but we're moving on to Washington."

Do you have anything that you use to keep guys focused?

"We use a lot of different things. We don't put axes in anyone's lockers, but we'll do different things each week to make sure that mentally and physically they're ready. Each week is a different challenge; it's a different team. This is a short week and we're going to Washington – a place that has been a tough place for us, and this is a team we haven't beaten, really. We played them in '06 and lost and we played them last season and lost. I think with the team where we're at after 11 games, they understand the process. Tomorrow we have to have a good practice. They understand the importance of putting in the proper work during the week and how that can pay off on the weekends. They've seen that. I thought we had good practices last week and starting tomorrow we'll get after it again and get going."

Is the motivation this week that with a win you win the division?

"I think it's really about improving and challenging each other. I think they're able to sort through all that. To answer your question, I don't and go through all the ramifications of a win or a loss. It's getting ready to come back and play better than you did the week before. We're getting ready to see a different type of defense and a different type of offense, a much different team from a schematic design from the one we just saw. Those are the challenges on a short week – not only the physical aspect, but the mental aspect of a different look. But I think the significance that it's an NFC game, which is significant. The fact that it's an NFC game and we're at that stretch of the season now where there are a lot of things you're playing for, but certainly whether the opportunity arises…obviously the division championship – winning your division is the first goal when you start the season, to get in the postseason and win your division, then to get yourself in a position to make a run in the postseason. So all of that's ahead of us and all of that's still on the come and we have to work to achieve any of those things. More importantly, I think it's about playing our best football and really correcting the mistakes from the week prior."

After watching Courtney Roby/Mike McKenzie.aspx">Mike McKenzie practice last week, did you foresee him playing as much as he did Monday night?

"I don't think anyone expected him to play that many snaps, and that was a result of Randall's injury. I think the plan initially was to split work with him and Chris (McAlister) and then because of Randall's injury after the 10th play, obviously those guys played a lot more. He did a great job. It was encouraging to see the way he moved around and the interception he made was a significant play in that they had just returned a punt and were in a position to go up possibly 14-3 or 10-3, so I thought it was a key play."

Did he actually call you?

"Yes. After we had a couple of injuries, he called and left a voice message. I had his little sticky note on my desk and Mickey (Loomis) and I had talked a little bit after our first workout of corners and then I called him back, we brought him in last Monday and worked him out, and he was in a lot better shape that we expected. What people really fail to realize is that the season he was having in '07, prior to his first injury – it happened on that play against Philadelphia which was kind of a freak play where McNabb had fumbled and the ball went into the end zone, that's when he hurt his ACL – but he was having his best season that year. That's a significant injury for a cornerback and that following '08 season to have the kneecap fracture, both of those things combined can certainly impact a corner's position. To his credit, his rehab and the shape he's in now, it was great to see."

When you released him did you stay in touch with him?

"You want to continue to see his progress through the rehab and Mike's a guy that's around – I think we left a locker for him for a month or two. But there wasn't a lot written about the level he was playing at when he got hurt. He was having a great year in '07 before his injury. He had a great season – he got hurt in the second-to-last week of the season. It was great to see him perform and come in here and help us on a short week. That was amazing."

How much did he have to pick up from Gregg Williams' defense?

"There's a learning curve. But Mike has been a guy that is a pretty quick study. He picked it up pretty well. There were a handful of defenses – and the thing that Gregg did a great job with and his staff did a great job, Dennis Allen did a great job of giving those guys a cram course into what we were going to be doing and how we call it. The interception, the fourth down play, there were a number of plays that he came up with. That's our league and it's interesting. Sometimes there's a player that comes in the week of a game and all of a sudden, he's playing. To his credit he was prepared."

Do you know how many snaps he got?

"It was over 40. I want to say it was in the high 40s."

Where does the potential of finishing the season unbeaten fit into the big picture for you and your team?

"I can't speak for the players, but I don't know where it fits in for us. It's not at the top of the list as much as winning this week's game in Washington. We don't really get past the next game, really. I know you've heard me say that, but I couldn't tell you who we play three weeks from now, really. These games go by quickly and the season goes by quickly and you just get consumed with the next game. We've tried to really remain focused on the next game and I think it's all geared about positioning yourself to make a run in the postseason. Back to your question, I think it's really about this week in Washington and not past that. I don't know who we play after Washington, really. That's the key and you can't do it any other way. Certainly we're aware that we've been able to play well and win 11 games and that gives you confidence, and yet the next challenge is up and you really have to jump in and get submerged in it."

Do you worry about the possibility of 16-0 being a distraction or could it be motivation?

"I think last week was a pivotal game. Four weeks ago we played in one. Five weeks ago we played in one. You see these games termed or written, but look, it's the next game. Obviously there are certain games that carry more importance; the NFC games than the AFC games. But there will be bigger games to come if we continue to do our job."

What are the Redskins' strengths and weaknesses on offense and defense?

"They have good speed on defense. London Fletcher has been an outstanding, productive linebacker for them. They have a good front. Obviously Albert Haynesworth is a key addition for them and they've done a great job statistically. They're a team that has been very good in regards to the passing game – they're number one in the league in pass defense and they're one of the top five defenses overall. Offensively, they have speed outside. They have some young receivers along with Santana Moss, who beat us the last time we played them. They've been nicked up at running back but when you look at the most recent games, Dallas and Philadelphia, they're a team that is playing hard. To go on the road and play these guys is another challenge on a short week. They're a team that has given us a lot of problems. Last year we were able to get a lead early on and we couldn't hold it and ended up losing in the second week of the season. In '06, we really struggled against them. So we'll have our hands full in this game and I think our players can see that on tape when we watch them."

Are you keeping an eye on Minnesota as far as it goes for home-field in the playoffs? How important do you think home-field advantage is?

"I think any time you can play at home, obviously you prefer it to playing on the road. I haven't really been paying attention to Minnesota. Certainly you understand that there's another team in your conference that's sitting there with 'X' number of wins and we need to beware and continue to play our best football. I think with the fan base that we have at the Superdome and the opportunity to play home games, that helps us. I think the noise level helps us, that's pretty clear. But the only thing you can really do each week to pay attention to those things is to worry about and work on the next thing and that's where we're at right now. Like I said, there will be other big games and we'll keep preparing but the big game this week for us is Washington."

Do you buy into the notion that losing a game might be better for the team in the long run than going undefeated?

"I buy into the idea of preparing for your next opponent. That's what I buy into. Just getting ready to put our best plan together for Washington, that's what our players understand and what our coaches understand we have to do. To do it on a short week is challenging. We just played Monday night and we're sitting here on Wednesday and still have a lot of work to do for this game plan. It's a different type of team and they present a lot of different challenges. That's the main focus."

When you watched Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy go through the pressure of coaching an undefeated team, did you think as a fellow coach that that was a tough thing?

"I think what I see as a young coach looking at other coaches is how they do a good job of handling the focal point and their team responds to eliminating the distractions. Oftentimes the distractions are right around the corner or right in the same room with you. I think they do a good job of that. Over the years, they've been able to win and stay focused and get ready for the next game. And if they have a setback, they deal with it and that's what we've tried to do here. Even today, we've tried to pay close attention to the mistakes that were made in the game the other night and there were a number of them, and to make sure that those things don't happen again. When you put the tape on, in a loss it's never as bad as you thought and in a win it's never as good as you might have imagined it and the tape brings you back to the number of things that we have to clean up and we have to change. That's where we're at. We've done that with the players now and we've moved on to Washington. To answer your question, I think those guys – be it Bill or Tony – have done a great job over the years. Their records would indicate that."

But do you think that was a tough thing to manage?

"I think the job itself is challenging, and there are all aspects of it that become challenging. But nonetheless, you pay attention to the focal point and it's really about getting ready for the next game and not even thinking of the second or third week past it. I think when you have smart players, they understand that and it's easy to do."

Was the Washington loss last year where you couldn't put them away the best example of how far this year's team has come?

"It was an example last year of our inability to finish. When you look at that game, the quarterback made a big play, got out of a hole. Defensively we had them pinned back and they ended up hitting a big pass play and rallied from behind. Offensively, we struggled in a third-and-one and really struggled to get a first down later in that game to really keep the lead. But again, those are some of things that we have to look closely at and continue to emphasize. With how we're playing now, it's obviously two different teams from a year ago but nonetheless, they're a challenging team."

Coming off of his performance on Monday night, do you believe that Drew Brees should be the favorite for league MVP?

"I think he's playing outstanding. I'm biased, but he certainly would have my vote, but that's decided by others. He's having a fantastic year but I think if you asked him, there are other goals that are more important that that one."

Is Will Smith playing at a higher level than he was in '06 when he had 10½ sacks?

"He's playing at that level and has been as productive and is having a great season. It's different from a scheme standpoint, but even last week with some of the three-man rushes we had, he's done a good job of getting pressure on the quarterback. He has good versatility and his stamina has been outstanding. He's having one of those years."

Reggie Bush was pretty sure he was going to play last week. What did you see that made you hold him out?

"We looked at him during the week and monitored him and worked him out and felt like he was probably a week away and decided to hold him. We'll give him work this week and hopefully get a chance to get him back on the field."

With the miss and near-miss by John Carney and Garrett Hartley on the roster, do you look at the kicking situation more closely now?

"I think you pay attention to the performance of your players and certainly you do with John. The difference is that you probably can't bring two kickers and a punter up to the game day roster so we'll continue to work with both of them and continue to clean up the operation with the first group and continue to give Garrett work and monitor his progress and put the best player out there each week that we think gives us the best chance to win."

Was that a good snap and hold on the missed field goal?

"I thought the snap and the hold were good, he just pushed it a little bit. He's been consistent and I just think he missed it."

What are the age and injury concerns with the older players in your secondary?

"There's enough depth there and we're hopeful that we're getting Jabari Greer back here and with the numbers, we were hopeful going into the game with Randall being healthy that we could split time and not count on 40-some snaps, but maybe 18 snaps. To their credit, they played a lot more than that. The key is the scheduling and making sure that we balance the work and what we need to get done in a short period of time, especially with the veteran players that we're talking about."

They were once top-of-the line players that have come to you in different circumstances. What do you make of that?

"That's very typical in our league. There's a period of time and then there's a secondary portion of your career and my experience is that if the player knows who he is, there's a good chance that he can play a long time in this league and when players don't know who they are, there's a good chance that their careers get shortened prematurely. They fail to understand where they're at. I think in both Chris McAlister's case and Courtney Roby/Mike McKenzie.aspx">Mike McKenzie's case, they understand that and they still have snaps ahead of them."

How does Mike Bell change your team's ability to finish games?

"He's a physical runner. He's a downhill runner. I think he can get you some tough yards and has done that. There's an attitude about how he runs. He's had some big games for us this year already. I thought ran hard and had good work the other night. Part of that, along with the front, and what we've been doing in reducing some of the scheme and getting better at a handful of things that we can work on on a weekly basis (to finish games), and he's a part of that.

Are you concerned about the kicking game?

"Not right now. We constantly pay attention to how we can improve. How's our get-off? All those things. As a coaching staff, our job is to really look closely at all aspects and make sure we're improving in all areas. There were some things in the running game last week that I wasn't pleased with; there were some things from a protection standpoint and defensively there were a number of things that we saw and Gregg will be working on this week to correct, no different than the operation in snapping, holding and kicking a field goal or extra point. Those are just things that we have to pay attention to. He hit the upright and we made the first field goal. I think that part of the reason that Garrett's here is that we feel like we have a young, talented player that's going to play a long time for us that we saw play well last year. We'll continue to evaluate both he and John."

On the extra point that was almost wide right, you looked a little unhappy. Were you?

"I'm sure I was. There are a number of things that make me unhappy during the game. I'm not going to go back and revisit them."

Would you have to make a decision soon if you were to stick with John Carney or turn to Garrett Hartley?

"I don't think so. Both of those guys are getting plenty of work right now. We're fortunate enough to be able to carry the extra kicker, just like we are maybe an extra receiver that doesn't get to the game, an offensive lineman that doesn't get to the game. We put the inactives down each week and it varies some. I think there are times where because of injuries you might get pressed with that luxury. Fortunately, to date, we've been able to find room elsewhere and that has provided us that depth and we'll continue to work just as we have been."

Just to be clear, this is an injury with Reggie Bush and not a chronic condition with his knee?

"This is from the St. Louis game where he had two times where he banged the side of his knee, and one was on the turf. We're monitoring it each week and treating it. I want to make sure he's healthy. He came close to playing the other night. We worked him out – I worked him out – and I just felt like I still wanted to wait. That's what it is though."

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