METAIRIE, La. — Sean Payton is putting nearly all of his players on notice, whether he winds up making any significant late-season changes or not.
The New Orleans Saints have long praised their head coach’s knack for motivating his charges by knowing what to say and when to say it.
On Monday, when asked if his team’s latest loss in St. Louis requires adjustments in areas such as left tackle or kicker, Payton responded like this: “Listen, I think we’re looking closely at every element. You know, I told the players today in the team meeting we’re looking closely at each aspect of this team.
“I just think it’s important for us to do that,” Payton continued. “Whether it’s the tackle position, whether it’s a player on defense … we’re going to look closely at what our options are and what gives us the best chance.”
The stakes are high this week. The Saints (10-4) can win the NFC South and second-seed in the NFC playoffs with a victory at divisional foe Carolina (10-4), but could be in jeopardy of sliding back to a wild card spot — or missing the playoffs altogether — with a loss.
Payton spent Monday morning reviewing video of New Orleans’ sloppy, lopsided 27-16 loss at St. Louis on Sunday. In doing so, he got better looks at his team’s myriad breakdowns, including those which led to two interceptions, a lost fumble, a failure to recover a mid-game onside kick, a blocked field goal, a missed field goal, an offensive line penalty that wiped out a touchdown, and missteps by defenders that allowed Rams running back Zach Stacy break loose for a 40-yard touchdown.
“It’s a tough day when you come back off a game like that,” Payton said.
While Payton isn’t likely to dramatically shake up a roster that has accounted for 10 wins, he made it clear that certain players’ roles, or the scope of their assignments, could change.
“It’s our job with an important game coming up to make corrections and then also to look closely at whom we are asking to do certain things,” he said.
Payton benched left tackle Charles Brown in the third quarter at St. Louis. Brown’s penalty for hands to the face wiped out a TD pass to Lance Moore late in the second quarter, after which Garrett Hartley had the first of his two missed field goal attempts blocked.
Brown also struggled on plays which resulted in heavy pressure on Drew Brees, who was sacked four times and often threw under duress. Hartley, meanwhile, has missed 8 of 29 field goal attempts inside 50 yards this season (He made his only kick beyond 50).
Payton declined to say whether the shake-up that occurred on the offensive line — with Zach Strief moving from right tackle to left tackle, and with Bryce Harris stepping in at right tackle — might carry over to next Sunday’s game.
“It was one aspect that I think we needed to change during the flow of that game,” Payton said. “In fairness to him, I think there were a lot of things we didn’t do well in that game.”
Brees, meanwhile, said he has “all the confidence in the world in Charles Brown.” At the same time, even Brees seemed to understand that a demotion is possible.
“The fact is we’ve got three very capable tackles and whoever’s in there I’m confidence will do a great job,” he said.
Also troubling New Orleans is its 3-4 road record.
Brees suggested the Saints might benefit from a simpler game plan.
“By doing that, I think you allow guys to play faster, play with more confidence,” Brees said. “Also, too, it’s a bit of a mentality. … It’s just establishing that feeling that when we do get down, we’re never out. We are built to be able to overcome any scenario or situation like that. But we’ve got to go out and do it.”
The Saints beat the Panthers 31-13 just two Sundays ago in the Superdome, and New Orleans linebacker Curtis Lofton said there’s no reason to start finger-pointing or panicking now.
“The sky has not fallen. We know we have a good team,” Lofton said. “We’ve got to go out and execute and play good football. We’re not in any predicament. We’re not putting any more pressure on ourselves.”