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The Head Coach's Take

    <span>New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton  

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Opening Statement:

"We talked a little bit after the game. The significance of us being able to come back and fight back in a game where we didn't do a lot of things very well in the first half, but we managed to change the momentum and create some opportunities for us in the second half. I thought the turnovers we got defensively that led to (Marques) Colston's catch down to the one that led to a touchdown by Drew (Brees) and the second half turnover, all those things began to help us. I don't think you can point to one thing. I think there was too many things as you looked at the game early on that we struggled with and a number of things in the second half that we did well that helped us kind of pull out of the tailspin were in. It was a good win against a team like Miami that is talented, well-coached and won the division a year ago. It is one that we certainly are glad to have."

Why was this team able to come back when perhaps in years past they wouldn't have?

"I think this is really a little bit different situation. First off, the teams are different year to year by 35 percent give or take. Each year teams are put together differently of players and coaches. This is a game where we fell behind quick. We were just able to hang in there and stay off the mat and I credit the players for doing that, hanging in there, having the resolve and the fight to come back on the road against a team coming off a bye, a team that had a lot going for it in this game and we were still able to overcome that which was encouraging"

Is it more a case of attitude this year?

"I think there's a lot that goes into it. I can't recall falling behind that quickly last season. I think each game takes on a personality. We fell behind in Denver and we were able to battle back. We just couldn't win. Maybe you can use or compare a game like that, but this is a different team. I think it's a better team than we've had in a while."

Were defensive adjustments made in the second half or was it a case of better execution?

"I think it's a combination of things. I thought Gregg (Williams) and his staff did a good job with handling the Wildcat as that game wore on. We were able to get the support from our secondary with a few different blitz schemes. I thought we did a good job in tight quarters of covering the receivers. It wasn't always perfect, but in the second half, you felt the momentum shift. We felt like if we were able to get a lead on that team, obviously that would play into our hands. We didn't want to go in and fall behind like we did. We think they do a great job of possessing the ball. They do a good job of running it, playing great run defense. Obviously the goal for us was to try to get a lead and try to make them one-dimensional. You hear that a lot, so I think a lot of teams stress that, but we were eventually able to get that lead. I think our defense really fed off that."

Was there a concentrated effort to stop the run after they got way ahead?

"No. I think the subtle adjustments came as the game unfolded with more and more pressure. I felt we tackled well in the second half when you watch the tape and I thought the blitz adjustment we had against their shotgun offense was effective in really neutralizing it and that was encouraging. I thought Anthony Hargrove, we just went through the grades as a staff and he's a guy that graded out well. Jabari Greer graded out well. Of course (Tracy) Porter and (Darren) Sharper came up with big plays. Roman Harper had one of his better games since he's been here. It's a good effort overall, especially as the game wore on."

Did you guys anticipate they were going to start running more once they had a 21-point lead?

"Yes, I think that the feeling going in was to try to defend the run. It was the number one rushing team in football. I think the one thing we were able to do differently in the second half offensively is we were able to begin to have some balance to be able to utilize the run game a little bit more. A lot of that's on me. I mentioned it in reference after the game, hindsight we went in there wanting to spread the defense out. We had a few penalties and all of a sudden we got into third and long situations and it wasn't until the second half really that we began to play like we've been playing with a little bit more balance. I thought Mike Bell and I thought the guys up front did a good job in the second half of creating some holes. I thought (Jeremy) Shockey was outstanding in the second half. We finally were able to get him the ball. He had been open a number of times. Those are all things that stood out differently."

In hindsight do you wish you had run the ball more in the first half?

"Yes. That's definitely one of the things I mentioned after the game. I think if you watch the tape, we ended up blocking them. If you watched that second half, I was pleased with the way we played physically. That's something that definitely I could have been better with in the first half and would have done it differently."

Did you make some adjustments in personnel for the second half to emphasize protection and running the ball more effectively?

"No. I don't necessarily know that we did that. When we ran the ball in the second half, we were in some of our 21 personnel. We were in some spread sets in the first half with some of the emphasis being towards empty or one back, but I thought we were with some of those same sets in the second half. I think the difference being, third down became different in the second half. To answer your question, we had more flexibility personnel grouping wise. In the first half it looked like I was looking at the lower right hand portion of the call sheet, third-and-10, third-and-14, third-and-12. Whether it was a minus play, whether it was a penalty, regardless of how we got there, but we were in a lot of third and longs in the first half. In the second half of the game, I felt like we began to do a better job on first and second down and so we had I think a little bit more balance. All the things become better. You become a better pass protection team. Your quarterback plays better. All those things lend itself to more efficient play. I think that was important."

As a play caller, is Mike Bell a luxury given how he wears people down in the second half?

"Certainly he provided that. I have to keep giving him his touches. He's played well enough to get more carries and touches. They're all competing for carries. The plan early on in that game was to throw it more than run it, but that being said, you do it to pay attention to the game. Sometimes as the game unfolds and you're just watching it, you can see certain things happen and I thought he provided a physical element to what we were doing. I think all of us sitting and watching the game would say that. He had a big run for 35 yards. There as a confidence that came with that, with the offensive line and what he was doing. I think that led to some of (Jeremy) Shockey's big plays. I think it led to a number of things then that we did well in the second half when you talk specifically about the offense."

What is the status of Sedrick Ellis and Heath Evans?

"What I'm going to do is Thursday really fill you guys in on where we're at with not only Sedrick and Heath, but also Scott Fujita, kind of give you an outline as to how we see the week unfolding and right now we'll just leave it at that."

Why did Jo-Lonn Dunbar see increased snaps at strongside linebacker over Troy Evans in the second half?

"I think our plan going in was to play both of them. Both of them were going to be involved in special teams. They shared reps all week. The plan was not to see how Troy does. The plan was to play both of those players and make sure we monitor the snaps, because of the snaps they were going to use not only on defense, but in the kicking game. They both did a good job of filling in for Scott."

Did you see more blitzing out of the Dolphins than the Giants?

"I think we saw probably our normal amount. I didn't think we saw an unusually high amount. There were some five man rushes. They beat us with some three, four man rushes, so I think, really when you watch, it gets down to the individual matchups. It wasn't about more pressure in that game. They typically have been a team that hasn't been a high pressure team. They are certainly a five man rush team on third down and we saw some of that."

How did Reggie Bush respond after missing a block on a sack in the first half?

"There are four or five individual situations that take place with those specific sack plays. It's been somewhat uncharacteristic. You can begin with the down and distance, a little bit more predictable. It was one play where he physically got beaten on a pickup. He came back and answered it the very next time. He got the same pressure and fit up properly and did a good job of handling it. It's one of a number of things in the first half. We just finished meeting as a team and talking about things that we can really improve on as we look to go to the next week. The importance as players and coaches is trying to correct from the mistakes, improve ourselves so that we're a better team when we play Atlanta than we were before against Miami. I think there's enough of that film to look at and you bring up one example where we can use better technique. We can do a better job with a specific aspect and that's something we can work on and one of the reasons why we practice during the week."

Some fans have been asking over the past couple weeks if Reggie is being phased out of the offense. How do you respond to that?

"No, not at all. He's a big threat for us, a guy that we want to get the ball to and we continue to get the ball to. I think that we continue when you look at the packages we're using, you have to look at passes attempted. There were a handful attempted his way and the first half there weren't a lot of touches for anybody. I want to get the punt return game going. We've talked about that. I think we can do a better job in a supporting cast role of giving him some creases, but in regards to t he role and what he's doing. He made a great play for us on the double reverse in the red zone. Each week it's about trying to get the players in the right positions to make plays and us working as a staff to do that and not have heavy tendencies as well."

How often like when Drew Brees lobbied you for the sneak do player suggestions happen in-game and how receptive are you to them usually?

"I don't know. It happens occasionally. With Drew, it was something clearly he felt confident in where we were at that we could get the touchdown and obviously I have to pay attention to that. I felt after we had more time there with the timeout, we went ahead with the decision to do it. He did a great job. The guys up front did a great job of getting us the yardage. To answer the question, I think there are different times in the game. Some games, maybe never at all. Some games maybe more so than others, where a player may say we can do this or I think this is working and then the question is just taking all the information. Jeremy (Shockey) felt for instance in that game there were some matchups inside. There were two examples inside where we got sacked or hurried before we could get it to him, but in the second half we were able to find some opportunities to get him the football and I thought that again, part of what you look at what we're doing offensively. I thought the turnover by (Darren) Sharper, the turnover by (Tracy) Porter, the end of the second quarter turnover, the fumble recovery that led to our touchdown…There's specific moments in the game that all lead to a reversal of fortune or the momentum shifting. I thought Shockey's play in the fourth quarter was part of that process as well. It was significant. Your quarterback's going to have dialogue with you more than at maybe some other positions, yet, I think we as coaches always want to pay attention to what we're seeing and hearing as well."

What do you see from Drew over the course of a game when he struggles?

"He's a confident player. He has great body language. Sometimes you take that for granted, but all of us watch enough football. At times you see the opposite of that. He's very competitive. All of us early in that game thought like we could have done a better job. Yet, it is what it is and you're down 24-3 and you're going to find out quickly a little bit more about everyone. That was the encouraging part of the game. I think with him it's contagious with other players."

Did he say anything at halftime?

"No, there was no specific thing. It was a feeling of, 'Hey, let's play better. Let's stop shooting ourselves in the foot and let's get this thing corrected.'"

When you gave him the green light on the sneak, did you tell him he'd better make it?

"I can't tell you no because if you slow down the replay you can see something to that effect."

Were you surprised at the leaping ability he showed on the dunk on the goalpost?

"I thought he jumped up the back of one of our linemen; I told him that on the plane ride home. Then he wanted to bet me again. It was athletic. That was a little scheme that we had worked on where we pulled both guards and let the defensive tackles penetrate. It was something that we thought fit against their 6-2 defense in goal line. I just caught the tail end of it but it was pretty impressive though."

After not being able to accomplish your goal of getting ahead early, how satisfying was it to be able to win in the way you did?

"A lot was said going into that game. That generally happens when you have one team that's coming off a bye. We just tried to focus on playing that game. Obviously we feel comfortable playing in close games. We feel like that edge is in our favor. We feel like we're a team that can execute a two-minute offense or a hurry-up offense and we feel like we're a team that can defend one. But we did feel like it would be to our advantage to get a lead on that team. We respect their ability to run the football and we've seen them in prior games play where they've been able to win the time of possession. I thought the one statistic in the first half that was telling was that we were one-for-eight on third down – and a lot of those were third-and-longs – and they were five-for-eight. I thought that was one area where we struggled. You can argue about how we got to those third-and-longs so it all kind of fits together, but once we took the lead in the fourth quarter, we felt confident of where we were at at that moment and how that game was unfolding."

Does the experience you gained going against the speed rushers last week help you with John Abraham next week?

"I think the one thing that happened was that we had a little bit more trouble with the power than the speed. In other words, we had to climb the pocket. If there was one area that they did a pretty good job in the rush was getting some one-on-ones and winning with power and collapsing that pocket a little bit. I think that's the one aspect of the second half with our ability to have a little bit more balance in the running game and not be in such a pass-protection mode – I felt like that shifted in the second half. Nonetheless, I think they did a real good job of winning some individual battles in pass rush. Now as we look ahead to Atlanta, Abraham is an elite pass-rusher so we'll have to have a plan. And he's not the only one that's rushing the passer well for them, but he's one of the best we see every year and unfortunately twice."

Are you worried that Drew Brees' competitive nature could potentially get him injured when running the ball or blocking?

"We're always mindful of what we're asking him to do. Quarterback sneaks are one thing we feel comfortable with, but the block on the reverse by Reggie was very effective and yet it was a shield – a technique he was smart enough to utilize. The key is in protection in the passing game – those are the areas. That being said, he's a competitor and he's playing to win. I think we're pretty judicious about what we ask and he has a pretty good feel for getting the first down and sliding and obviously we want to be smart with that."

Did you get any additional feedback about the replay machine not functioning early on Sunday?

"No, it was pretty simple. When you put your head underneath there and it's not working, you can't do anything. You get your challenge back and you keep playing and that's all you can do. They eventually got it up and running and that's really it. It just came on that first drive and then I think they got it working shortly thereafter."

Has that ever come up before?

"It hasn't come up before with us, but we all knew that if it wasn't working, the play called on the field was going to be what they went with."

Did you know that Tracy Porter was capable of playing the way he's playing now going into this season?

"We felt that in the amount of time we got to see him prior to the injury against Minnesota that he was definitely a guy that was improving and definitely a guy that was going to be a good player for us, so yes. His loss last year was significant. He had earned a job as a starter and was having success. It was unfortunate and he handled it well. He rehabbed well and he has been able to put himself back into a position where he's playing very competitively. He and Jabari (Greer) along with Randall (Gay) – who is playing in the nickel – are doing a very good job in coverage and have been a big part of our success defensively."

Is anyone in the NFL playing cornerback better than Jabari Greer right now?

"I don't know. Fortunately for us, we don't have to get into ranking these guys. He's playing very well and I'm glad that we have him. I think he was a key offseason acquisition for us. He has very good transitional speed, he's sudden, and he has good ball skills. Those are all things that obviously are good traits at corner, and I'm glad he's playing and starting for us. I think his peers and the people in our league that study the tape closely can see that as well."

Could you elaborate on your BCS statement from the other night about not overstating being 6-0?

"The comment was made in regards to a question about being the number one seed six weeks into a 16-week season. Really in the college game, it's pretty important how those numbers stack up and yet that discussion takes place beginning at the middle of the season when they first list a BCS ranking. I do think it's premature – that's just my opinion after six weeks, knowing that there are 10 games left – to begin talking about seeding. That's just me from my experience. We have a lot of football that we have to play and we don't take that for granted. We understand why there is interest in a team that's 6-0, and yet we do understand that we're still two games away from being at the halfway point here. I'm trying to use a basketball analogy, but if a month from now when people are talking about 'if the playoffs started today' with 60 games left, that would be similar. That's kind of where it's at. We just have to keep working, keep getting better. We have a lot of tough games left on the schedule, starting with this one against Atlanta, who is a real good team."

What do you imagine the fans will be like Monday night at the Superdome?

"The dome advantage for a home team, and specifically the New Orleans Saints and what we get from our fans, is significant. You can just go back to the Giants game. There was a communication issue that Eli (Manning) had with the protection and all of a sudden, he's hurried and there's an incomplete pass. To think that the combined effort of 70,000 people can have an effect on a third-and-eight and can have an effect on every third down so they don't know when their play is coming. It's special and we appreciated that. Especially in a prime time game like Monday night will be, we're getting used to playing in these type of games. We certainly expect it to be as loud as we've had in there. I thought the last game against the Giants was magnificent. I think it will be a great atmosphere for our team to play in and an edge."

Have you ever seen the type of outpouring you've seen from your fans in midseason?

"Our fan base is passionate about the team and I think all of us – the players, the coaches, members of the organization – feel always lifted up when you see that. For so many people, it represents a better work week; it represents an exciting Monday. Logistically, we had a little bit more issues Sunday in regards to trying to move through the traffic but those are all good problems to have."

Is that something that you need to address?

"I think they'll probably try to barricade off an area where at least you'll be able to move and we don't have something bad happen – someone in front of a car. People are getting too close but I think we'll be able to handle that."

Is the number of 18 takeaways the biggest improvement of anything this season?

"It's significant. If you charted the 18 takeaways and the five that have been for touchdowns and then look at the other 13 and the kind of points that they led to, it's significant. That statistic is one area that's glaringly different for all of us. It has helped us a bunch as a team. We have been able to not give up as many big plays on the defensive side of the ball. You hear each week talk about this Saints team is scoring 39 points per game, and I think the myth initially is that the offense is scoring all those points. The reality of it is that there are turnovers involved in there. There's a lot that goes into a number like that that can get skewed. So the takeaways have been significant. When you can take the ball away and protect it, your chances of winning obviously go up."

When you're in a game where you're going to need a big play to turn things around, do you feel more faith that that big play can come from any one of your units now?

"The answer would be yes, simply from the fact that we have 18 takeaways right now at this point of the season. It has happened a number of times. It happened in Philadelphia on special team with Malcolm Jenkins' strip/fumble and the offense scored a couple of plays later. It happened a few weeks later with Malcolm Jenkins again and those are just some kicking snaps. Then you look at the defensive turnovers – Will Smith at Buffalo – it's really all three of those phases that work hand-in-hand at winning games and that's encouraging."

What are you seeing from the Atlanta Falcons this year as compared to last season?

"Last year we had two hard-fought games with them. We lost one on the road and then we were able to win one at home. They're a team that we think is very talented. They have really in a short period of time turned the program around with a real good running game and a very talented quarterback. They're a well-coached team. I think Mike (Smith) and his staff have done a great job there and defensively they're really playing exceptionally this season. We have a great deal of respect for where they have come from in such a short period of time, maybe like ourselves a few years ago in '06 with the acquisition of a few key pieces and all of a sudden you become a serious contender. I think Atlanta has done that with a lot of good decisions and a lot of hard work. That being said, being that it's a divisional game I think our players understand the significance of that and they understand the opponent because we saw them twice last year and we know that it's a tough challenge."

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