2006 marked the year that Sean Payton first put on a headset for the New Orleans Saints. After leading them straight to the NFC Championship Game in his first year as coach, Saints fans and NFL fans nationwide immediately expected to see the same story unfold year in and year out.
Well, we know how that prediction turned out. The Saints collapsed, injuries flooded and some bad decisions were made on the part of the Saints coaching staff. From what went from a " Cinderella" story, to a questionable coach that looked like he was unable to turn the Saints around, Sean Payton suddenly hit a wall that he himself couldn't get away from.
The years went on though, and eventually it all just clicked. Drew Brees was healthy, Reggie Bush came in and was running the ball well, Jeremy Shockey was traded over from New York, and the Saints defense had become more dominant in what seemed to be an off seasons worth of work.
“I guess you’d say more traveled in having gone through these games,’’ Payton said Sunday after being questioned on his team. “Each week you learn things about yourself and about your team and about your preparation. I thought last week we had good focus. I felt like our guys were looking forward to playing. The way we practiced was a real good sign that we were ready. To answer your question, I think just from the experience you learn more as a coach, and I think the other thing that’s important is that you never want to stop learning.”
Now that all of that is in the past, Sean Payton looks like a genius. Probably not the loudest coach in the league, Payton often makes the decisions quietly but effectively, and more often than not gets Drew Brees and the Saints offense into the rhythm that they use so effectively when marching down the field.
Sean Payton may not be the next Vince Lombardi just yet. Something he has done very well though, is to not put himself before the team. Which is what a lot of coaches tend to do in this modern era of football. There's no doubt that Sean Payton is a great offensive mind, but the Saints were once an offensive disaster. Combine that with a bit of gloating, and a bit too much confidence, and you've got yourself a team that resembles the 2009 Seattle Seahawks.
One key to the Saints that Sean Payton has discovered is how to use Reggie Bush effectively. When Bush first was drafted out of USC, he was notably not the easiest guy to work with. More of statistical type player rather than a team one, Bush would go through spells of playing great, and spells of playing poorly. He still does up to this day.
Sean Payton didn't give up on him though. With Deuce McCallister right next to Bush to take his place at any given opportunity, Payton discovered that Bush wasn't the dominant back that everyone predicted him to be. Bush relies on steady game play, the odd hand off and the odd reception, Payton realised this and knew it was in his best interests to change the Saints game plan.
Nothing could prove my statement more true than Bush's performance this weekend against the Arizona Cardinals. Run after run, catch after catch, burst of speed after burst of speed, Bush looked like the back that we had been waiting so long to see.
With a tough game against the Minnesota Vikings on the horizon, Payton is going to have to work hard. No doubt about it. One thing he can rely on though is Drew Brees' ability to take advantage of poor corner backs and safeties, something that the Vikings have a lot of. Expect Bush to get early hand offs, as the Saints try and make the run game present from the early going. A few wildcat options may not be a bad decision either, as the Saints can't afford to get to predictable.
As for Sean Payton, win or lose this Sunday, he's had a great season. Coaching a nearly undefeated team close or possibly into the Super Bowl is one thing, but doing it in such style is another. Hats off to him, he is truly one of the best coaches of today.