METAIRIE, La. – Brian de la Puente watches video of the New Orleans Saints’ first four games and can only shake his head.
He sees Mark Ingram plow into the line and gain only two yards.
He looks as Pierre Thomas can only wiggle for a few yards when there’s miscommunication about a cutback lane.
And each time, de la Puente, the team’s center, sees just inches between a successful run play and one that has helped keep the Saints as the 26th-best run team in the 32-team NFL.
“It’s not an assignment thing,” de la Puente said. “Everyone knows who we got, who we’re supposed to block, what the scheme is supposed to do. It’s close. You see it on film and it’s kind of like, ‘Ahhh!’ You have that reaction a lot. You’re like, ‘Man, that was wide open if this happened.’ You’ve just got to get rid of the ifs and the shoulda, woulda, couldas and just got to get out there and execute and get on the same page.”
If the Saints (0-4) are to get back in the winning column Sunday night against the San Diego Chargers (3-1), it’s likely the run game is going to have to get going again.
Only once in the first quarter of the season has New Orleans appeared to have a legitimate run threat; in a 35-27 loss at Carolina, the Saints ran for 163 yards on 27 carries.
The Saints average only 80.8 yards per game on the ground. Only four teams have rushed the ball fewer times than New Orleans’ 75 attempts. Meanwhile, no team has thrown more passes than New Orleans and Drew Brees.
Yet, Darren Sproles echoes de la Puente’s assessment; they’re close.
“That’s what it looks like on the film, just like one little block away from really gashing some plays,” said the running back who has gained only 82 yards on 12 carries.
Interim head coach Aaron Kromer comes up with the run game plan each week and took credit for the problems.
“We can do a better job inside, but we didn’t do a good job of identifying and blocking the perimeter,” Kromer said. “We need to do a better job there. I can do a better job designing to make it easier for the guys.”
But the players seem to think it’s less about Kromer’s play designs and more about communication between the line and the backs.
“I don’t know if it was necessary execution errors as opposed to all of being on the same page in terms of being maybe a play had cut back when we weren’t expecting it to cut back,” de la Puente said. “It just sets up blocks differently and you end up missing your block because the angles are different than you were expecting it to be.”
San Diego boasts the league’s No. 6-ranked rush defense. In wins against Oakland and Tennessee, the Chargers held the Raiders to 45 yards on the ground and the Titans to 38. Atlanta gained 119 in San Diego’s only loss of the year and Kansas City recorded 115, or 158 fewer than the Chiefs gained against the Saints.
Still, in spite of the issues so far, there’s confidence in the run game heading into this critical interconference game.
“Yes, because we’ve got great backs, we’ve got a great scheme, and we’ve got a great offensive line,” Brees said. “So we have all the pieces there. Now it’s just a matter of execution and commitment.”