Per the New Orleans Saints official website.
Payton: “Today Randall Gay seems to be doing pretty well. Jammal Brown has some soreness. I think we’ll be able to battle through that. Courtney Roby’s the one with his ankle that will be questionable this week, whether he’ll be able to play. Certainly he’ll be able to practice in a couple days here. Otherwise it’s a short week. There’s a good chance we might be without his services for Thursday’s night’s game”
Are you concerned with Gay and the quick turnaround?
Payton: “I feel a little better about him. He was in today with the tests that they do and they seemed to go pretty well. That was all a positive. Other than that, it’s a real quick week. Much of what was said yesterday you can see on the tape. I thought they played hard and we came up with some big plays when we needed it down the stretch in all areas. The kick return I mentioned yesterday was significant, the stop by our defense when we needed it at that time of the game was important and our ability on offense to finish the game, those were all encouraging notes and pleasing to see.”
How do you like Thursday night games?
Payton: “After a while in our league, I think you get used to working with adjusting schedules for a Sunday night game, Monday night game, possible Thursday night game. Obviously they are easier at home than on the road. That’s just part of our game, whether it’s in London. I think every team in our league at some point or another deals with logistics of scheduling and I think it’s a big challenge because I think you’re able to break up routine up a little bit. I think sometimes that’s good for your players.”
How do you deal with the recovery in anticipation of Thursday night games after playing on Sunday?
Payton: “I think that’s a challenge for both teams. I think the key now is to maybe back off some of the physical work. I think it becomes a little bit more mental at this point in the season and just being mindful of keeping these guys fresh, keeping them rested and ready to go and deal with a good team.”
What was behind the decision to run more in this past game?
Payton: “If you look at first, the tape of the game the last time we played them, it’s a team that’s done a real good job with a lot of cover two. They’re able to get pressure with their four man rush, starting with (John) Abraham. Certainly when we got into our game the last time against them, after we fell down 14 points, it became kind of a one dimensional game in regards to what we were doing. We felt like early yesterday if we were going to see a lot of that coverage, it was going to give us a seven man box instead of an eight man box. I felt like we had those opportunities and we felt especially good about some of the draw schemes we had in with the way they rushed the passer. That eventually changed and credit our players on offense, we started to see a little bit more single high, a little bit more pressure and I thought we did a good job of handling that as the looks turned course during the game. I thought our guys up front did a good job. Obviously we talked about the balance in having that. That was a team defensively that if they force you to just throw the football, they’re pretty good. When it comes to rushing the passer, Abraham’s having probably as good a season as any defensive end in our league right now the way he’s playing. With what we were seeing front wise and coverage wise, it was something that we thought going in we’d have some opportunities if they stayed consistent early on.”
Given how the running game went, will it be used more in the future?
Payton: “I think if we’re going to be a team that throws a play action pass, there has to be some sort of threat of a run with the pass. I think we have to see what’s our best way to move the football and score points and each week that might change and might vary, but certainly we need to be able to do both, especially as the other changes happen and we get ready to play a game in Chicago where it’s cold and the elements are going to be a little different than they were this past weekend.”
Have you made the two roster moves you need to make today yet?
Payton: “Not yet.”
Will you make the moves by the end of the day?
Payton: “By the end of the day, we need to have them. There are a few things that go into that and that’s why we have nothing to announce yet. By the end of the day we have to get from 55 to 53.”
Are you happy with the progress being displayed on the defense?
Payton: “I think defensively we’re playing better. I think in our loss to Tampa we played well, against Green Bay we played well and at Kansas City. I think we’re doing a good job. We’ve been pretty efficient in the red zone. That started in Kansas City with a couple of stops there and yesterday was the first day we you could say we lost that third down battle. Offensively we weren’t as effective and Atlanta did a pretty good job of third down conversions, but I think defensively with some new guys in there, I think we did a real good job this past month and that’s been part of it. I think that we’re getting some of these guys back on offense. (Marques) Colston’s healthy, (Jeremy) Shockey’s healthy now and I think you see Jeremy playing more consistently. Now having Reggie (Bush) back in the lineup will give us an added threat. The last thing I’ll say is that I think in the kicking game, we didn’t play as well as we would have liked against Tampa Bay, but in the other three games that we’re talking about starting with yesterday’s game, Green Bay, Kansas City, I felt we had the advantage in those games with our return and coverage units.”
How tough will it be to determine Randall Gay’s progress for a Thursday game?
Payton: “I think he’s going to be fine. I think we’re going to be talking a little bit more about Courtney Roby and Jammal Brown than Randall Gay. We take something like that seriously, but the tests that we do today seem positive, so that was encouraging.”
Could Pierre Thomas return kicks?
Payton: “Potentially yes. I just think at this time of the year, it’s not uncommon to see guys that are starters serving as a kick returner or a punt returner. With our situation right now, I’m glad we have him. Obviously returning that yesterday was significant.
Do you think Carl Nicks had an excellent game?
Payton: “I think he’s improving. I think (Jonathan) Babineaux’s having a really good season, one of their defensive tackles and so you’re not going to win every battle on each play, but I think you’ve seen improvement from Carl. For a young guy, he’s transitioned into that position well. He’s big and he’s powerful. We have two big guards now with him and Jahri (Evans). That’s significant when you talk about the integrity of your pocket for (Drew) Brees. I thought he did a good job yesterday.
Can you talk about how you will deal with the weather?
Payton: “I think it’s probably the age old discussing of the dome team going up to the cold weather environment. It will be cold on Thursday, colder at nighttime. They told us this weekend it was real cold. The trick is to deal with the mental part of that as much as anything. I think you’re right in that a lot of players have played in cold weather. Nonetheless it’s been a while for anyone on this team, with the weather warming up right now, but that’s just something we’re going to have to deal with and be able to get through and handle. We’ve done it in the past and played in cold weather and played good games, but nonetheless, it is a challenge when you’re out of that environment on a regular basis, certainly in the division we’re in when you look at where we go when we’re not playing at home, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Carolina. That’s something we’re going to have to deal with.
Do you feel no need to remind this team that Chicago is where the last two seasons ended?
Payton: “I think it’s a different team. There’s a lot of new faces on this team from the two prior years. More than anything else, it’s an opportunity to play a team we’ve had trouble beating. I don’t think they look at it like this is where the season ended per se. I think they look at it more as an opportunity to play this team we’ve struggled against and a team we certainly respect. This is a different team. This is a different team than last year, no different than Chicago’s team is different. I think more importantly we look at it as a needed win if we are going to continue to hang in there. There’s three games left now. Our focus quickly has to be on this game and that’s it.
Are you surprised that Garrett Hartley’s as consistent as he’s been?
Payton: “I’m encouraged and excited about it. He’s a guy who if you watch him in practice, he has a live leg, the ball comes off of him quick and he certainly has confidence. His teammates have confidence in him. Since he’s arrived here, he’s been interesting to watch. We’re happy to have him.
Do you think it’s tough for a rookie kicker to go into a place where he seemingly is on a short leash?
Payton: “I don’t think that he looks at Chicago as being the graveyard for New Orleans Saints kickers; I don’t think that he looks at it like that at all. I think it’s a tough place because of the conditions, but last week when he kicked the 43-yarder at Tampa Bay, it was tough there and that was to tie the game up. Really, he’s handled it well. He’s handled the kicks that we’ve needed and some of them have maybe been more important than others, but nonetheless I think he’s looking forward to the challenge and I think he’ll do real well.”
Did you have to be convinced to go with another inexperienced kicker when you brought Hartley in?
Payton: “No, we actually – and when I say we it was Mickey (Loomis), Ryan (Pace) and myself – after the workouts like we always do go through what we just saw and talk about what we just saw and then weigh the pros and cons of each player. You’re hoping that something stands out. With him, you did have the unknown which to some degree was good as well. He kicked at a high level in college and was successful and we thought he had leg strength and it has worked out real well. He has adjusted well and certainly he belongs.”
Do you have any thoughts on Morten Andersen as he announced his retirement today?
Payton: “He had a great career. I was lucky enough to spend a year with Morten when he was with the Giants the year of 9/11 when he was our kicker. It’s amazing when you’re around someone like that how much you learn. He was a guy that I watched play when he was in college at Michigan State. I saw him kick against Michigan and they had a kicker by the name of Ali Haji-Sheikh and at that time I think the kickoffs were five yards closer than they are now, but the whole day there might have been nine kickoffs and all of them went out of the end zone. That was the first time I saw Morten Andersen play. He went to Indianapolis’ Ben Davis High School and he’s arguably one of the best kickers in our game. I’ve gotten to know him over the years from meeting him in New York and he had a great career. He was unbelievable.”
How much do weather conditions affect your game planning?
Payton: “There has to be enough in the plan to handle those hypotheticals. There has to be enough to where the game plan just isn’t so… Each week we’ll have plenty of offense in all those categories, be it run or pass, and that’s pretty common.”
What are your early impressions of Matt Forte?
Payton: “He’s playing well. He’s a guy with good balance and good vision. You see him in more of a conventional system than he played in in college, but he has had a tremendous rookie season. He’s going to be one of the candidates for Rookie of the Year. We just saw one of the best rookies this season in Matt Ryan and we’re going to see another good one in Chicago. He was a guy that we had real high grades on and thought a lot of, not just as a football player. He’s a perfect back for what they do and he’s handled that transition from the college game to the NFL very quickly and very effectively.”
Was he in the discussions as a possible second-round pick for you?
Payton: “I’d have to go back and look at our notes, but he certainly was a guy – we brought him the week before the draft for another workout and he was very impressive. The hard thing about the draft is you begin to fall in love with a lot of players and you know that you’re only going to be able to draft or sign a few and that’s always challenging. Certainly he’s a guy that we were very much aware of and were rooting for, whether we drafted him or not.”
You only brought him in once?
Payton: “He was a guy that was scouted by everyone, but four days prior to the draft we brought him in additionally which is what the league allows you to do because he was a local player.”
On the fourth-and-one call to Mike Karney, was there any thought about having Pierre Thomas line up as fullback there since he has run that play?
Payton: “We had done that probably three of the last six short-yardage calls this year and he has been effective. The first short-yardage play yesterday on that first drive was a similar play, if you really look at it. Babineaux made a play on it and stopped us for a loss of yardage, so it was just a changeup as to who was carrying it.”
Was part of the thinking that they wouldn’t be expecting Karney?
Payton: “It was just a change-up as to who was carrying it and some unpredictability in regards to I had just given it to Pierre earlier in that same play.”
Karney said yesterday that Pierre had lined up where he was supposed to be and might have been trying to take the carry?
Payton: “Mike doesn’t get a whole lot of them, so he’s going to fight for them when he gets them. It’s basically a belly play – a zone play – and it’s almost like a quarterback sneak only you’re handing it to someone rather than running a quarterback sneak and Mike did a good job of getting the yard. I thought we had good push. It comes down to the snap count – we went on an early snap count. It was break the huddle, second sound, and they executed it well.”
Is Pierre Thomas playing better than you ever expected him to as a rookie?
Payton: “When a guy comes in as an undrafted free agent – I don’t want to say that they face an uphill challenge – but maybe the expectations aren’t as great because otherwise you would have drafted them. Nonetheless, it wasn’t long after he was here that you saw that there were certain things he did pretty well. We’ve tried to, as best we can, not really go by a player’s draft status. How we got the player – once he’s in the building – is unimportant. What’s most important is evaluating the player and trying to keep the right 53. To his credit, he’s worked hard to get to where he’s at now. He’s a guy that we had some background with because of Greg McMahon, our special teams coordinator, who was on the staff at Illinois with Pierre Thomas and was a guy that stood on the table for him when the draft ended about getting him as a free agent. We were lucky to do that and we’re better for it.”
How much do you pay attention to the teams around you in the playoff race and their games?
Payton: “Not a lot. We might watch or see some highlights of games, just like you guys do. With this week the way that it’s set up, though, I guess more than anything you look up at the list and as long as your name still shows up in the ‘others’ column, that’s good. Other than that, you just kind of keep track of it. The obvious would be that you root for AFC wins and you root for division leaders to continue to win.”
When it comes to playing quarterback in the cold, do you draw from your personal experience as a quarterback at all?
Payton: “We didn’t have hot seats or any of that other stuff at Eastern Illinois, so you just kind of had to bounce around. I think Drew and a lot of these players understand the importance of keeping their fingers warm and all the specifics that go into preparing to play in cold weather. Chief and our equipment staff will do a great job of having all the shoes ready and all the different size cleats and the heaters and the hot pads. There’s a lot that goes into that. I think a lot of players will draw on their experiences with that.”
When you call plays, do you base anything off of when you played quarterback in similar conditions?
Payton: “I probably never reference my time as a player. There is certainly experience that you have or you fall back on an understanding of the position. I brought up a guy’s name the other day and no one even had heard of Jerry Quarry or athletes like that. These guys are all born in the ‘80s now, so it’s a long time ago.”
Did Greg McMahon campaign for Pierre earlier in the draft at all?
Payton: “He was a guy that when we read the players in the weeks leading up to the draft that said that this was a guy that could make a team. Those were his words really, that this guy can make a team. For Pierre to make the team, if you’ll recall, there was a draft pick that we had taken in the fourth round and you wouldn’t look on paper and give him a high shot. Fortunately for us, he didn’t pay a lot of attention to what would appear to be a crowded backfield. He just came in and went to work and really there wasn’t a player on the team wouldn’t have said at the end of training camp that this guy shouldn’t be on this team. I think it was obvious to all of us.”
Do you think Chicago will do a lot to try to counter Reggie Bush?
Payton: “By this time of the year there are certain things that you do offensively or defensively and so they’ve been playing real good defense. I’m sure that when you defend anybody there are certain things that you look at – how you want to match up personnel-wise, what you want to do with different backs in the game. I’m sure that’s something that we’ll have to adjust to and be prepared to handle. As the game goes, we’ll see. It’s really how much man are you getting? Are you getting a lot of pressure? A lot of blitz? They have been pressuring more than when we’ve played them the last two times. You see the linebackers involved in a lot more pressures and we’re going to have to do a good job with our protections and our gaps, be it in the run or the pass.”