"We're optimistic about Reggie coming back for Sunday," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "We're going to test the leg (healing broken fibula) on Wednesday."
Payton said there hasn't been any tiff between injured Pierre Thomas (ankle sprain) and him about his slow rehab. There were reports that the coach and the player were at odds because of the show heal.
"Anything specific on that matter is between Pierre and the club," said the coach. "Anything in meetings between Pierre and I are on the same page, which is for us, the club, the player. It's simple."
“As usual during a Monday we’re in the midst of team meetings and correcting the offensive, defensive and special teams tapes. Like I said yesterday it was a disappointing loss. You credit Cleveland. They came in here and played a game very aggressively and came out with a win. There are a number of things we’ll work on here and hopefully be able to clean up. We’re going to have to; certainly the turnovers, some of the field position, special teams plays that were evident. Defensively I thought we battled real well, considering we had a couple of short fields to work with number one and I thought they responded well, so it’s a tough loss and we’re going to need a good week of preparation for the game we’re going to play on Sunday night.”
“Scott was probably a little bit closer than Jabari. Today he (Shanle) felt pretty good. We’ll see how they handle this week’s schedule and monitor their progress going into this game.”
Had Cleveland shown any indication on film of the three trick plays they ran yesterday?
“The one that you see before is the punt (fake) with the punter running the football. You have to pay attention to the throwback on the punt return, keeping in mind containment. Maybe when you begin to drift outside, no differently than on defense, you have to be able to handle that with your containment. The throwback to the quarterback’s always different when you’re in man coverage, because typically you don’t assign someone to the quarterback in man. Start with crediting Cleveland. The timing of the calls was aggressive and successful and ended up being ones that were big in the game.”
Do you think the process of improvement is not happening?
“I think more than anything it's the consistency. You take a step or two forward and then you take two steps back. We’ll continue to clean up and look to improve as a team. You have to in the course of the season. If you’re not improving, you’re probably going to go in the other direction, so we’re sitting here at 4-3 and that’s disappointing, yet that’s what our record is. Our objectives will be very clear this week; to play our best football game Sunday night versus one of if not the best team in the NFL right now in Pittsburgh in how they’re playing. I think during the course of each week you play during the regular season, you’re constantly looking to improve, detail assignments and continue to work on the fundamentals and in our case we haven’t been consistent enough.”
Have you guys researched the pasts of championship teams the year after their championships and some of the things that they face? Is there a correlation to these things that you could put your finger on at all?
“We know it’s challenging. We know it’s not easy. You know it going in. You’re going to have to be better than you were the year before, so that doesn’t guarantee anything in regards to wins and losses, so I think more than anything else it’s trying to compartmentalize as much as you can each week, each challenge as the season progresses and understand that as a team collectively, the importance of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and that’s what we’ll do this week again.”
Was Cleveland doing some things that were affecting you on offense?
“Certainly we received some pre and post snap disguise looks. They rush three at times with a number of guys standing up, oftentimes pointing out who we think’s going to be the rusher. They played a lot of man under coverage and I thought did a good job with their man techniques. We hit some crossing routes and made some plays, but it’s certainly a team like any team. You don’t want to become one-dimensional. At the end of the game we certainly became that in order to play catch up. Early on when we were staying on schedule running the football, we had the one red zone turnover that was disappointing, but a lot of umbrella shell, some three man rush and then some zone pressures mixed in, but they did a good job of it.”
With the league being a copycat league, do you anticipate other teams doing this?
“I think you would have to look at that tape and really pay attention to it as you play other teams, specifically teams that are set up and built like Cleveland is. I think when you watch it, there are some things that we learned from and clearly you go back and say here are some of the things we could have done better starting with myself and throughout as that game unfolded.”
“I would say that I don’t know that we’re getting a different look defensively. I think one of the concerns defensively when you’re playing a team with Reggie Bush is your man to man coverages and yesterday was a good example of us getting quite a bit of man to man. Throughout the course of the season, every team is going to have players nicked. They’re going to be without certain guys due to injury. I’ve said it before that we’ve had to do it without Reggie Bush before specifically or without Pierre. I don’t know if it’s different or if it’s the teams that we’re playing looking closely at what we’re doing well and trying to force us to do the latter.”
Are you experiencing more man and man under coverages?
“It’s more challenging when you play man defense. They do a good job of giving one look pre-snap. They do a good job of floating an extra guy during their man under scheme, kind of a robber if you will. They did some good things. You have to start by giving them credit. You lick your wounds and get back and watch the tape. I know where you’re going though. Are we getting more man coverage? We received more yesterday, but we didn’t receive more a few weeks ago. I think it really depends on the team you’re playing.”
Does it make the quarterback hold onto the ball longer?
“It can. Man to man coverage just because of the nature of separation, when you see zone defenses, you’re throwing to spots. The ball can come out a little quicker when you’re playing man to man defenses. You’re having to work to create separation, so certainly that would be one of the designs of a team wanting to play man.”
Are you still gearing for Reggie Bush to come back on Sunday night?
“It’s going to be wait and see this week. We’re optimistic, yet we’re guarded. I think we just have to pay attention to how this workweek goes.”
Can you discuss a report by Jay Glazer that the team is frustrated with Pierre Thomas’ recovery?
“There hasn’t been any tiff. Certainly we’re all frustrated with the progress of Pierre’s rehab. Anything specific in that matter would be between Pierre and I and the club.”
Penalties were something you were upset about in the preseason and here we are almost to the halfway mark. How much are they bothering you?
“It’s a part of what can keep you from winning. In yesterday’s game clearly, there were a number of plays that were results of penalties that were costly to us. That gets back to that attention to detail. We’ve been inconsistent in that regards. It hasn’t been a constant, but it’s been something that has been a problem when we’ve lost. In yesterday’s case, I don’t need to go each one specifically but those are things that can keep you from winning games.”
Had the Browns made as much pre-snap defensive movement on other teams as they had on you on film and is it a matter of figuring out blocking assignments in those instances?
“I think when you watch them, the idea is that we got a completely different defense yesterday than what they normally play, which is not the case. I think it’s important to understand that. They’re a 3-4 front. They do a good job within their defense. Scott Fujita’s their signal caller and it becomes more challenging week to week that the looks that vary by game are the nickel snaps. I think that they did a good job of maybe showing one thing and then getting to another look and it causes a problem not only for your protection. You have to realize who is blocking who. But, also for your pre-snap and post-snap looks in regards to your progression and where you’re going with the football and that isn’t a new revelation in our game. It’s something we do a lot of defensively and it’s something we see week to week, but credit Cleveland. I think they did a good job with that yesterday.”
Before the turnovers and the 10-0 started, do you give credence to the theory that sometimes teams come out flat?
“Yes. I think that certainly that can happen. I don’t think after watching the tape and going through it all, I don’t think we came out flat. We didn’t make early on the plays we wanted to make. We turned the ball over, getting in tight in the red area. Does that happen in games? Yes. Do I think that happened yesterday? No.”
Do you think that’s happened to you guys at all this season?
“Yes. You’re hoping during the course of a 16 game regular season that you’re able to play well knowing that it’s impossible at 16 weeks to have that same effort level and energy and yet good teams are able to find ways to win. We’re still a work in progress. It’s obvious. We’re sitting here at 4-3 and now the good news is there are nine games left in the regular season. We’re not at the halfway mark yet. We have all of our division to play again. It’s very early and yet we recognize we have to improve in these areas. Penalties we’ve talked about, the turnovers. Despite being minus where we are right now in the turnover category, we’re at 4-3 and the encouraging thing is I do think we can take the ball away more and I do think we can protect the football better and if we do that in this next stretch I think the results will be favorable. If we don’t do that, then it will be a tough stretch. I think that’s just a matter of fact.”
How do you balance the fact that you’re ranked fourth in the NFL in yards allowed with the lack of takeaways?
“I think we practice the takeaways extremely well. I think a lot of times they come, they come in bunches. Sometimes the ball’s out and you’re not able to recover it. We’re not having to balance it. One thing we have to do is continue to hustle, play with great effort and energy and attack the football like we do, offensively protecting it and play with that same energy level. Oftentimes if you’re doing those other things, turnovers can be a result of that.”
Is the Jay Glazer report accurate?
“Anything that takes place with Pierre (Thomas) and me in those meetings is certainly not for you.”
So it’s not accurate?
“You’re asking me a question. I’m telling you the answer. I’m telling you we’re all frustrated with the injury. We’re disappointed it’s taken this long. With any communication, certainly Pierre and I are on the same page, which is for us, the club, the player. It’s simple.”
Have you heard accusations from some Cleveland players about dirty play by your team in the scrums for loose balls yesterday? Are you concerned about that at all?
“I have not. I haven’t heard anything about it. I watched the tape and I didn’t see anything specifically that jumped out. Certainly guys were fighting. There were some loose ball opportunities but I didn’t hear anything about that.”
In Reggie’s case, is there something specific that doctors need to see on an x-ray before he can play again?
“I think it’s more where we’re at a point where we’ve seen the progress with the bone healing and now it’s movement, it’s all the symptoms and paying attention to where he’s at with land-based activities. I think he’s close. It would be hard for me to say it’s a certainty that he’s starting and I can’t sit here and tell you that it’s going to be a long shot. I think he is going to be close this week. What’s going to be important is how he handles his movement, how he handles the cuts and being able to play full speed. We’ll take it day to day and I’ll keep you guys posted after each practice. But we’re getting at that point and his rehab has gone well. There hasn’t been anything that would have set him back; it’s just a matter of how he handles the land-based stuff and the running.”
You put Malcolm Jenkins at cornerback Sunday and he seemed to struggle. How do you think he played?
“I wouldn’t say that. He had the interference call – and I think that’s what you’re referencing – but outside of that…”
He had the other five-yard penalty that gave them a first down.
“Which I haven’t seen yet. In other words, I’m still looking for that. I thought he played pretty well. The PI call was a big penalty because it put them in scoring range, but I thought he went out there and competed real well. He had a good week of practice and I thought he did a good job at that position.”
Could you explain the penalty on Courtney Roby?
“It’s pretty simple. The gunners are allowed to exit the field when they’re covering a punt if they’re forced out. The rule is that as soon as that happens, they have to make every effort to get back on to the field. Oftentimes you’ll see an eight or ten-yard bubble and then the player returns. He had a collision with a member of the chain gang and what he did wrong at that point is that he continued to run another 15 yards down the sideline and didn’t make another attempt to enter the field, which is a foul and was correctly called. Otherwise, you could have a free run all the way down the white stripe and enter when you wanted to. If you are pushed out, the defenders can’t contact you when you go out and you have to enter as soon as you can. It was correctly called.”
Are you surprised that there aren’t more incidents like that with as many people as there are on the sideline?
“Yes. I think in the near future you’re going to see the officials and the other people working the game in helmets. I think the head trauma is the biggest concern for anyone that close to the speed of the game and I think that would make a lot of sense.”
With as much emphasis as you and Drew put on not turning the ball over, what do you think is going on to where he has almost as many interceptions this season as he did all of last year?
“Again, I don’t think you can point to one specific thing. Certainly your chances of turning the ball over from an interception go up if you’re playing come-from-behind football. That would be the one obvious thing. If you’re playing from behind and you’re having to throw the football, that was one interception yesterday towards the end of the game and then one interception in Arizona. When you’re playing with a lead it’s a different story. That being said, we have to continue to look at all aspects of the turnover – the protection, the route, what we’re asking them to do and the progression. There’s no one else that I would have any more confidence in than Drew Brees and our ability to get that cleaned up and corrected, but it gets back to being in a position where you’re playing with a lead, playing with balance. As soon as you become one-dimensional, it becomes more difficult. That hasn’t been the case with every one of these turnovers, but certainly it’s something that he’ll work extremely hard on, just as I will and our staff will to help give him the plan and give him the receivers in the right area and the protection. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
You hear defensive coordinators talk about wanting to affect the quarterback in different ways. Does it seem like teams are being able to do that?
“Number one, there’s a spot three yards behind the center that’s critical turf – not just for Drew Brees, but for anyone that’s playing that position as a pocket-passer. Protecting that is important; the timing of your routes as it pertains to man or zone coverage – all of those things go into it.”
Did you come out of the game without any new injuries?
“Probably as good as we have all year in regards to guys getting nicked up. Nothing substantial at all to report.”
As far as the penalties go, what do you preach to the team to decrease those?
“They just need to understand the importance of that aspect of the game because there’s hidden yardage there that can equate to points, no different than in the kicking game. It’s hidden yardage and if you buy into the idea that 100 yards equals a touchdown, then you can begin to look at the importance of field position and the importance of penalties.”
How good has the protection been?
“We’re hard on ourselves. Our bar – and for good reason – is very high so we’re fairly picky in regards to looking closely, whether it’s protection, whether it’s route, whether it’s decision or whether it’s play. Certainly we want to be more consistent in that area and we think we can be.”
Would it be accurate to say that consistency is one of your themes here today?
“It’s just putting back-to-back games together, or putting a third game together. Not just doing it right sometimes, and it’s something that I think we can improve on and clearly when you watch the tape we feel like we can.”
The offensive line played superbly at Tampa Bay and not as well one week later. In your experience, why would a unit not be able to carry that over?
“There’s a lot that goes into that. We want to look and pay close attention to where the breakdowns are coming from. Is there one specific thing that’s reoccurring? We look closely at all of those things.”
One of the things you listed a minute ago was ‘play’. How would you rate the play of the offense?
“What I meant by play would be myself, in other words, the play design. It would be easy to say that we call the plays and the players go execute them. We look constantly at if we’re giving them the right stuff each week. That’s important to be critical of. Do we like the plan? What I was referencing was that when a game is over, win or loss, we constantly grade the play itself and the execution. Oftentimes the play design gives you a chance and the execution is outstanding and then you have something. Sometimes a play will break down and he’ll look and he doesn’t have someone open and he’s holding the ball and gets sacked. That falls on us. How can we get someone open within the pattern? Was it a result of a route that wasn’t run as well? We try to evaluate that and I think it’s important to evaluate that, just as you would the execution of any one player.”
“It worked out pretty well. The whole week, the thought was that it was going to be based on number one if we had Darren back. We waited throughout the course of the week to see and I thought towards the end of the week he looked pretty good. We decided to play him more in the nickel and red area at free safety. We knew we were moving Malcolm out to corner, Usama would handle the base at free safety and then we’d have our nickel options with Leigh Torrence coming in. That gave us flexibility.”
If at full health, would Darren have been the safety in the base as well?
“We felt like he was close yesterday to being where he’s going to be. Today there weren’t many symptoms. So how does he fit in? Each week that can vary. But I was pleased with the snap count and how our guys handled it.”
Do you buy into the idea of distractions being an issue for this team?
“No, this is a pretty focused team. I’ve said before that I like this locker room; I like the leadership on this team and I think the distractions have been minimal. Our guys have great resolve to get better each week and I think more is made from that through the grapevine and in your industry than what really is true.”
When you look at Drew and his numbers are down, is it almost unfair to compare to the season he had last year?
“I think you wrote a good piece about it last week where you begin to appreciate a unique season from a year ago, and I think that’s accurate. This is a different year so you reap what you sow this season. Certainly the bar for him is very high and it’s set by him. That’s one of the great qualities of Drew Brees – his competitive desire to win and be successful. One of the most inspiring things each day is that each one of us comes to work knowing that we have a chance each week to get better and we have a guy like him, along with Will Smith and Jon Vilma and Darren Sharper and all these other guys that truly will stay focused and look at the task at hand. So is his bar set high? Yes, and I think that’s been one of the reasons that he’s had the success that he’s had in this league. He expects and sees himself winning. He expects and sees himself performing at a high level. There’s obviously a tremendous amount of disappointment when you don’t have success and you don’t play the way you’d want to, just as there is for me when as the head coach of a team you don’t have the game you’re expecting to have and you lose a game. That’s disappointing and it’s tough, but I think that the only thing that we know how to do is to get back up, make the corrections, and focus on the next game. Then at the end of the season, add up the wins and losses. The first goal is winning the division; if that happens, playoffs, et cetera, and then you get measured. In the meantime, you’re making sure that you’re on top of the things that you need to improve on and getting better as a team.”
Do you have a thought on how the defense is doing, considering that they’re improved in the rankings but not making as many big plays?
“I think they’re playing well. I think the turnovers, with the way we practice and the effort we give, I think the turnovers will come. I think the difference this season clearly is that there haven’t been many cases or series or quarters where we’ve played with a lead of above a score compared to a year ago. When that’s the case, the defense has more opportunities to rush the passer and the opposition is one-dimensional. Those things all go hand-in-hand and it’s pretty interesting, the dynamic of it all, but that’s what we’re looking to do.”
SOME HITHER, OTHERS YON: Denver and Phoenix are having troubles, too, which leaves the window open for the Hornets to make the playoffs this season. Chris Paul, when healthy could be the best point guard in the NBA again and he should get back in MVP conversations again this season although his supporting cast may not be enough to get the Hornets over the hump. Veterans Emeka Okafor and David West can
help the team make some noise, but enough to make Paul think about staying? The Hornets open their season on Wednesday night at the Arena...
by Ed Staton
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