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New Orleans Saints: Sean Payton’s Monday conference (transcript)

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When you first looked at the schedule, was the three-game road trip something that really stood out?

“That was the only thing that stood out that stood out different. If you asked, ‘What are the things that you look for immediately with the schedule,’ it would always be travel, and now with this year’s schedule just based on the opponents you aren’t going to be leaving more than one time zone, and you look at prime time. If you’re playing three away games, then somewhere you’re going to have a little roll where you have two at home maybe, the first two out of three games to start the season we’re at home. I think that’s something where you say, ‘We’re 3-0 on the road,’ and I think that’s all you would probably say to it. I think we travel pretty well. I think there are some advantages to traveling in regards to your preparation. More importantly, everyone looks at what the evening games are, if you have any Sunday night games or Monday night games, because those impact the routine. These Sunday games here are at 12:00 and I think this weekend’s is later, but there’s a routine that’s established. It’s the ones that are going to change that.”

Were you surprised to see the score of the Tampa Bay game and does that kind of loss make them a little more dangerous?

“Always in our league, the thing that we all when we get the schedule, you look at games and what you don’t know is the team and what’s led up to that game because certainly you’re going to get a team with Tampa Bay that’s hungry and wanting to put the bad taste out of their mouths no different than anyone else. The score was somewhat surprising and then when you go back and watch the tape and you recognize that generally when you have a score like that, you’re going to have some turnovers. You’re probably going to have a touchdown that was either defensively related or in the kicking game. These are all things that are pretty typical when somebody has 40 points. But certainly when you play a team that comes off a tough game like that you understand that they’re going to be focused and ready and wanting to get past that loss. I think that’s pretty common.”

On third down and four or less, you’re converting 73% of your opportunities. That’s number one in the NFL. Can you talk about what’s contributing to that?

“The one thing I think we’ve been able to do in the last three weeks is we’ve been able to mix in some runs on third down in general and I’m not talking about third and one. We separate third and one as short yardage. As soon as we get to third and two, we kind of put it in third down as opposed to short yardage. To answer your question, we’ve made some conversions in rushing the football. I think we have experience and I think we’ve also tried to change up protections and Drew does a real good job of distributing the ball to a number of different players where it’s not just let’s bracket this player and take this player out of the game. I think it’s probably a combination of the quarterback playing very efficiently and very accurately and very decisively. We talk and spend a lot of time on third down. We understand the importance of staying on the field and what that can do for our defense. The time of possession I thought yesterday was significant as it was in Jacksonville because it can give you a chance to rest your defense and it means that there’s less snaps defensively. There are a lot of things that go into it in regards to the execution and what you’re doing and what you’re asking players to do. It really goes back to a credit to the players, executing the scheme and protecting the quarterback and throwing the ball accurately. I think we’re catching the ball well right now as a unit if you just look across the board. We’ve been pretty secure with some tough throws too.”

How much does it help that Cam Newton and Josh Freeman have similar skill sets?

“I would differ a little bit in that you have size and stature, but I think with Freeman you have a guy who to some degree is different. He is a threat at running the football and he can avoid and yet he’s extremely dangerous in the pocket. I think he has great leadership and intangibles. When I say this and I know how this works and all of a sudden tomorrow I’ll read where I didn’t think Newton possessed all these traits, but I would say Freeman is much further along in his development and I’m not saying Cam won’t get there, I’m just saying they’re different a little bit. You’re not going to see that reverse option attack like you saw yesterday from Cam and you’re not going to see some of those runs that are tough to defend like you saw. However, you’re going to see a big, strong, physical player who I think has very quickly developed into one of the better quarterbacks in our league. I think you’re going to see some similarities in that the players around believe in him. I think you see that on tape when you watch Josh. I think you see that on tape when you watch his team and you see someone who’s patient, who will check the ball down, who has control of the two-minute, and who knows how to handle the final drive to win the game. Those are things that I think are coming ahead for Cam as he continues his rookie season. These are the things that we’re dealing with from Josh. We’ve seen his development in the short time he’s been in this league and I think he presents a lot of challenges.”