What a night it was last Thursday when the NFL season kicked off in Green Bay. I imagine that Sean Payton wasn’t too thrilled with the final outcome, Packers 42 Saints 35, but for the league and its fans, the entertaining high-scoring affair was one heck of a way to kick off the new year. For Payton and the Saints, it’s back to the drawing board in two main areas: red zone offense (they were 1-of-5, having to settle for four field goals), and defense (allowing 42 points speaks for itself). We’ll see though just how vulnerable that Saints defense really is though when they host Chicago this weekend. Nobody might be able to slow down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Payton joined WWL in New Orleans to talk about what he learned about his Saints squad from their loss to Green Bay last Thursday night, Chicago’s Week 1 win, what about the Bears scares him heading into Week 2, how hard it seems to be for the Saints to win when they finish on the wrong end of the turnover differential, the continued struggles of the Saints in the red zone both last year and in their season opener, signing a contract extension through 2015, how he’s comfortable with the current receiving corps on the squad even with Lance Moore and Marques Colston being injured, and the short-yardage and goal-line shortcomings of the running game.
On what he learned about his Saints squad from their Opening Night loss to the defending champion Packers:
“Number one I think there’s there’s so much after the first week that you get a chance to see and learn. You know we have a lot of young guys playing, and a lot of young guys stepping up and playing hard and doing well. I think some guys stood out. It was good to see John Kasay come in and go two-for-two. He’s not one of the younger players but nonetheless I think that was important for his confidence. Darren Sproles certainly stepped up; so did some of our younger defense ends. You know, each week you get in kinda with an idea of how you want the game to unfold, and, you know, in Green Bay that turned into a pretty high-scoring affair up there. So when that happens, just the one turnover that comes on the first series or a couple red zone failures where you settle for field goals, really can end up costing you. They’re a real good football team but I but I think we learned a lot just about where we’re at. And we have good work today, and I feel confident about heading into the early part of this season. Certainly we’re disappointed with the loss, but that being said, we’re excited about this week’s game against Chicago.”
On Chicago’s impressive Week 1 win over the Atlanta Falcons:
“Yeah we’re looking at that tape now. Our players were in today, we had a chance to see that game along with a lot of their preseason and then last year’s games. I think one thing stands out — you’re right Deke, there’s a philosophy and Lovie Smith and his staff have had there and it’s been very, very successful for them. They play good defense keeping the ball in front of them; they’ve always done a great job of creating turnovers; they’re going to force you to throw the ball at times underneath; they’re going to play with their eyes to the quarterback in a lot of zone schemes; if they; and then offensively we saw [Matt] Forte play well, [Jay] Cutler had one of his better games, and they ended up forcing Atlanta into mistakes and playing pretty well and beating them pretty well. So we’re looking at that tape, we’ve got some additional time this week being that we played on Thursday, and our practice with our players today was kind of a bonus practice that we wouldn’t normally get on a Monday.”
On how hard it seems to be for the Saints to win, especially against good teams, when they lose the turnover battle:
“Well, I think when you’re playing good football teams, it’s hard to win if you finish minus in the turnover ratio. In our game, the way the NFL is now — somewhere between 12 and 14 possessions a game — so a turnover obviously gives one to the opponent and takes one away from you. So it’s hard to beat anyone if you’re losing that number consistently. We finished -1 the other night, we had that one fumble, and that’s something that when you’re in a close game, and when you’re in a game that’s swinging back and forth, we began chasing that 14 point lead. But we had plenty of opportunities. Again, we have to be more efficient in the red area; we had opportunities where we settled for field goals, and even opportunities there at the end of the game. So all of us — coaches, players — you take a loss like that and you come back. And the thing we’ve tried to really emphasize with our players, is the importance here from Week 1 to Week 2. We finally got a chance to play a live game, and I like the fact that we got a chance to play last year’s Super Bowl champion and find out right away where we stood up and where some of the areas we need to continue to improve on. And that’s what we’re doing right now.”
On the Saints struggles in the red zone — 1 of 5 touchdowns against Green Bay, and just 20th last year in red zone efficiency:
“Well I think the first thing you look at when you look at red zone efficiency is we’ve got to be able to consistently run the football. It’s an area of the field that gets shorter and smaller, so the passing game becomes a little bit more challenging. And I think that’s certainly one of the things we feel like we’re going to be able to do better this year. We’re anxious to get back and improve on that number. You’re absolutely right, when you look statistically, when you have those trips inside the red area and especially in a high scoring game that we just played — as they’re scoring touchdowns and you turn around and kick a field goal, you’re less four in that two trip possession if you will back and forth. So that was something we were better at in ’09 and are going to have to be better at in ’11. So we’re going to spend a ton of time emphasizing it and taking advantage of those opportunities.”
On signing a contract extension with the Saints through 2015:
“Well it starts with our ownership — Mr. Benson, Mickey Loomis, the people at the top that have really given us the resources and all the things that you need to have a chance to win in this league. And early on we were able to establish some momentum when I think we needed it, and we kind of built on it each year, culminating with the Super Bowl win in ’09. Once you’ve played in that game and coached in that game and made that trip, boy your to get back to it is even stronger. So we’re thrilled to death to be here for another five years, and feel fortunate to be in this league and recognize how difficult that challenge is. I’ve been very fortunate to have been around a lot of good football coaches, a lot of good assistants that are on this staff here with us now that have helped in our game plan and our preparation year to year. For Mr. Benson and the organization to give us this opportunity for another five years, we’re very excited about it. You get into coaching to teach, and early on you think maybe it’s going to be at the college level, and you end up in the NFL, and then all of a sudden you end up in a position to be a head coach, and it just seems like yesterday that we were getting here and starting to build this program.”
Listen here to Payton on WWL in New Orleans (interview begins at 1:45 mark)