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“The Athletic” names Sean Payton top coach in the NFL at midseason point

The Saints have dealt with a lot so far this season, but Payton has them at 5-2 and in striking distance of the NFC South lead

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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints’ first two weeks of the season were a quintessential case of Jekyll and Hyde. In Week 1, it was a 38-3 drubbing of the Green Bay Packers. Week 2, meanwhile, was a 26-7 helping of humble pie served by the Carolina Panthers. At that point, it seemed like the Saints were in for a roller coaster of a season.

Fast forward to Week 9, and the Saints are 5-2, having won four of their last five. The loss was a baffling one to the New York Giants in which the team collectively fell apart, but moments like that are to be expected when you’re dealing with the hodgepodge of injuries the Saints have to this point.

At the core of all of this is head coach Sean Payton. For these reasons, Payton was listed as the No. 1 coach in the NFL at the season’s midpoint according to The Athletic.

It’s hard not to be impressed with the way Payton has dealt with challenges thrown his way. With Michael Thomas now out for the season alongside quarterback Jameis Winston, the Saints will now have to ride a defense it was already putting a lot of pressure on even harder. Whether Trevor Siemian or Taysom Hill lines up under center next week, the offense is going to once again look different.

Payton, however, is no stranger to making things work. When Drew Brees was injured in 2019, Teddy Bridgewater came in and went 5-0 as a starter. Last season, when Brees was injured again, Hill started four games and went 3-1 (with the caveat one of those games was against a team without a quarterback in the Broncos and the loss was a particularly ugly one against the Eagles).

What’s impressive about him is his flexibility. Where many coaches try to make the players fit into their scheme, Payton tries to make the scheme fit his players. With Bridgewater is a conservative approach designed to capitalize on his short throw accuracy. With Hill it was a hybrid offense to mask his deficiencies in the pocket. With Winston it was neutered offense designed to keep him out of trouble. The result is that Payton, in the past three seasons, is 10-3 when Brees isn’t on the field. He was never a product of his quarterback, the quarterback complemented him perfectly.

Naturally, Payton can’t be crowned Coach of the Year at the midway point. With Winston and Thomas out for the season, this consistency will be hard to keep up. On their schedule, games against the Bills, Cowboys and Buccaneers loom large. To win even one of these games would be impressive (yes, even with the big win over the Buccaneers on Halloween). To win two would have to put him firmly in the conversation, especially given the quality of the rest of the schedule for the Saints from here on out.

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