METAIRIE, La. — Moments after Sunday’s six-point loss to the New York Jets, Saints Coach Sean Payton knew part of the problem.
Too many passes and not enough runs.
He took the blame then and three days later, he admitted that he gave up on the run too soon.
“It’s not even force yourself – it’s just paying attention,” Payton said. “The efficiency level we operated at last week when we ran it was pretty good, so that’s something you look closely at and (also you look at) how the game is unfolding.
“I thought that when it came to running the ball, we blocked that front pretty well.”
It certainly got better as the game along. In the first half, the Saints (6-2) averaged only 2.5 yards on six runs. In the second, that bumped to 3.7 yards on seven totes.
But ultimately New Orleans was as imbalanced as it has been in awhile. For every five plays, four were passes.
And partly because of this, the Jets not only had more opportunities to get to quarterback Drew Brees, sacking him twice and hitting him six times, it all but destroys the efficiency of the team’s play-action pass calls.
“It takes a lot away from the guys being in the box, crowding the box for the defense,” running back Pierre Thomas said. “That’s something we need to establish and be balanced at. If we can be balanced and show that we can run the ball, I feel that we can be even more productive on the offensive side.”
The first part of correcting the problem already has happened.
They recognize there’s an issue.
“I think the big thing is, something we have been very, very good at, maybe up until last week, was just sticking to the plan throughout the game and just knowing that, hey, even though maybe you are only getting two to three yards a rush early on, keep plugging away, plugging away and by the fourth quarter those numbers go up,” Brees said.
It’s not a coincidence that Brees has been sacked – and hit – more this season than any year since New Orleans’ recent run of success began in 2009. Without balance and a run game, opponents are focusing just on the pass.
“I know that that’s something that is very important with regards to throwing the football,” Payton said. “He’s (got) to get it out fast, and that’s something in the second half of the season that we’re working to improve on. Part of that is that balance though and having the ability to run it where you’re not just one-dimensional.”
This week, when the Saints host the Cowboys (5-4) in a Sunday night NFC showdown in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the balance might have its best chance to get going.
Dallas has the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL, including the 16th-worst run defense in the league. The Cowboys allow 114 yards on the ground and six yards per rush, a number which is better than only four other teams in the NFL.
Ultimately, though, New Orleans isn’t concerned with rankings, including its own. The only concern is points per game, where the Saints rank seventh at 27 per. Balance or not, that’s what they care about.
“Yards does not mean a thing,” Brees said. “It is really all about points. You can have a bunch of yards but that doesn’t necessarily lead to points.”