METAIRIE, La. — After Cleveland left the Superdome on Oct. 24 with a 30-17 win over the Saints, the season appeared on the precipice of disaster.
The reigning Super Bowl champions were 4-3, turning the ball over at an embarrassing clip and having trouble running the ball.
Six consecutive wins later, the Saints have upped their ground game by nearly 10 yards thanks to a rotating cast of players tasked with doing the job with little fanfare.
And insodoing, the Saints have stepped back from that disastrous cliff and are onto firm ground.
The list of running backs – Ladell Betts, Chris Ivory, Julius Jones – reads like a who’s who of who’s that compared to Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, the only returning running backs from the 2009 campaign.
So, when Chris Ivory went down with a hamstring injury early in Sunday’s 31-13 win over St. Louis, Head Coach Sean Payton never batted an eye.
The offense didn’t change a heck of a lot despite it being Thomas’ first game back from a 10-week ankle injury and Bush’s third since breaking his right fibula in the second game of 2010.
“It changed some,” Payton said. “Pierre ended up taking some of those runs. Reggie took some of those runs. That was a necessity. There might be a run or two that you would lean towards or stay away from. I don’t think it changed our ratio of run-to-pass, though.”
The Saints finished with 132 yards rushing, including 78 from Bush and Thomas as well as 7 from quarterback Drew Brees.
Ivory picked up 47 yards on seven carries, but didn’t see the field after the first quarter with a hamstring tweak. That left only Thomas and Bush as active running backs.
“I remember turning to (Thomas) and saying, ‘Hey, I just wanted to make sure you were feeling good,’ ” Payton said. “I knew that both he and Reggie were eager for that challenge. Both of them were in good shape when I approached them about it.”
The Saints were 26th in the NFL after that Cleveland game, averaging 92.6 yards per game. Heading into the St. Louis game they were up to 98.5 yards per game and 25th in the NFL.
Now the Saints are up to 22nd in the NFL at 101.1 rushing yards per game.