Basketball and Beyond: Sean Payton on in-game communication in the NFL

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be an NFL caliber quarterback?

Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints joined Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski on Basketball and Beyond with Coach K this week and talked about just how much work his Super Bowl MVP and six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, Drew Brees puts in each week.

“He’s very routinely driven,” Payton said. “His Wednesday is going to revolve around weight room in the morning, team meeting at 8 am. It’s gonna be base preparation for first and second downs, practice afterward, a follow up workout, and then there’s gonna be film study or practice.”

Think Brees’ day is over? Think again.

“He’ll take a nap on the bean-bag chairs in the locker room,” Payton said. “I can walk down there like it’s clockwork from 5-6 pm. Then after the nap he’ll get up and start looking at third-down tape. He’ll have dinner here and then make his way home in the evening.”

It’s exhausting just listening to Payton talk about Brees’ busy day, but he said that rigorous routine is what makes him a special player.

“He’s so prepared come game day,” Payton said, “that I think the one common mistake people have in evaluating him, they use that word ‘overachiever.’ He’s an exceptional athlete for the position, he’s got extremely good foot quickness … and I think that combined with his work ethic makes him pretty special.”

When you watch an NFL game you’ll see the head coach, offensive coordinators and quarterback in constant communication. Payton took Coach K inside the helmet and shared exactly what happens before a play is called.

“The headset the quarterback wears is a little speaker inside the helmet, which allows him to just listen.” Payton said. “I have a button on my hip that I can push and communicate with him, just me to him, just a way to call plays.”

“There’s a slight beep, I would talk for eight seconds something like ‘Drew: let’s go red right 22 hang … heads up for your checkdown.’ Just a play and maybe a simple tip,” Payton said of the mid-drive talk. “At 15 seconds left on the play clock (communication) shuts off. So it doesn’t allow me eight seconds in to say ‘Drew, I want you to audible here’.


While the headset to helmet communication is crucial, Payton also talked about the way NFL teams utilize instant photos of their offensive positioning. For each play, two photos are taken: one right before the snap, and another a couple of seconds after the snap is called. The photos come in back wide angle and end zone angle, meaning the team has at least four photos of each play at their disposal.

How does this communication and information get put to use? Payton walked Coach K through the last drive at the end of the second half of Sunday’s 49-17 win over the Cowboys.

“We’re a lot like basketball in that at the end of the second quarter,” Payton said, “we’re thinking, ‘How do we get the additional possession?’ We kind of would be aggressive in that any time we’re watching an opponent’s offense drive the ball in the second quarter, I’m looking at how much time we have left, how many timeouts, how do we get the ball in Drew’s hands.”

“All of the sudden, less than a minute we were going to have an opportunity with all three timeouts,” Payton continued. “We were able to field the punt and protect fairly good field possession. […] At that point, Drew is going to handle that no huddle offense, and that’s going to be a series of plays that we’ve discussed during the week. A lot of them are staple plays, spontaneous plays that our players know by heart. Also, we know going into this game they play this coverage and this is what they do in two-minute. Certain ones will be featured based on the defense we’re getting.”

For Payton, Brees and Saints running back Darren Sproles, all of the communication came to fruition just before halftime Sunday night.

Coach K takes to the airwaves Thursdays at 6 pm ET throughout the college basketball season on SiriusXM College Sports Nation. Basketball and Beyond with Coach K, co-hosted by Dave Sims, is in its ninth season, and is available live on Ch. 91, on the SiriusXM app and on SiriusXM On Demand.

Powered by VIP