METAIRIE, La. — As the Saints’ slogged through 2012, working their way to the second-most total yards in team history, something other than the defense seemed askew.
It was the balance, or lack thereof, on offense. Even as Drew Brees was guiding to the team to 6,574 total yards, it didn’t feel so much like the franchise’s next-best total behind the NFL record.
In fact, 2012 marked the most imbalanced season in the Payton Era as far as yards are considered and run-to-pass calls are taken into account.
The good news?
Sean Payton made it known upon his return from suspension that balance would be returned.
“He said make sure that we’re committed to it,” offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said. “The years we’ve been successful around here is when we have great balance. We just have to get back to that.”
Carmichael, in fact, is spot on.
Of three of the four seasons in which the Saints finished with double-digit wins, the common factor was better offensive balance.
In 2006, New Orleans had a 53.9-to-46.1 percent pass-to-run ratio. In 2009, the Super Bowl season, it was 52.7-to-47.3 percent ratio. And in 2011, when the Saints set an NFL record for yards in a season with 7,474, there was a 59.2-to-40.8 ratio.
The four other seasons? They didn’t run the ball on more than 39.3 percent of their total plays for the season.
The only aberration is 2010, when New Orleans finished 11-5 but had a 61.9-to-38.1 percent pass-to-run ratio. But even then the run game finished 28th in the NFL.
In the past four seasons, the Saints’ best teams have come when the run game has been near the top of the heap, finishing 13-3 in both 2009 and 2011 with a run game ranked sixth in the league each time.
Certainly chasing points plays a part in the imbalance, but when the offense is in balance, everything falls into place.
“We want to be very complementary where the run game is setting up the pass and the pass is setting up the run,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “You’ve got a defense on their heels worrying about there’s so many ways they can hurt us in the run game with the backs and the receiving corps and the tight end corps. That’s the world we want to live in.”
So, how do you correct it?
Through seven practices of fall camp, several players have said there has been greater focus on the run game.
“Like Payton said, he wanted to establish the run game this year and we’re showing it a lot,” running back Pierre Thomas said. “He’s calling a lot of run plays in practice and we’re executing very well.”
And beyond plays, Carmichael said more attention has to be paid in the class room and to learning the playbook while guard Jahri Evans expressed it comes down to each individual holding themselves accountable.
“It starts with pad level,” Evans said. “It starts with defensive recognition. In individual, we practice it. We’re running the ball. We’re doing run plays the whole time in individual.”
Ultimately, there’s only so much that can be said about it, Evans said.
“I don’t know how much more you can talk about it,” the All-Pro lineman said. “It’s just about getting it done.”