What's old is new, once again. That's just one way to describe the current mind-set of Saints head coach Sean Payton tonight.
That's one analogy that accurately depicts what the 55-year old offensive genius and one of the NFL's legendary play-callers is very likely trying to figure out at the current moment; which is a way to keep his team competitive enough to continue winning games, while starting QB Drew Brees heals from surgery to the torn thumb ligament on his throwing hand.
But one way that the man in charge of running the show for the past 13 years can define his head coaching legacy while also "saving" the Saints 2019 Season in the process. is by proving to everyone watching across the League that he can lead the Black and Gold to success WITHOUT Brees — and aggressively coach every single game from here on out like it was his very first one.
That very well likely could begin with Sunday’s contest at Seattle, where Payton is expected to continue to roll with back-up #2 QB Teddy Bridgewater, who played for three plus quarters filling in for Brees after he got injured, in the disappointing 27-9 loss against the defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams last Sunday.
Payton, an individual who’s well-known to never back down in the face of adversity, is certainly not afraid to make a return to his more-aggressive style from his previous head coaching past; and it’s the main reason why some observers League-wide suggested that both he and the Saints need to do everything within their power as an organization to play to their other team strengths for as long as Brees remains out of the lineup.
And it's that thought-process which might lead Payton to go back to utilizing some of the previous coaching philosophies and methods that he used originally back at the beginning of the 2006 NFL Season thirteen years ago,
To that very point: Payton was rather coy yesterday when he was asked about who will start in Brees’ absence against the Seahawks, and hinted (or at least wants everyone to think) that he might instead insert #3 QB Taysom Hill as the starter over Bridgewater.
“If you watch the tape closely from last week, you see there’s some tough situations that I think would have been difficult for anyone of our guys playing,” Payton said yesterday to the media in Seattle after practice regarding Bridgewater. “So he’ll be ready to go. He’s a guy that’s won before. And the most important thing is all the other pieces around him.”
Undoubtedly, the Saints’ next several opponents will attempt to make life difficult for the less-experienced Bridgewater, in spite of his having learned the Saints offensive playbook for the past 13-plus months under Payton and Brees’ mentor-ship after they acquired him last summer during mid-August of 2018.
Now with nearly a full week for Payton to modify the offensive scheme to better fit Bridgewater’s strengths as a passer, there’s a good chance that the team fans will see this Sunday and for the next several games, will have a bit of a different philosophy that will focus heavily on the protection schemes along the offensive line and the increased utilization of superstar play-makers Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara.
One would imagine that an offensive genius like Payton will resort to calling the types of plays that are meant to keep an opposing defense honest; which means that no one should be surprised to see an increase in “gadget plays” such as RB screens, end-arounds, sweeps, and maybe even a “flea flicker” or two.
As a head coach-QB "duo" together now for the past 13 years. the beauty of the Payton-Brees offensive scheme has for the most part been the way that the Black and Gold utilizes its passing game with the running game.
It's a combination which often creates mismatches and keeps opposing defenses off balance with a 1-2 combination of "deep shots" down the field via the air; along with a bevy of "smash-mouth" runs right up the proverbial gut or the very "heart" of the defensive front.
However, that could work against the Saints and Payton beginning this Sunday in Seattle; since it's expected that from this point on, every opponent that New Orleans will face will attempt to "stack the box" against the Saints offense and Bridgewater — with the defensive plan being that they can try and force the Black and Gold to rely much more on its running game; and therefore make Bridgewater less of a threat by forcing him to be conservative and "check down" or throw underneath (as he did often last week against the Rams).
With that in mind, perhaps we'll see the more aggressive style that Payton used to embrace during his first few years as the Saints head coach, by increasing the utilization of the types of plays meant to keep defenses honest.
It also means that we could very well see an increase in the "play-action" passing philosophy that Payton employed earlier during his first few seasons at the helm of the franchise, as well. It would come as somewhat of a surprise. if we don't see the Saints aggressively up the rate of their play-action usage over the next few weeks.
Bottom line: If you thought the Saints were going to play it “close to the vest” while Brees is out recovering from surgery, you very well could be in for one helluva shock!
This whole past week undoubtedly has conjured up memories of the past for both Payton and the team's fan-base, to a future fraught with uncertainty — in a very similar manner to the one that was experienced some 13 years ago.
As most Who Dat fans will recall, that was when Payton was still not quite certain about what type of situation he would be faced with after taking control of the team back at that time, following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
And on top of that: a 26-year old free-agent QB (and then-former San Diego Chargers starting quarterback) named Drew Brees who had just recovered from surgery for a torn labrum in his right throwing shoulder.
In his very first game as head coach of the Saints with the still-recovering and nearly-fully healed Brees under center (September 10th, 2006), Payton and the Saints defeated the Cleveland Browns 19-14 at the infamous "Dawg Pound" at Cleveland Stadium in Ohio.
Brees was 16 of 30 for 170 yards with 1 TD pass (a 12-yard pass to WR Marques Colston) and 1 interception, but on that day looked nothing like the future Hall of Fame-caliber QB that he has since gone on to eventually become.
It was thanks to an aggressive game-plan by Payton and a fine overall performance by the Saints defense, that propelled the Black and Gold to victory and set the tone for what would become a very successful first season for Payton, who was chosen 2006 NFL Coach of the Year and led New Orleans to its first-ever appearance in the NFC Championship Game (a loss to the Bears at Chicago).
"This (Sunday's game at Seattle) is where Payton will have a chance to prove that his success with Brees, can still carry on after the Brees Era is over and that he will coach like it’s his first game and a "must-win."
That's a sentiment shared by all Saints fans and something that we hopefully will all get to see in 72 more hours from now, in a crucially important contest against the Seahawks.
Perhaps it will be the moment where Sean Payton "saves" the Saints 2019 NFL Season — and clearly defines his head coaching legacy in New Orleans right along with it......