METAIRIE, La. — For the first time this season, the Saints appeared to have something resembling a run game in their loss to New England.
They rushed 26 times for 131 yards, a robust 5.0 yards per carry.
Then they hit the bye week.
All that positive momentum down the drain, right?
Not so fast.
During the bye, the Saints’ coaching staff sat down for a self scout, of which the run game was a large part.
“I think during the bye week one of the things we talked about was just more of a consistency and not having the minus runs,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I thought in the second half of the New England game, we ran it better. Part of that is me, and being patient with it, and it is something we will continue to do.”
Payton’s next chance to keep calling run plays comes today, when the Saints (5-1) host the Bills (3-4) at noon at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Buffalo isn’t exactly world beaters when it comes to stopping the run.
Far from it.
The Bills rank 28th in the NFL against the run, allowing 123.6 yards per game, and 18th in yards per rush at 4.04. Heading into this game, meanwhile, New Orleans ranks 22nd in running the ball and 28th in yards per run.
In spite of boasting the league’s fourth-best offense, New Orleans knows a competent run game is key to ultimate success.
“We’ve obviously passed the ball pretty well and run the ball well in spots,” tight end Benjamin Watson said. “But we want to be more consistent running the football. We want to be more consistent running the football in short-yardage situations.”
New Orleans’ most success under Payton has come when a run game complements a potent passing attack.
And because of that, when the Saints needed a first down in short-yardage, or needed a score in a goal-to-go situation, they could get it.
This year, however, they’ve had issues in those situations, punctuated by a triple dose of stuffing against Tampa Bay, when three runs from inside the 3 were stoned before the goal line.
That has to change and the team knows it.
“No matter how well you throw the ball, there’s going to come a time when you have to run the football,” Watson said. “The National Football League, even in college football, there comes a time when you have to line up and run the football. We want to be confident that when that time comes, we can execute and get the yards that we need.”