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New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton Media Q&A (Nov. 25, 2011)

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton

Media Availability

Friday, November 25, 2011

Opening Statement:

“Let me get everyone up to speed with the roster moves.  Some of these took place during the bye.  We released T Ray Willis from the active roster, and with that spot we signed from our practice squad William Robinson, # 70 to the active roster.  We signed T Phil Trautwein to the practice squad.  There’s kind of a triangle there – one off, one up, and one into the practice squad spot.  We placed TE David Thomas on Injured Reserve.  With his spot, we signed Michael Higgins from our practice squad and then we brought in TE Daniel Hardy for the practice squad spot.  So again, the same triangle if you will.  In David’s case, it was another concussion.  It wasn’t as severe as the prior one, but nonetheless it was his second one.  I think it really was something we sat and talked about with the fact that the second one came fairly soon after the one he had earlier in the year.  Today’s injury report, which is the second one: DE Turk McBride (left ankle) did not practice, LB Jon Vilma (knee) was limited, and then DE Cam Jordan (hand) was full.”

Going into these last six games, can you talk about the team’s attitude and mindset coming off the bye week?

“I think everyone understands there is a lot of football left with six games.  There are a lot of teams competing for similar goals whether it’s winning the division or trying to put yourself in the best position for a postseason berth.  There are a number of teams that are pushing for those same goals.  I think the bye came at a good time for us.  I think we were able to get some guys healthy and receive the rest we needed.  The unique thing is we’re playing a Monday night after a bye rather than (playing) a Sunday game, but nonetheless I think our locker room and the veterans in our locker room and our team understands the importance of playing well here in this month and into December as well.  We also recognize the challenge at hand with the New York Giants, a team that certainly we have a lot of respect for and recognize they’re coming off of two tough losses.  I think really the focus shifts to one game at a time mentality.  That approach has always served us well and is certainly the approach we’re taking with this game and understanding the importance of an NFC team like New York, who is competing for the very same thing as we are.”

What kinds of challenges does Eli Manning present?

“He’s having a very good year.  He’s accurate, he’s smart with his decisions, he has a great grasp of what they’re doing offensively, and they’ve had that same continuity that we’ve had in regards to the offensive system with Coach (Kevin) Gilbride and Coach (Tom) Coughlin and their staff.  He’s very much in tuned to what they’re wanting to do.  When you study Eli, you see each year that progress.  He’s a very good athlete.  He has the size and the arm strength that you look for at the position.  He’s someone that can avoid pressure, climb the pocket, and do enough things to extend plays.  He’s one of the better quarterbacks in the league.  We’ve played him before and we understand the threat.  This is a team that throws the ball not only underneath but down the field as well as anyone.  When you look statistically at their numbers, they do a great job of stretching the field vertically as well as horizontally.  The receivers outside are big, physical targets that have played very well for them.  That’s definitely a challenge for us defensively.”

They’re one of the top six offenses in the red zone.  What have they done so well this year in the red zone?

“They don’t hurt themselves, number one.  You don’t see minus plays and that’s a great sign of a disciplined team.  You see them have that balance, and although statistically we talked about it a few days ago, they’re run numbers aren’t really what you might be accustomed to.  Clearly that’s something they’ll look to correct as they come into our game just like we had done the same thing.  I think the consistency starts with no penalties, it starts with no sacks and all the things that really turn red zone opportunities into field goals as opposed to touchdowns.  I think it’s a real good sign of a disciplined team.”

Early in the season your defense has struggled in the red zone, but they were very good in the red zone in the Atlanta game.  What changed in that game?

“It’s been a point of emphasis.  I think from a statistics standpoint both offensively and defensively for us it’s something that we weren’t as efficient as we would have liked to have been.  More recently we’ve played better both offensively and defensively in the red area.  We spent more time at it in practice.  We recognize certainly the importance of scoring and holding teams to field goals.  We’ve done a good job defensively.  We’re really one of the few teams that have allowed the fewest amount of trips in.  There are seven different statistics red zone-wise.  It starts with trips in the red zone and efficiency.  We look very closely at the efficiency of the red zone.  Offensively we’ve had a ton of opportunities, and it really comes down to whether we’re scoring touchdowns and are we forcing field goals.  That’s the main objective.  It’s been a point of emphasis and we’ve seen improvement.  We feel that it’s something we have to continue to work on because it’s a critical stat.”

Patrick Robinson hasn’t been on the participation report the last two days.  When was he fully cleared?

“Heading into the bye, I’m not saying he could have played in Atlanta.  I think we were being smart.  There wasn’t one specific thing.  There were just a number of things that came back negative.  We knew going into the bye that had we played bye weekend, he would have been able to play.  He’s one hundred percent and is doing well.  Fortunately for us it wasn’t appendicitis and it wasn’t a sports hernia or any of those other things.  But he would’ve been able to play last weekend had we played.”

How key is that having your top three cornerbacks considering they have plenty of weapons?

“I think it’s important.  Having those guys gives you that flexibility in the nickel and your sub-packages.  I think it’s real important.  They’re all healthy right now and getting a lot of work.”

How much have things changed that you’re now more aware of concussions than teams were in the past?

“I think all of us from a league standpoint are.  Certainly right in front of our eyes in the last three or four years, we’re all paying a lot more attention to dealing with player concussions.  I think the league is taking real good steps to understand the significance of a single event or a second event to where now it was just recently announced that the league will have a field monitor (NFL Observer) that will be up in the press box that can call down to your trainer.  We’re all trying to avoid the player that gets concussed.  When it happens, the key is knowing that it happened.  In the Atlanta game, Dave Thomas was on the sideline and he was talking with John Gilmore and John noticed right away that something looked a little different and mentioned it to the trainers and we were able to make a pretty quick assessment and keep him out of the game.  I think the thing we’re all looking for is to make sure a player who is concussed isn’t back on the field because no one is really aware of it.  I think the league is taking great steps to avoid that.  I think the players, coaches, and trainers are much more in tuned to the challenges and the dangers that go with it.  As it pertains specifically to Dave, I think the fact that the second one came fairly soon after his original one, which was pretty significant, made this a fairly easy decision.  It was difficult, but it was an easy decision in regards to the player’s long-term health.  In regards to his future, certainly we’re not at a point where we’re saying he’s not going to play football anymore.  It’s just that the doctors, Dave, Mickey Loomis, and all of us involved felt that it was going to be a smart thing for us to rest him at this point.”

Do you look at jockeying for NFC position with teams like the Giants and the Lions?

“I think you certainly put a value on the NFC games.  All of these games matter.  They basically make up your record.  With six weeks left, the thing I just finished up telling our players after practice was that the most important element here is that we understand that’s a long period of time and there are a lot of things that can go on in six weeks.  If we just pay attention to the job and the task at hand this week, then that will be the approach that I think is most intelligent.  If you start trying to look at six weeks out at all the scenarios, you’ll go crazy.  Certainly we all can identify though that there are a number of teams at that 7-3 or 6-4 mark that are all looking to accomplish the same things we’re looking to accomplish whether it’s in the division or in the NFC or AFC.  I think you really have to break it down to the task at hand and the game at hand.  It’s somewhat of a cliché and yet it’s very true.  That’s kind of been the way we’ve approached it.  As we get into the month of December, things become a little clearer.  The only way to put yourself in the best position is to play your best football this coming weekend.”

Your team has performed very well on Sunday and Monday nights.  What do you think you have done well to play so well in prime time games?

“I think it goes back to the same question you might ask when we go on the road.  The simple answer is our road record improved when we became a better football team.  Our prime time game record improved when we became a better football team.  I think those are all kind of residuals of playing better football.  I think the other element is having some consistency in regards to how you handle the schedule.  All of us are very schedule-regimented.  We lean on the itineraries and we try to get ourselves in a routine.  Today was much like a Thursday although it’s a Friday.  We spend a lot of time thinking about how we want to handle the week, and then when it’s a Monday night game or next week with a Sunday night game or a Thursday night game, it’s really trying to get into your routine and get into that weeks’ worth of work with a semblance of what you’re used to.  That being said, I do think there’s a correlation of playing good football.  If you’re not playing good football, you’re probably not getting a lot of prime time opportunities and probably not playing as well on the road.  I think they go hand in hand in regards to how we’ve improved over the years as a team.”

You have a clean bill of health at the running back position.  Has that position begun to clarify itself?

“It is clean.  Chris Ivory is doing well with his reps.  All of these guys are doing well.  I don’t know that it’s clarified anything for me, but that’s a good problem to have.  Whether we go up with four or just three, we’ll just keep looking at it as the week goes on.  They’re all practicing well.  They look very good and that’s been a real good position for us as we’ve addressed it in the offseason with the selection of Mark Ingram, the signing of Darren Sproles, and Chris Ivory is back off the hamstring injury, and Pierre Thomas is healthy as well.  All of those guys are doing well.  That’s one of the challenges when you have a deep position.”

What are your thoughts on Ndamukong Suh’s penalty and subsequent ejection and the possibility of a suspension for next week?

“That’s so far off our radar right now.  I think, like anyone else, during Thanksgiving games are on and usually you’re not paying very close attention to them.  I know it’s a game that a week away but the focus for us really, and it has to be, has been New York.  Certainly those are things that the league handles, but there are enough things here in our own building that we’re worried about and making sure that we’re ready with our preparation.  We’re kind of in that bubble world in our preparation and getting ready for this game against New York.  That’s really it.”

Is your defense doing anything different in practice to give the cornerbacks and safeties more of a focus on catching balls that should be interceptions?

“Those skill groups can’t spend enough time on the JUGS machines post-practice and pre-practice.  It’s something that not only are you on the JUGS machines, but you have to vary the distance you are operating from it and really create what are game-like opportunities as opposed to just ten yards away catching bullets thrown at you.  Hopefully it’s something that can come in numbers and we can get a few of those as we hit this next stretch of the season.”

 

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