METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees seems to understand one thing about how the Saints have gotten to 4-0 this season.
They haven’t been perfect. Far from it, in fact, thanks to a run game that ranks among the worst in the NFL.
“There’s a lot of things that haven’t been up to par or good enough over the last four weeks, and we’ve found other ways to win,” Brees said Wednesday. “In the long run, there’s definitely a lot of areas that we want to tighten up, and some of the run game is included in that.”
The question is this – is that necessarily true in 2013, when three of the past five Super Bowl champions have had running attacks that were ranked in the bottom third of the NFL?
Going back to 2009, through four weeks, league-wide attempts are down from a high in 2012 and average yards per game on the ground are down from their high of 113 per game in ’09.
And in the Saints’ past two games, coach Sean Payton has all but dismissed the run game for the pass.
Against Arizona, New Orleans ran three times in the first half for minus-5 yards while passing for 182 yards on 25 attempts. The Saints led at halftime 14-7
A week later against Miami, New Orleans again found problems with the run game, gaining just 10 yards on eight carries. But the Saints had 210 yards on 21 passes and owned a 21-10 lead at the break.
While some would say something needs to change, Miami coach Joe Philbin doesn’t necessarily agree.
“I think teams and (in) coaching you have to be smart enough to go with what is working sometimes,” Philbin said. “I know Coach Payton and his staff is excellent and sometimes while you would love to have the balance and you want to be multiple and run and pass the screen, sometimes you just have to stick with what is working.”
That worked for the Giants in 2011, the Packers in 2010 and the Steelers in 2008. All three were among the worst running teams in the NFL, New York finishing 32nd, Green Bay 25th and Pittsburgh 23rd in the years they won Super Bowls.
For Chicago coach Marc Trestman, the idea of balance seems more like a talking point than something that necessarily has to happen to win games, saying, “I’ve never thought that balance was a necessity.”
Rather, it’s just making opponents recognize the possibility of run that matters most, the Bears coach believes.
“I think that’s the most important thing is that defensively if teams know you have the ability to run the football, they have to spend every week defending it,” Trestman said.
For New Orleans, the run-pass ratio this season has been about average since 2009. Thirty-seven percent of the Saints’ plays this season have been run plays. But when taking into account what happens in the first half, when games aren’t being salted away a la the past two weeks, New Orleans has called passes 71.5 percent of the time this year.
Heading into Chicago, Payton is determined not to give up on the run game. With the possibility for wet conditions Sunday – there’s a 60 percent chance of rain in Chicago – the run game could be critical.
“It’s something that still we’re working on and you want to avoid, more than anything, the minus plays,” Payton said. “It’s still a work in progress and we’ll continue. It’s important to what we’re doing and we’ll continue to make the corrections and get to those looks.”