NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said changing defensive coordinators during the season won’t be a distraction to the team.
“I think the bigger challenge would be coming back [from the bye week] and just continuing on with the normal routine,” Payton said of the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense on Wednesday.
“The point is, we’re just not gonna continue on status quo," Payton added. "That would be madness, right?”
Players are back in practice this week as they Saints (4-6) prepare for a road game against the Houston Texans (5-5). Dennis Allen is running the defense instead of Rob Ryan, who was fired last Monday.
Payton, who spoke to the New Orleans media Wednesday for the first time since making the move, reiterated some of the same reasons he detailed in his weekly radio show last week.
“Obviously you hate to be making a decision like that, especially during the season. It had gotten to a point, though, where something needed to change,” Payton said. “I hate to see that [Ryan] wasn’t successful. But there were a ton of consistent things that were happening that weren’t getting better. And I think a lot of them culminated in that Washington game (a 47-14 loss in Week 10).
"Now that being said, there's a bit of every one of us that has to be better."
Among those issues is players getting lined up correctly. Nothing irks Payton more than having 10 or 12 men on the field. He talked at length Wednesday about how much of a problem that was in 2014, which led to New Orleans simplifying its defensive scheme this year.
“There was a game last season where the first eight plays of the game, we’re misaligned, we don’t even cover down the right way,” Payton said.
That wasn’t as big of an issue in 2015, but Payton hinted that some of the same problems were creeping up when he talked about what Allen’s top priorities will be.
“That’ll be the first thing we work tirelessly on. Getting 'em set, getting 'em aligned, and then obviously all 11 to the football,” Payton said.
Payton made a couple references to possible personnel changes coming as well. But he said it won’t be a total overhaul at this point in the season.
“I don’t think you can at this point toss everything out,” Payton said. “But it might be how we’re doing [things[ and who we’re doing 'em with."
Payton confirmed that Allen has been in charge of putting together third-down plans during the work week – an area where the Saints have actually performed well, ranking seventh in the NFL in opponents’ conversion rates.
However, Payton stressed that third downs haven’t been perfect, pointing to penalties that don’t show up on the stat sheet. And he said the game-planning is always a collaborative effort.
“It’s not like we had a third-down coordinator and a regular coordinator,” Payton said. “But certainly DA’s a veteran, sharp coach and I think a real bright guy. So he’s done a very good job in the nickel and the third-down packages. Much better than we were a year ago. Last year was awful on those down and distances.”
Payton also described Allen as “someone that brings clarity, organizational skills, he’s very thorough, very meticulous” and “has great command and respect in the building.”
In retrospect, Ryan’s firing seemed inevitable from the moment Payton hired Allen as a senior defensive assistant in January. Allen was a member of Payton’s first coaching staff in New Orleans and coached the Saints’ secondary when they won the Super Bowl in 2009.
But Payton rejected the notion that Allen was his “contingency plan” all along.
“Shoot, if I knew that was gonna happen, I would’ve just done it in the offseason,” Payton said. “Look, Rob’s a talented coach. And there’s no one more than me that wanted to see him have success ...
“There was a part of me that felt like, ‘Hey, we got a chance to get this thing turned around.’ And look, it didn’t happen. You know, it’s hard to be 32nd in the league in anything. And generally there are a lot of dirty hands that are involved in it.”