Payton not about winning seasons, downplays Saints top-rated defense ranking

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Sean Payton
(Photo: Parker Waters)

The Saints clinched a fourth straight winning season with the 31-3 win Sunday at Denver, but head coach Sean Payton appreciates it but downplayed its significance.

“There’s a lot of things that you look back on and get excited about,” Payton said. “Four straight winning seasons, that probably tells me that coming from a program that hasn’t had much success or history of success. I’m being just honest. I’m glad that four in a row. Our aspirations are much higher than that, than having a winning season. That’s all. I don’t really look at that and footnote it.”

In the aftermath of a convincing win over the Broncos, the topic remained Taysom Hill with Saints coach Sean Payton.

After playing very well in his first start against Atlanta, the results were not as good in Denver as the Saints focused on running the football and Hill only threw 16 passes, completing nine for 76 yards with an interception. Hill did rush 10 times for 44 yards and two scores.

“There’s a Catch 22 in there somewhere, right?” Payton said. “That catch is like, I’m trying to make an impression, I’m trying to prove that I’m a starter. All of those things, understand that and yet, you know what? Today’s not the day. Today’s the day to prove you aren’t, but it’s not the day that in the way this game was going to unfold, you’ve got to pay attention and be smart enough to understand.”

Payton explained the rationale for the conservative approach offensively.

We’re not going to learn the hard way with the matchup,” Payton said. “We had two starters out on the offensive line. We’re not going to sack/fumble. We’re not going to get turned over in our red zone, any of those things. In that type of game, field position matters a lot. Seven points in that type of game is the equivalent of 21. That’s just the way I felt that game needed to be played and he did a good job of that.”

There was one mistake by Hill but there was also the game up front, which the Saints controlled as the game progressed.

“He had the one turnover,” Payton said. “Lost in all of this and make no mistake about it, that’s a tough position to be in, when you don’t have any quarterback. If there was one thing that was going to happen, if you lost all your quarterbacks, is that you were going to bow up defensively. Look, I was proud of how we ran the football. Towards the end of the game, we won that battle pretty clearly.”

Payton expounded further on the game plan and praised replacements Nick Easton and James Hurst for their play, who replaced Andrus Peat and Terron Armstead.

“This didn’t have anything to do with safeties, linebackers, defensive linemen,” Payton said. “It was just being smart understanding that game, that day. Lost in it all is they gave up over 230 yards rushing (229). That was pretty important in the game.

The other notable topic of the day is that the Saints have ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the NFL in total defense.

“I think we’re playing the pass better,” Payton said. “I think we’ve eliminated some of the big plays that were coming earlier in the year and then most importantly is third down and red zone defense has gradually gotten better and it had to. It couldn’t have gotten any worse. We were last in the league there for a stretch in red zone.”

Payton is philosophical about being on top defensively.

“When you look at it’s a rankings, it’s a little bit like a semester in school, to some degree,” Payton said. “If you start the semester off with three ‘D’s’, it’s going to take a while before you see the light of day. I’m pleased with how we’re playing situational defense. Yesterday obviously was a uniquely different deal but we’re getting off the field on third down and I think we’re affecting the quarterback more than we were earlier in the year.”

The play of Kwon Alexander continues to impress as he has made his mark in a short period of time.

“I think he’s done real well in a short period of time and that’s not easy to do” Payton said. “He’s in great shape, obviously, playing shape. He’s given us more speed, I think, on the field and he’s also given us a pressure player.”

Alexander is already creating matchup problems for opponents.

I think he’s very good when and if he’s asked to rush the passer, disruptive, and that becomes a little problematic because if you’re trying to assess the front seven, you might to assign Demario (Davis) to the offensive line and then now you have another guy that’s going to get matched up on a running back,” Payton said. “Those are the early things that I’ve seen. I like guys that like football as much as me.”

Rookie Adam Trautman had an important reception to set up a New Orleans touchdown in the win at Denver. Saints coach Sean Payton

“The more and more snaps he gets, the more and more we’ll see the development,” Payton said. “Sometimes, it’s a challenge just getting him the number of snaps we want to. We’ve got to keep finding ways for him in the passing game. I think he’s someone that’s got a real good feel in that area and I think he learned the leverage element of blocking, different than in college, certainly with the athletes that he’s blocking.”

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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