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Sean Payton: Analytics have educated me, but some decisions I’d like back

Saints coach Sean Payton explains why his relationship with Drew Brees is so strong, what went wrong against the Cowboys and what goes into a fourth-down decision.

Saints coach Sean Payton is a believer in analytics, and has adopted the aggressive stance on fourth downs that analytics experts have been saying coaches should adopt for years. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few fourth-down decisions he’d like to have back.

Payton said on PFT Live that he regrets the Saints’ failed fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line against the Cowboys last week, even though the analytics said it was the right call.

“I do think that’s where analytics have changed in a positive way,” Payton said. “I think we’re more educated.”

So why does Payton wish he could have that fourth-and-goal decision back? Because each game is different, and in that Cowboys game, he knew points would be at a premium and went into the game thinking a field goal would be a positive result for any drive.

“I kick myself for two or three different situations in that game, not handling them the right way,” Payton said. “We have an opportunity to score, it’s fourth-and-1, I know our fourth down numbers are good, I felt like we had a good plan, and yet, in that game? Kick the field goal.”

Payton also said he doesn’t always want to use his best goal line plays early in a game because he might need them for later. And he said one reason he doesn’t go for two more often is that he doesn’t want to show opposing defenses his best goal line plays and would rather save them for when they might score a touchdown.

“The numbers are important,” he said. “But how do we feel like, with our play inventory, at that point in the game? So if I’m inside the 5-yard line, and I’ve got a section of two-point plays, and let’s say I love two of these. I love them. Certainly if I love this play I want to score six with it. So if I love this play for two, I might wait until the second half.”

Payton made a point of crediting the Cowboys and not shortchanging the way Dallas played, but he also believes he could have given his team a better chance to win. Perhaps even by going against what the chart on his clipboard told him to do.