METAIRIE, La. — The good news for the Saints in regard to a run game that was the focus of an offseason re-dedication?
Thirteen teams were worse in Week 1.
The bad news?
Few teams finished worse than New Orleans’ paltry 2.69 yard-per-carry average.
“But it was frustrating to us as a corps because we want to get more yards on the ground,” running back Pierre Thomas said. “We take pride in what we do in the running back room and we try to establish and set the tempo, set the tone for our team. We take pride in that.”
The Saints will try to be less frustrated Sunday at 3 p.m. in another NFC South showdown, this time at Tampa Bay.
Much of the talk as the offseason bled into the preseason was about how coach Sean Payton realized after watching the team from afar that it had to be better on the ground. The Saints finished 2012 ranked 25th in the league in running yards per game and 13th in yards per attempt. In 2011 and 2009, two of New Orleans’ best seasons statistically, the Saints ended 4th and 7th, respectively, in yards per attempt.
In other words, 2.69 yards per carry isn’t going to cut it.
Yet, while it’s quick to judge the running backs, it wasn’t necessarily their fault against Atlanta on Sunday.
Time and again, Atlanta’s defensive line was in the backfield, winning the battles at the point of attack and leaving New Orleans’ running backs little room to run. While Thomas had the most success, gaining 43 yards on nine carries, both Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram did not, combining for 33 yards on 17 carries.
As such, New Orleans’ run game was rated as one of the worst in opening week by Pro Football Focus.
Still, it should be noted that Payton didn’t give up on the run game, calling 29 such plays against Atlanta. And it helped the Saints earn a nearly 11-minute advantage in time of possession against one of the league’s better offenses.
“We have no excuse why shouldn’t be able to run it,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “So we’re going to make that commitment within the framework of the game and what’s happening. Obviously, we’d like to be very complementary, more so than saying we’re just going beat our head against the wall and run, run, run.”
On the other hand, it is just one game and those playing the game believe the run game will get better and have more production. There will continue to be focus on the run game going into this week as the Saints prepare for a Tampa Bay defense that allowed the New York Jets to rush for only 90 yards.
“It’s going to get better,” Thomas said. “That’s all. It’s going to get better.”
Added Brees, “We have all the pieces in place to have a very effective run game. We’ve been a team that has been a top 5 rushing team before. There’s no reason we can’t get back to that point.”