METAIRIE, La. ― Nearly 24 hours after the Saints polished off their biggest win of the season, Sean Payton reiterated what nearly anyone who watched Sunday’s 31-6 victory over Tampa Bay already knew.
“I thought how we ran the ball and how we defended the run was critical with the outcome of that game,” Payton said. “It’s never the perfect game when you go back and look at it, but you can do a lot of good things when you play with that type of intensity and our guys did that.”
Indeed, the sudden burst of running goodness for the Saints (4-2) came after five weeks of puzzlingly low outputs from the ground game.
And while the defense played well, limiting the Bucs (3-2) to one touchdown late in the game and 42 rushing yards, Monday’s rewind was all about New Orleans’ decidedly 2009-looking run offense.
Was that the focus heading into the important NFC South showdown? You betcha.
“We wanted to set the tone and we just know the importance of the run game,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “Obviously not only the success we had last year, but just moving forward. You can’t be one dimensional in this league.”
The Saints rushed for 212 yards, or more than 175 yards more than their average in the first five games of the season.
Right tackle Jon Stinchcomb and right guard Jahri Evans consistently opened holes for Chris Ivory, Ladell Betts and Julius Jones to blow through and when they didn’t, cut-back lanes were there for the taking.
“We had good push from the beginning of the game really through the end of the game,” Head Coach Sean Payton said. “I think the running backs then responded. When you can dial up a run on 3rd-and-4 – just a lead or a zone handoff – you’re blocking them pretty well and we were able to do that.”
Ivory took advantage, rushing for 158 yards on 15 carries for an eye-popping 10.5 yards per carry average. Heading into Tampa, Pierre Thomas led the Saints with 147 yards on 46 carries. New Orleans, which was averaging 3.3 yards per carry through five games, averaged 6.6 yards on 32 carries Sunday.
New Orleans’ first three plays against the Bucs were runs, all scripted, and all gained at least 4 yards, including the 18-yard carry by Ivory on the first play. That play, by the way, was the longest run of the season up to that point.
With the run game flowing, the passing game opened up. Brees hit two touchdown passes that would be considered shot plays – a 41-yarder to Lance Moore to open the scoring and a 42-yarder to Robert Meachem to push New Orleans’ lead to 14-0 in the second quarter.
“Whenever you can make an offense one dimensional, you become more predictable,” Brees said. “If you’re able to run and pass, obviously you step up to the ball and as a defense you’re going “Are they going to run it or throw it?” Is it going to be short or deep, whereas, obviously if you’re going to take something away you become more predictable and it becomes a little easier to defend.”
The Saints now prepare for Cleveland, an out-of-conference opponent, and their first home game in three weeks. Getting the win over Tampa Bay was big, but a win this coming Sunday helps the Saints keep pace in the NFC.
“We know how good we are and how good we can be,” Brees said. “We still don’t feel like we’ve scratched the surface to where we can go as a football team. I feel like yesterday was definitely a step in the right direction in all phases.”