New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton
Conference Call with New Orleans media
Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021
What are your memories from the 2006 NFC Championship game? And maybe what did you take away from that game as a play-caller?
"Well, first off, there aren't a lot of memories, which means it was a long time ago. I don't think it has like an ounce of bearing on this game. I would bet there's a total of three people that might have been at that game that are playing in this game, coaches included. No, I remember, that was our second playoff game, on the road. We dealt with the elements. It was cold, windy, and yeah. Lost a tough game."
I'm curious if you could give us a perspective defensively on just how difficult it is to defend play action, especially with a team that does it as much as the Bears offensively. We don't see it real time like you do down on the field and prepare for it the way you do. What is that like?
"Well, two things, it becomes a little bit easier if the running game isn't having the desired success that your opponent wants. But the conflicts that take place on the backside, on a wide zone, the backside end is closing, he might be the player that they're not blocking, and so he's the free player that can close. And so if that ball cuts up, he's there to make the tackle. Well then there's a conflict when the quarterback comes off of that and now is in a boot, and we've got a redirect. And then our backside eye's at linebacker relative to what looks like the wide zone. But, oh, here comes the swap boot, where like an F tight end or receiver comes back against the grain and boot, comes from the running side out to the weak side and I'm responsible for him. So there are these conflicts that take place, run or pass, run or pass, run or pass, and our eyes have to be real good. Yes, I think that is a starting point relative to what you are seeing. And then there is a premium on any indicators that you might be able to pick up that might tell you, bird, rabbit, like we used to say, bird being pass, rabbit being run. If you can get some of those indicators, maybe the depth of the back, maybe the play fake was decent, but the quarterback came out a little skinnier, all those things factor into defending a good boot or naked or not."
So you're saying it's tough?
Yeah, I think, well, and it's the essence of, alright, we're going to run the ball, we're going to drop back and throw the ball. And then the last thing we're going to do is act like we're going to run it with a play-action fake and throw it. So there are some play-action protections that are easy to key and diagnose, and I can still get to my zone, I can still get to my man. And then there are other play actions that look and feel and taste and smell a lot more like a run. And those ones are the ones that are a little bit more challenging."
With the goal being to have Michael (Thomas) ready for this week, how's he progressed over the last couple of weeks?
"Yeah, no updates injury wise, John (DeShazier). I appreciate the question, but I'm going to see what this week holds currently. He's still on Reserve/Injured. I know he's been working at it, and trying to get back. But we'll get a better feel this week as to the progress he's made and hopefully that's significant."
I know you're deep in the weeds on Chicago, but if you can tackle a little bit of a big picture question from me, I know you have answered this before about the difficulty of winning this time of year. How much perspective have you gained on that over the years and have you been able to relay that message to maybe some of your younger players. You all got in the league, you go to the NFC Championship Game your first year, you won a Super Bowl in your fourth year and now 15 years in, have you been able to get that message across to your team about the postseason and taking it to another level?
"Yeah, listen, I think they understand it. Many of these guys have been a part of these playoff runs here. The divisional round up in Minneapolis, the championship round here in the Superdome. They've been a part, most of this group has been a part of playoff wins, and then tough playoff losses. So it's not a best of seven, it's not a best of five or best of three. It's three hours and you have a winner or loser. And so trying to play your best game that day. Doesn't have to be a perfect game, but trying to play your best game and do the things that allow you to win. Those are the things that are paramount, the fundamentals and the attention to detail."
Does it make a difference? I know it's kind of an obvious question, but just what you alluded to, the sudden death nature of the NFL playoffs, if you will, there is no tomorrow if you if you don't play your best?
"Yeah, I mean, look, it's just how it is. Again, the thing I feel like is we've got a pretty experienced postseason group. That first draft class, we were in the playoffs and won, the next year same way, these guys have been a part of it. And then last year had that bitter taste of an early out, just the first game. This whole team, we've got high goals, and yet you focus right now on the task at hand."
Do you have a good feel for how well-rounded this team is? I guess, considering the number of ways they've had to win games this season?
"Yeah, I think, look, a lot of guys have played. And I'm encouraged with the guys that have stepped in and had to play. Grant (Haley) just got a game ball from last week's game, he was outstanding. So the thing that you try to visualize is how you want the game to unfold coming up. How do you see it unfolding? Part of that's your personnel. And sometimes it can take on a life of its own during the game."
Along the lines of the experience that you have, I was going to ask just this week, we don't get to see your players. I mean, how juiced up, how focused do you sense they are as you get ready for this game?
"I think good, I think it's important that, I don't want to use the word routine. But man, we just finished our early morning meeting. They're in their install meetings. So I don't think as a coach, you have to remind them this is the playoffs. I think as a coach, you remind them of what wins in the playoffs. And that's the fundamentals, the attention to detail, you win the game during the week and your preparation, your rest, your hydration, understanding the game plan, pad level. Yeah, that ultimately, the fundamentals of what we've taught all year, you go back to and you emphasize and you stress."
What are some of the things you've seen from their defensive line and some of the things they do?
"Well, there's kind of been an ebb and flow to their season and their team and their offense relative to how the season started, and how fast they started and what they were doing with Mitch (Trubisky). They went through a stretch of adversity then and there's a different quarterback playing at that time with Nick (Foles) and we played him. And so they're kind of back now. And have had a good run here with I'd say an offense that's complementing their defense, the time of possession numbers, their rushing attack, we're seeing the boots and the nakeds. So there's been kind of two phases or two elements to what we've seen. And I think, to credit Matt (Nagy) and those guys, and that staff and the players, they're winning football games and they're complementing each other in how they're doing it."
What do you think of the team naming Terron Armstead the Ed Block Courage Award winner?
"Yeah, that's significant. I think that we always try to educate the team on who Ed was, his passion for caring and giving and being a longtime trainer, and then the, we always kind of, I do at least, try to explain it as if this is what he'd like to see from this recipient, and then the players vote so it doesn't surprise me at all. That's Terron's nature."
When you watch the Saints' secondary on film, does it look different to you than it did back in the early half of the season? I mean, it seems like there's no miscommunication problems, less defensive pass interference penalties than there might have been in the first four or five weeks.
"There are a number of things outside the first month that you see. But fortunately, those big play numbers, the third down numbers, statistically, when we go through the makeup statistically of each area, or we are going to go through third down, red zone, or we are going to go through turnovers. Those early report cards, not just on the on the defense or the big plays in the secondary, there are a handful on offense and special teams and the race to improve is on when that starts and you're correcting, repeating, correcting, you've got to correct it. And so you're doing that during the week, and just as importantly as preparing for your next opponent. And if you gloss over it, it's going to come up again. And I think Dennis and those guys and the players have done a great job of improving each week."
In terms of their mental or psychological preparation for this game, does Drew (Brees) not being really committed to play beyond this year figure into that at all?
"No, I don't think, that's the last thing on anyone's mind. I think right now it's all the things necessary to beat Chicago. Shoot, there will be a number of players, coaches, personnel (that move around in this business), there will be changes every year. But I think that is the last thing on anyone's mind."
Can you create a home-field advantage in this unprecedented situation? And do you think there is one at this point of the season?
Well, look, it's not the same. I don't even know how many fans we're going to have or if it's been announced yet, but anyway, can you create one? It's the team creating its excitement and generating its excitement. I think you've got to be ready, ready, but I think this year, uniquely this year, look, the away games for any of these opponents is not as daunting maybe as it would be when you have to go in and deal with the crowd noise and all the other factors. I brought up the idea of testing 50,000 people and quarantining them in a hotel and having like the most safest Superdome known to man. Scientifically bus them, they have tested every day and you've got a Covid-free facility. I think that's possible. I don't know if it's taken off or not."
Yeah, I was going to ask you how that plan went over.
"It can be done, but anyway, look, we focus on what we can control. But obviously, you know, it's interesting, it's been different and then pretty soon, it's not different anymore. It's what you know. And so you get used to it. It's just how it is, I think the next time teams are playing with crowds it be will be different."