The New Orleans Saints‘ backfield is a cluttered, perplexing place that only head coach Sean Payton seems to understand.
Throughout the 2013 season, Payton regularly deployed a fleet of four running backs, all of whom received over 50 carries. To put that in perspective, not only were the Saints the only team to regularly use four backs, only four teams had three running backs carry the ball more than 50 times.
What some might call excellent depth at running back in New Orleans, I call nonsensical and disorganized. Perhaps that’s a glass half-empty outlook, but with no Saints running backs averaging 10 carries per game in the regular season, how are they supposed to establish a rhythm?
With the league’s No. 2-rated pass offense, shouldn’t the running backs have averaged more than a collective 3.8 yards per carry in 2013?
Logic would say yes, and featuring Khiry Robinson in 2014 is the answer. Robinson was used sparingly throughout his first season as a pro, but he flourished when Pierre Thomas missed both playoff games due to injury. He ran for 102 yards on 21 carries in two games for an average of 4.9 yards-per-carry, and he showed great burst both between the tackles and out in space. His field vision in the Saints loss to the eventual champion Seattle Seahawks was also lauded by Fox announcer John Lynch during the broadcast.
Payton chose to hand the ball to Robinson a team-high 13 times against the Seahawks , and it may have had something to do with a conversation between Payton and his mentor. It was reported that Bill Parcells and Payton had a discussion in the days leading up to the game in which Parcells reportedly compared Robinson to Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.
Talk about high praise.
Listen, there’s no questioning that Payton is an offensive wizard who’s a very tough guy to second guess. But with a running game that finished just 26th in yards-per-carry in 2013, it’s time to simplify the Saints’ approach to running the football.
Featuring one back and relegating an aging Sproles to third-down situations would enable the offensive line to better anticipate the lead back’s tendencies. It would also allow a Saints running back to find a real rhythm. Thomas is still in a position to contribute in the NFL, but at what cost? Thomas is due $2.9 million in 2014, while Robinson is set to earn a minimum contract of $495,000.
In 2014, the Saints would reap massive rewards if they do indeed choose to hand over the primary running back responsibilities to the up-and-coming Robinson.