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Payton tailoring game plan to his players’ strengths, not opponents’ weaknesses

Not that that won’t be a consideration, but the head coach is focusing on what his players do well first.

Good morning, Broncos Country!

In Peter King’s Football Morning in America post yesterday, he pointed out that Broncos’ coach Sean Payton has a unique connection to Jimmy Buffett, the folk hero who died Friday after a four-year battle with melanoma.

It turns out that Buffett was a rabid fan of the New Orleans Saints. And that made him a pretty damn big fan of Sean Payton.

Ode to the Son of a Sailor

In fact, when Buffett gave a concert in 2012, the year Payton was suspended from the NFL for Bountygate, Mr. Margaritaville came to the coach’s defense - in a very public way.

“He played a concert in New Orleans and asked me to come,” Payton sad. “Well, I was laying low and really didn’t want to. But I went. He comes out in a ‘FREE SEAN PAYTON’ T-shirt. At one point he says, ‘We need some help on the bongos!’ I come out and he’s wearing that T-shirt, and I think, ‘Great. Now I’ll be suspended a year and a half.’”

Buffett was equally ticked off over the bad interference call in the 2019 NFC title game between the Saints and the Rams. A few months after the game, the singer showed up to his New Orleans concert dressed as an NFL official with dark sunglasses and a white cane, depicting a “blind ref.” The crowd went nuts.

During the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami, Payton got a chance to hang out with Buffett.

“That first year I was there, it was the Colts-Bears Super Bowl in Miami, and I went down to Miami, and Jimmy asked a few of us to go out on his boat down there,” Payton said. “He had his chef cook us cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers in paradise. How about that?”

But the best Buffett story from Payton revolved around his offensive coordinator Doug Marrone.

Payton first met Buffett while coaching in Dallas. They went to a concert featuring Alan Jackson, George Strait and Jimmy Buffett at Texas Stadium.

“Down the row from us was Doug Marrone; I didn’t know him at the time. But later on, when I got the Saints’ job [in 2006], I interviewed Doug for my offensive coordinator,” Payton said. “When his wife asked him about me, he said, ‘That’s the coach who had the Parrothead hat on at the Jimmy Buffett concert.’ And she said, ‘Oh, you gotta go work for him.’”

Payton told King that while he and the Parrot Heads lost Buffett, the true loss was the Saints who lost their biggest fan.

“What a fan. He loved the Saints. He checked all the boxes. From Pascagoula, Miss. Check. Loved the Saints back to Tulane Stadium. Check. Loved everything about our region. Check. He played the bars on the Florida Panhandle and all through the Gulf Shore, Destin, Pensacola - the Redneck Riviera. Just loved playing the guitar in a bar. That was his life. And the Saints. Every year, if we played eight home games, he’d be at 6, down on the field, next to our bench.”

Come Monday

Payton told King he listened to Buffett all weekend and commented that he’d play “Come Monday” at practice on Labor Day.

When reporters asked the coach on Monday about his music choice at practice and if it featured Buffett, Payton was suddenly all business, noting he’s focused on the Raiders and not on music.

“We’re just focused on our meetings and getting this week started off right, relative to Las Vegas.”

As a disgruntled Broncos’ fan who loves Jimmy Buffett, I appreciate everything about this. Payton was publicly sentimental for his friend until it was business time and there are games to win. I have a feeling Jimmy Buffett would approve.

Because it’s the Raiders, and we just have to stop losing to them - or any AFC West rival.

Although Payton didn’t totally get that rivalry, calling divisional games “important” but admitting he thinks the college game has more true rivalries.

That’s OK. Rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims understands.

Even if Payton doesn’t quite understand the sacrilege of undervaluing AFC West rivalries, he absolutely is not undervaluing the opponent's talent - including Raiders’ running back Josh Jacobs and edge rusher Maxx Crosby.

“He’s really flexible. He’s a tremendous worker, athletic. He’s got one of those motors that doesn’t stop, and he can get to your edge quickly,” Payton said of Crosby. “His ability to bend and then his stamina are things that stand out.”

The Captain and the Kid

As for Jacobs, Payton isn’t going to change his approach. He knows what the Broncos D is capable of doing, and they’ll work within that.

“We wouldn’t tailor our plan,” Payton said, noting that the Broncos’ “plan” is essentially highlighting the key players from the opposing team and then using their own strengths to combat that.

“He certainly is one of the more dominant running backs in the NFL, so that’s how we’ll approach the game,” Payton added.

And that is pretty much the head coach’s approach for the Raiders - or any opponent - in general. Focus on your own team’s strengths rather than trying to worry about the opponent’s weaknesses.

“We got a pretty good grasp as to [our] men’s strengths, [and] the things that [Russell Wilson] does well. Part of it is, each week tailoring the offense around the opponent we’re playing, but also the strengths of our own players. That’s pretty common week-to-week with each opponent.”

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