METAIRIE, La. – Statistics can sometimes mask the truth and, in 2012, at least on offense, they’re doing that for the New Orleans Saints.
On the surface, as New Orleans heads into a pivotal NFC showdown with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the Saints aren’t far off from their 2011 ratios on offense.
The Saints threw the ball 130 times and ran it 72 in the opening three weeks of 2011. A year later, New Orleans has 137 passes to 56 rushes.
But while they started 2-1 in 2011, they’re 0-3 in 2012.
And the coaching staff would like even more balance.
“We just need to be more consistent in the running game,” said Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer, who also is the team’s offensive line coach. “We’ve got to keep calling them.”
He added, “We’ve got to know and have confidence that we can gain yards in the running game as well. We’ve just got to keep plugging at it and the yards will come.”
New Orleans ranks 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards per game, putting up just 92.7 per contest. It has accumulated 50 yards fewer than the league’s net average and has run the ball 24.9 fewer times than the league average.
And yet, at five yards per rush, the Saints rank seventh in the NFL in that statistical category.
In other words, they just have to commit to the run game.
“I guess we’ve just got to show more consistency as players on the field,” Saints running back Mark Ingram said. “I mean, we’ve just got to get into a rhythm and get better to I guess give the coaches more confidence in the run game.”
While some are pointing to the loss of Carl Nicks as the reason the offensive line has faltered, his replacement Ben Grubbs is the second-rated guard according to ProFootballFocus.com
Grubbs also brings with him experience and lessons learned playing alongside one of the game’s best defensive players, Ray Lewis.
“Football is a game of inches, I know you’ve heard that before,” Grubbs said. “It’s true. A false step here and your play is dead. I remember Ray (Lewis) telling me, he was saying that when I was a rookie, when I took my first step, he knew that if it wasn’t the right step he had leverage on me. There are no false steps. You have to be deliberate in your path.”
Darren Sproles might be the team’s most prolific running back. He set the NFL record for all-purpose yards a season ago and led New Orleans with 603 yards rushing. His yards-per-rush average was an astounding 6.9 yards per carry.
But this season, he has only seven carries, all coming in the third game. In other words, he didn’t get the ball on a handoff from Drew Brees in two eight-point losses to Washington and Carolina.
It’s not just Sproles that needs to get rolling, however. Receiver Lance Moore said it’s the offense a whole.
“I think everybody, we have to block better up front and we have to run better routes out there on the perimeter,” Moore said. “We have to make those plays when the ball is up in the air. I mean everybody’s got to play a little bit better and once we do that I don’t think anybody has to play a lot better. Each and every one of us playing a little bit better we’ll be fine.”