Despite a a 28-16 victory over the Chicago Bears, a 5-0 record in the NFC and a three-game first place lead in the NFC South, I still have some concerns about the New Orleans Saints’ running game. Playing at Soldier Field, New Orleans managed only 66-yards on 28 rushing attempts, for a dismal 2.8 yards per carry average.
There are those who argue that with a prolific passing attack led by Drew Brees and concocted by offensive mastermind Sean Payton, the Saints don’t really need to have a solid running game. With capable receivers like Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and monster tight end Jimmy Graham, they argue that a running game to power through games is just not necessary. Besides, they will say, the way that Payton incorporates running backs into the passing game with screen passes and swing passes, more than makes up for the deficiencies in the running game that New Orleans is currently experiencing.
This is all true, and Payton knows how to put his players into positions so that they will succeed. There is no doubting this. However, as the season progresses, it will become necessary for the Saints to be able to pick up a yard or two on the ground when they need to.
Against the Bears Sunday afternoon, New Orleans managed just five rushing first downs and were 6-16 on third-down conversions. The Saints were also tackled for a loss eight times by Chicago defenders.
Even a slight improvement would make New Orleans dynamic and versatile enough to slug it out during those late-season games when wins become more and more important. Besides, being able to hand the ball off and pick up positive yardage will limit Brees’ exposure to hits and sacks, and nobody will argue against that.
If New Orleans wants to make a deep run into the postseason this year, Payton needs to figure out a way for the running to contribute more than they have been.