Head Coach Joe Judge
Opening Statement: So, today's Wednesday. We'll start our official prep on the Saints today going forward. We changed up the format today a little bit. It was pre-planned last week in terms of being on the back end of a four-game stretch going into two road games, so we're going to work a little bit differently in terms of splitting up the day today and working on early downs. Simulate Wednesday in the morning, come back in the afternoon to simulate a Thursday. This is very similar to what we did last week against Washington, getting ready for the Thursday game, so kind of putting a lot into one day, giving them a chance to get a jump start and then we'll go ahead and push on through some on-the-field higher speed prep on Thursday, then Friday practice being Friday practice.
When you talk about the Saints, I think the biggest thing that jumps out in all phases is (they're) aggressive and it starts up top with (Saints Head Coach) Sean (Payton). He does a tremendous job with the offense as far creating matchups, getting the run game going, being very creative with his players. Obviously, (Saints Running Back Alvin) Kamara is a guy you've got to account for. This guy is one of the top players in the league. He's a guy that jumps out at you all the time – receiver, runner, screens, whatever it may be. This guy with the ball in his hands is an absolute weapon. We've got to make sure we account for him in everything that we do because of everything that they do with him. They use a number of personnel groups, so whether it's (Saints Quarterback Jameis) Winston back there or (Saints Quarterback) Taysom Hill, these guys pose a lot of problems for you. I think when you talk about their offense the biggest thing is just aggressive – you know, fringe shot-type of team, gadget-type of team, not afraid to go ahead and really roll the dice and take a chance, do a lot of inventive things to keep you on your toes. We've got to be very sound as a team this week on defense and make sure we're accounting for who is on the field and what they do. (Saints Offensive Coordinator Pete) Carmichael obviously does a great job with Sean, has been there for a long time, very good relationship in terms of mapping out that offense. They've kept a lot of the structure consistent through changeovers of players. Obviously, the biggest changeover would be (Drew) Brees. I'd say Winston is playing at a very high level right now. He's doing a lot of good things to keep them in position and obviously winning games.
Defensively, I think (Saints Defensive Coordinator Dennis) Allen does a great job of getting on you and getting after you. You talk about this defense, you start with the secondary on the backend. The corners are very, very aggressive, they're very capable of man-matching you, they're very good in their match zones. The safeties are experienced and they have good versatility as blitzers or deep-field cover players. They don't make a lot of mistakes. They put you in a position you really have to execute. Then, up front they get after you with the pass rush. It starts on the edge with the edge rushers, but the inside penetrates and you have to be looking for (Linebacker Demario) Davis, 56, in the run and the pass game. He's not slow to go ahead and blitz, trigger or hug up on a back if he sees the protection. This guy is someone we need to account for at all times. They have a lot of experience on defense, they have a lot of vet savvy, they don't make a lot of mistakes.
In the kicking game with (Saints Special Teams Coordinator Darren) Rizz (Rizzi), this is a guy I've gone against a number of times. I've learned through my experiences with Darren, 'aggressive' is definitely the word that sticks out. It's the punt rushes, the field goal rushes, the explosive returners. This is a home run-type of team that's always looking for a big play. You've got to make sure that you're executing with good fundamentals and you've got to communicate, which is obviously going to be a challenge down there in the dome (Caesars Superdome).
We expect one of the greatest atmospheres we've ever been in. For those of us who are kind of historians of the game, you look back on that Katrina game, the first game back in the dome. I would expect this to be very, very similar. That town takes a lot of pride in New Orleans, a lot of pride in their team and the team takes a lot of pride in representing their city, so this is going to be a tough game for us. It's a very good opponent, very well-coached, they execute with a lot of explosive schemes and players. We have to have a good week of prep and that starts today. With that said, I'll open up to any questions you may have.
Q: When you're going against a team that's as aggressive as they are, do you look at your philosophy and say we have to match their aggressiveness or do you take the opposite approach?
A: I think you have to be aggressive in how you do things as a team all the time. I think it's aggressive in terms of your fundamentals and within the flow of the game. Aggressive doesn't mean going out there and throwing haymakers all the time and doing foolish things that take you out of the flow of the game. The first thing you've got to do going down to play against a team like this is it starts with good fundamentals. You've got to go down there and execute your techniques to give you a chance. What a lot of teams do against a team like the Saints – you're in the heat of the environment, it's loud, there's a lot of energy, they have explosive players – a lot of times you have a tendency maybe as a coach with a call you make or a player to go out there and do something outside of yourself. Now, all of a sudden instead of worrying about just what's my responsibility on this play and what techniques and fundamentals do I have to execute it with, you do something that has a breakdown in it and that's when they really expose you. If you go ahead and you see Kamara with the ball in his hands and you think, 'I've just got to get him on the ground,' and you're going for a big hit or you're just thinking about not getting beat, you're not thinking about keeping your feet under your body, scalping in, holding your leverage, making the tackle, keeping your eyes up, seeing what you hit and those are really the things you've got to think about. On every play, it starts with good fundamentals and we've got to bring everything back to what's my job on this play, what's my key, my assignment, my fundamentals, and I've got to focus on executing my job with the right fundamentals. We do that, we have a chance.
Q: I know you said today's practice was pre-planned, it is shorter. How much input from the players is there on what you guys are doing practice-wise? Have you heard any complaints about too much conditioning, too much running?
A: No, not outside of you guys. But I would say this in terms of our philosophy for this program and what we do, I'd emphasize what I've said all along with this, this is not an experimental program. This is a time-tested program that's worked that I've been a part of on multiple levels, whether it was at the collegiate level or the professional level. I've been a part of this with great success. Not only has it been a program that's had success, it's been a program that's kept players healthy. There was a time we were the oldest team in the league and also the healthiest team in the league for a duration of several years. You look back in terms of what we did, in terms of last week's practice specifically – which I know the next question is going to be about – actually, last week's practice was a little bit less than what we've done in the past. It was basically the same format of what we've done on Wednesday and Thursday practices in the past. We pulled back a little bit. We work very hand-in-hand with our medical department, our sports science department to make sure we keep monitors on individual players and what their individual loads are. We're very specific in terms of what we do with our guys on a daily basis and making sure we keep tabs on where they're at. In terms of how we train our players with the emphasis of, number one, keeping them healthy. You go back to soft tissue injuries in 2020 (and) it was the lowest this organization has had in previous years, previous three seasons. Our hamstring injuries last year specifically were half the league average last year. When we look at soft tissue injuries around the league last year, our reduced time of missed (games) – while the NFL average went up, we reduced it by previous years. In terms of missed time in practice, we had the second-fewest missed practices in the NFL last year, the third-fewest missed games excluding the IR and among the fewest players last year to go to IR that didn't return. Translation – our guys are healthy enough to return after missing some time. The emphasis on our program starts with player health all the time. That's it, point blank. These are things we explain to our players in the spring, in training camp and we reinforce it throughout the season. Simply put, high speed training is necessary to avoid soft tissue injuries. Now, there's things that happen and we look back and we examine everything that happens with any injury, whether it's a collision injury, whether it's a non-contact injury like (Linebacker) Blake (Martinez) had the other day or maybe it's something that's soft tissue, but we look through that all the time and dissect that. So, in terms of the questions of how we're practicing or what we're doing, the volumes of practice last week not only were nothing new, they were actually a little bit less than they were in the past. In terms of specifically the conditioning you're asking about, actually the only thing I did differently with conditioning last week was I didn't condition on Thursday, so maybe that was a mistake.
Q: Two games losing at the final whistle, how do you teach a team to win? It's not as simple as it sounds, but is there an answer?
A: We stress the fundamentals of every play and you talk about the finish to the game – so you've got to finish the game out, right? But when does that happen? It happens in the first 59 minutes and 59 seconds. It's not on that last second right there, so we've got to put ourselves in a position to make the plays that come our way. We've got to put our players in the right call and make sure we're on the same page and we have to execute for 60 minutes. That's really the whole thing. In terms of the narrative of 'how do you win', you've got to stop from losing, number one. You've got to cut out the mistakes that keep you from being successful. That's turnovers, mental errors, penalties. You've got to cut those things out. When you eliminate those things that slow your opportunities for having success, all of a sudden you find yourself in the right position. When you come back to this right here and we talk to our players every week, what's the truth? The truth is what's on tape. We can watch it and see things we've done well, and we can watch it and see things that we have to go ahead and we have to correct as a team. Until you get those things corrected as a team, you're not going to have the opportunities for success that you should have. Close isn't good enough. We're not playing horseshoes and hand grenades. We have to have results. We understand that. It's a production business and we're going every week for success and success in this league is winning, right? We have to understand when we put ourselves in position for these games, what's ultimately the difference at the end of the game and it doesn't come down to that last play. It's a series of, you could say sometimes it's four or five, seven, 10, whatever it is, plays throughout the game. You have to look at it and say, 'These were really the plays that stopped us early that prevented us late from having success.' So, to me, it's fundamentals from the opening whistle to the end of the game.
Q: Where's the line for you – we asked you about (Offensive Coordinator) Jason Garrett on Monday and you said you wanted to stay the course before making any radical changes. Not just in relation to him, where's the line for you as a coach between wanting to stay the course, keep teaching the fundamentals and everything, and feeling the need to make radical changes to save your season?
A: When I know the right things are being taught, that we're playing with good fundamentals, that we're putting our players in a position to be successful, then I don't see a reason to change up our coaching, but there's things that tie into it and we have to make sure we're on the same page all the time. Look, I tell our players all the time, the first person I look at postgame is myself in the mirror. I start with things I did, decisions I made. How did we execute in practice throughout the week? What schemes did I allow to be kept in the game plan? What did I allow to be called in certain situations? How did I manage the time in a situation throughout the course of the end of the half and the end of the game? That starts with me and then it goes into the coordinators, the position coaches and then we get to the players. I want to make sure that they're all in the right place before we start getting down to the players. But in terms of making any kind of radical changes, we've got to correct some things internally and fundamentally and give ourselves a chance for success and that's what we're focused on right now.
Q: When your offense is struggling to score, I know you want to play the field position game, but don't you think it might make more sense to go for it on these fourth downs inside the 40 and give them more of a chance to score a touchdown rather than playing the field position game there? Do you rethink that?
A: Do I go through every situation and think about would I have done something differently and how would it work? Yeah, absolutely. I always kind of play that side. Specifically, with the one you asked about this week in the game, we're on the 39-yard line, fourth-and-four situation, we punt it and we down the ball inside the five. To me, in that situation right there, that's something that sometimes we may have (Kicker) Graham (Gano) kick a field goal. With the wind the other day, that wasn't going to be the case because of the hard crosswind right there. It just wasn't a high percentage and when you give them the ball at midfield, obviously, they've already made an advantage. There was a large part of the first half (where) we played the half on our side of the 50 before we had to start getting drives going. We got to a point in the second half, I was pleased with how the defense was playing. I thought they were in control of the game. I thought our offense was moving the ball effectively. At that time, there was wind at our backs, so it would've been in their face for the next drive. We punted the ball down there, we downed it where we wanted to inside the five-yard line. We've got to stand up on defense, hold the field position, force a punt with the wind in their face and then capitalize on good field position as an offense. So, you can sometimes go ahead and be overly aggressive and swing for the fences, but you've got to trust and play to your kicking game and your defense, as well. If they do their job, the offense gets a whole 'nother swing of the bat right there to be in field position for four more downs, as opposed to just having one more down where maybe they have the ball at midfield right there.
Q: You're saying there are situations where you'd consider going for it there and you're just playing it case by case?
A: Yeah. To me, it's the flow of the game. If you kind of look back to a lot of decisions I've made as head coach, I'm not afraid to go for it on fourth down. I've referenced at times, we've gone for it to be over-aggressive at times, we've been successful on a lot of fourth downs around here. I'm not afraid to go for it on fourth down, I'm not afraid to go for two, I'm not afraid to run fakes, onside kicks. Trust me, I don't live in a world of fear, I don't, but I've got to make sure that every decision I make is calculated to put the team in a position for success. There's times I want to blow my chest out and say, 'Alright, here we go. We're going for this one right here.' That's not always the best thing for the team. Sometimes you can get caught up in the emotion, which normally when you do that you remove the logic and thinking that you went into the game and the flow of the game with, you're going to make the wrong decision. So, to me in those moments, I've got a couple of people I talk to in terms of just kind of, 'Hey, here's the situation. I'm thinking A or B. Let's think of the consequences of this right here. It could be really, really good. Does it put our team in a disadvantage if it goes wrong?' Now, I don't live in a world of fear of if it doesn't go right, what's it going to look like? But I've got to live in a world of trust of I can put our defense down there to play from inside the five-yard line and I trust that they're going to keep those guys down there, and we're going to get the ball back in positive field position and go make a play and move the ball the way they've been doing.
Q: How much and where does analytics factor in to you in regards to decision-making?
A: Analytics is just a tool. It's nice to look at the numbers and how they go through the flow of the game, but the analytics change based on the opponent, based on who you have available for the game and how the flow of the game is going, too. You can look at a stat sheet all you want, I promise you if Excel was going to win football games, Bill Gates would be killing it right now. You got take those numbers as a tool and then you've got to go and factor in how your team is playing at the time and what the opponent has, as well. You've got to measure your strengths and weaknesses against the opponent every time, and then also in terms of flow of the game.
Q: Back to what you mentioned earlier, you said maybe you should have conditioned on Thursday. Why is that?
A: Just being a wise ass. (laughs)
Q: A quick follow up on the injuries and stuff, how are (Wide Receiver Darius) Slayton, (Wide Receiver Sterling) Shepard and (Guard Ben) Bredeson's hand? Can you give us an update on that?
A: We'll kind of get a better feel today. I would say, obviously, today is a walkthrough. If this was a full speed day, we wouldn't see these guys in full speed action. We have a little bit more time going into the game and stuff like that. We'll see coming out today and how tomorrow looks right there.
Q: Correct me if I'm wrong here, I think I saw (Offensive Tackle) Isaiah Wilson walk back into the building this morning. If you guys are bringing him in, what makes you think that you could get him on the straight and narrow when other organizations have not?
A: Well, I'll say two things. One, I'm not going to comment specifically on any transactions until they're complete or happen. But to comment on your question right there in terms of just dealing with players (and) in terms how we can help develop them, I'm going to be honest with you, I have a lot of trust in the staff we have here. I have a lot of trust in the support we have here and I have a lot of trust in the program we have here to put people in a position to be successful. I don't think it's a blanket of what someone else has done with someone that has to tie in how they do successfully for you. I think there is a point in time that everybody needs a fresh start. I think that if you treat everyone on an individual basis and understand the person and you address someone as a person in terms of what's best for that guy to help them get on their straight and narrow, then they have a chance for success. That's not directed directly to the one you asked about, but that's just in general, period. When it comes down to whether it's the draft or free agency and it always comes up – people ask about personalities and certain things, I'll tell you right now and I say it all the time in there – I tell (President and Chief Executive Officer) John (Mara), I tell (Senior Vice President and General Manger) Dave (Gettleman), I tell them all the time – I've got no problem with personalities. A lot of people don't like my personality. I have no problem with personalities. I can deal with pretty much anything. I've got an eclectic group of friends from all different walks of life. I can pretty much deal with anybody as long as they're themselves and they're honest and, in this setting, that they love football. So, if you meet those three things – if you're an honest person, you're going to be yourself on a daily basis and you love football – yeah, I'll be able to deal with you, no problem.