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Effective run game can help carry New Orleans Saints offense

'I think once we kind of get our feet rolling and our cleats in the ground and get the O-line pushing and kind of get them feeling good and feeling it, it's hard to stop our run game'

Check out the game action shots from the New Orleans Saints game against the New England Patriots in Week 5 of the 2023 NFL season including running back Alvin Kamara (41).

Erik McCoy doesn't have a say in the matter.

If it was up to the Saints' center, New Orleans officially would have rushed 38 times for 140 yards and a touchdown in a 34-0 victory over New England last Sunday. But since the three kneel-downs in the red zone for minus-4 yards had to be factored in, the total came out to 41 carries for 136 yards, denting the per-carry average.

What McCoy did have a say in, though, was the Saints' offensive line cohesively banding to help New Orleans, 3-2 entering Sunday's game against the Texans (2-3) at NRG Stadium in Houston, produce its best running game of the season.

The Saints took an early lead – 7-0 in the first quarter, 21-0 by halftime – and pounded off 23 rushing attempts for 63 yards in the second half (20 for 67 by McCoy's calculation) while gorging 20:42 of the 30 second-half minutes.

"It was nice," McCoy said. "I feel like it's something that every offensive line thrives on, wanting to run the ball, having a successful rushing average, having a successful run game week in and week out. But there's still a lot that we left on the bone, and there's still areas that we need to and we have to improve. We have way too much talent up front to not consistently do that every game.

"It's something that we have to be better about as an offense, is we have to start faster. I feel like the last game one of the things that killed us throughout the game was penalties – whether that was holding, whether that was false starts – that put us in bad situations, that got us behind the sticks. Even though we ended up winning that game, those things hurt. It hurts the offense, it hurts the efficiency.

"Coming out fast, super important and incorporating the run game early, super important."

No argument from Coach Dennis Allen on that point.

"Being able to jump out to a lead is important in terms of trying to control the clock and being able to manage the game," Allen said. "Offensively, I think we had about 200 yards at half and 14 offensive points (seven points were scored on Tyrann Mathieu's 27-yard interception return), so there was some consistency in what we were doing offensively.

"I think any time that you're able to run the ball 40 times in a game, generally you're going to have a lot of yards rushing, whether or not the average is that high doesn't really matter, it's more about the ability to have those attempts.

"I thought we did a good job at times of really moving the line of scrimmage and creating some lanes for our runners. I thought our runners ran exceptionally hard in the game, which was awesome to see. There were some times where maybe there wasn't as much there and they hit the hole hard and pressed and got what they could out of it, they turned maybe a 1- to 2-yard gain into a 3- or 4-yard gain. I think those are big body blows in a game."

More of the same would be beneficial, and telling: In the two games prior to shutting out New England, the Saints had a combined 41 rushing attempts for 147 yards in losses to Green Bay and Tampa Bay.

The art of it for the Saints was that the Patriots likely knew what was coming, and still couldn't neutralize it.

"You've still got to stop it," said running back Alvin Kamara , whose 22 carries for 80 yards both were season highs for a Saints runner. Kamara's rushing touchdown was the 73rd touchdown of his career and made him the all-time franchise leader in that category.

"It's just like anything. I think once we kind of get our feet rolling and our cleats in the ground and get the O-line pushing and kind of get them feeling good and feeling it, it's hard to stop our run game. (Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael) Pete's just got to call it. I'm going to put it on Pete," he said, smiling.

"I've got to challenge Pete in the media. He's knows he's my guy, but on the sideline, I go down to the O-line and check on them and they're like, 'Man, we can run the ball.' Then I just go run over to Pete, like, 'The O-line says we need to run the ball.' Just calling it and being confident when we call those run looks, knowing that we can go get four and five yards, six yards. Once we kind of keep hitting those and being patient, the big ones come.

"I think it can get a lot better. I think just building off this past week is going to be important, knowing that we've got the guys up front to get the blocks and then on the perimeter, those guys just taking pride and going and blocking downfield, which they do.

"Just everybody being accountable and doing their jobs and throwing those blocks. Just having the mentality that this one run could be the run. This one run could be the 60-yarder, the 70-yarder. Because that's how I'm thinking about it, and the O-line is thinking about it like that, too. If everybody kind of has that same mind-set, it's going to be dangerous."

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