METAIRIE, La. – Pierre Thomas likes to joke that he’s surprised when people talk about the remarkable balance he shows on the football field because of the lack of stability he shows off of it.
“A lot of people say I have incredible balance but sometimes I know I’m just walking down the street and I trip,” Thomas said recently. “I hear people say I’ve got good balance but I can’t even walk right.”
As long as he keeps his balance on the field, though, he’ll be just fine.
Few running backs in the NFL have the mind-boggling ability Thomas has at eluding tackles, spinning off tackles and frustrating opposing coaches.
Against Carolina, Thomas caused an eye-popping 12 broken or missed tackles according to ProFootballFocus.com.
In listening to those who play with – and against – Thomas, balance is the one word that pops up again and again.
Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel says it’s Thomas’ strong legs that stand out while breaking down video of the Saints.
“He doesn’t go down easy,” said Crennel, whose Chiefs play the Saints on Sunday. “He has some toughness and he is one of those guys that you have to tackle.”
Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton, for one, is glad to be on the same team as Thomas.
When asked if there was a specific play that stood out from his time in Atlanta, he didn’t hesitate in recalling a play from 2009 when he slammed into Thomas but failed to wrap up.
The result of the play? A Saints touchdown
“We ran a blitz and I came through and I hit him but I didn’t wrap him up,” Lofton said. “He spun out and ran in for a touchdown.”
Lofton added, “He probably has the best balance of any back and he runs low, runs behind his pads. And that’s tough because when he’s low like that, you’ve got to get low and if you don’t, he’s just going to bounce off of you and keep going.”
In 65 games with New Orleans, the former undrafted rookie free agent find out of Illinois has 2,628 career rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. He also has caught 171 passes for 1,408 yards and another seven scores.
Thomas’ 4.9 yard-per-carry average is third-best in franchise history (minimum 250 carries) behind only Archie Manning (5.8) and Hokie Gajan (5.4).
But it’s his leg-churning, defender-carrying runs that mystify those who play alongside him.
“He has a great feel for the game to say that he doesn’t see the guy coming but he knows he’s there and he’s waiting for it and he’s prepared for the next impact,” right tackle Zach Strief said. “Those are things that you can’t teach. That’s not something that you can train a guy to see or feel.
“Any of these runs where Pierre somehow gets hit by six people, looks like there’s a crowd and then Pierre is like falling forward for five extra yards. That kind of mad scramble for the last foot is always kind of classic Pierre.”
Said quarterback Drew Brees, “I’m amazed at his balance, ability to shed tacklers and his ability to stay on his feet. (He’s) come up with some big plays. I get the best seat in the house. It’s fun to hand it off and watch that guy run at times.”
Strief praised Thomas as the quintessential player that Sean Payton has brought in to shape the team, using the word heart in describing the running back.
Against Carolina, Thomas appeared to be one of the few players unaffected by the team’s slow start. He ran for 110 yards on only nine carries and had a 48-yard run that was the longest of his career. He also caught four passes for 33 yards.
But you won’t find him pleading for more touches, though he wouldn’t turn them down if they came his way.
“It doesn’t matter. If my name is getting called, I’m touching the ball,” Thomas said. “Anytime I touch it I’m going to take advantage of it. Any chance I get. You have a nice rotation going with a lot of backs we use. I know those touches are limited.”
And while others describe Thomas’ running style as balanced, he has another description.
“I already know my running style is ugly,” Thomas said. “I say that myself and look at myself and say I run ugly. I don’t have a nice form like a lot of these guys. But it works for me. Whatever works for me I’m going to stick with it. I’m just blessed with this talent and going out and taking advantage of it on the field.”