The down and the distance, the place in the field, the defense that they are anticipating, everything has been discussed, dissected, drilled and factored into the game plan. All that remains is the call.
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton looks down on his creation, a two-sided, color-coded, laminated play sheet with some notes scribbled on the scoreboard. The options are extensive, the writing is so small that it is difficult to read. The game clock ticks when Payton quickly calculates the variables and lands on what his preparation and intuition tell him is correct. His goal is to relay the call to quarterback Drew Brees with at least 19 seconds left in the game clock, which gives him a buffer before communications are interrupted after 15 seconds.
"By entering the games, he's very well prepared," Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said of Payton. "Situations arise and arise, and he knows exactly where he wants to get on the call sheet."
It is Payton who pulls the strings in the offensive attack of New Orleans. He spends long days developing a relationship with the guys who will execute his vision and the last nights studying carefully all the little details that can give his team an advantage on the day of the game. The feeling, the confidence and the competition have to be united for this to be successful.
After the game call leaves his lips, he has lost all control.
"It's easier, when money stops with you, to call what your instinct tells you to call," Payton said.
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Payton and the Saints will host the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday (January 20), in a game featuring two of the most innovative offensive minds in the NFL. Payton and his Rams counterpart, Sean McVay, called their own plays when their teams finished with the numbers 2 and 3 in the league in scoring offense.
There are similarities between the two, beyond Payton's joke when asked about this topic: "We spell our name in the same way".
Its roots are established in the same soil.
Both were successful high school marshals who went to play at the Midwestern universities: Payton in eastern Illinois, McVay in Miami, Ohio. Both had formative experiences with Jon Gruden in his early coaching jobs in the NFL, with Payton spending two seasons as a field marshal for the Eagles, while Gruden was the offensive coordinator, and McVay badumed his first position as badistant coach of receivers in the last season of Gruden. The head coach of the Buccaneers in 2008.
"Sean (McVay) cut his teeth under Jon Gruden, I cut my teeth under Jon Gruden," Payton said. "The games that start looking different, I remember hearing that 100 times (from Gruden) and Sean has tried it "
In this sense, they have taken divergent paths this season.
The 55 offensive touchdowns scored by the Rams in 2018 came from just three staff groups, tied for the least number in the NFL. The Saints' 59 offensive touchdowns have emerged from 13 different leading groups in the NFL.
"What strikes me most is the ability (of Payton) to find ways to use everyone," Saints fullback Zach Line said. "Not only everyone on the team, but he does an amazing job of tracking the league in those plays that I do not know how you would find that fit into the scheme we face."
This week, Saints receiver Austin Carr estimated that the team worked with 50 unique personnel packages. Much of Payton's game is in the details, with each call or training designed not only for the success of that individual call, but to set something up somewhere along the way …
"It's a game of chess," said Carr. "You hear that said a lot, but actually I see the strategy in the different pieces that move every week."
That is a stark contrast between the two teams on the surface, but in reality it only relies on a different approach to achieve the same end.
Whether the whole range of the offense is running with a uniform appearance or by presenting an exhaustive list of personnel to be taken into account, the objective is always to present certain unpredictability for opposing defenses.
"(McVay) does an excellent job of giving it the same look, but still plays different moves with it," said Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.
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Go beyond the schemes and you will find two coaches who deeply understand the players they are working with and find ways to put them in the best position to succeed.
There is a confidence that comes with your ability to communicate the mission effectively with conviction, and there is an appreciation of the intuitive feeling that goes beyond what a picture requires in a specific situation.
"There are certain moments in games where being a good player, you can not teach, but there are certain times when you have to go for that dagger or you have to go back a bit," said the Rams' quarterback. Jared Goff "There are only different ebbs and flows in the games, I think (McVay's) had a great idea of that."
Saints running back Alvin Kamara said Payton's effectiveness is reduced to confidence. Left tackle Terron Armstead characterized him as audacity.
Both were landing effectively in the same conclusion.
"Study a lot, you know what you're looking for," Kamara said. "But at the end of the day, he has confidence in us and has confidence in himself as a caller to know what is the right time to call plays."
"It's not being afraid to challenge us or have so much confidence and trust in us or in the system that we can go out and make a play regardless of the circumstance," Armstead said.
There is a healthy admiration between the two coaches. As they tour movies throughout the league in search of things they might incorporate in their own attacks, they often find something they appreciate about each other.
McVay pointed to the fourth and goal call of the Saints against the Eagles in the divisional round. In it, he saw a family aggressiveness, a calculated risk that did not fall into imprudence. With his team losing 14-0 at home and the season on the line, Payton looked at that laminated and color-coded play sheet and relied on his instincts.
It was all the hours of preparation, the understanding of the situation and the players at their disposal, the belief in the game call and the confidence in their players to carry it out successfully, all distilled in a single work.
"I have a lot of respect and admiration for Coach Payton and for the way he calls a game to win, not to be afraid of losing it," McVay said. "I'd like to think that that's something we also do in the Rams."