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John DeShazier: Balanced offense paying off for Saints

In New Orleans’ eight victories, it has run the ball 212 times for 802 yards

There are coincidences, and there are indisputable facts.

File this in the latter category.

In New Orleans' eight victories this season, it has run the ball 212 times for 802 yards, an average of 27 carries and 100 yards per victory. And even if the output against Dallas (38 for 242) is eliminated, the Saints still have trended toward success when they've been dedicated to getting in the attempts – 25 carries for 80 yards per game in the other seven wins.

In its two losses, the overall numbers are 39 for 172; the averages, 20 for 86 per game. One of those games was a 13-attempt outing against the New York Jets.

So it's easy to understand and believe when Coach Sean Payton says he wants the Saints to run the ball and balance the offense. It has proven to be successful this season, especially the last two games.

New Orleans has run 61 times for 334 yards the last two games. And it will seek more Thursday night in Atlanta, when the Saints (8-2) take on the Falcons (2-8) at the Georgia Dome.

"As a runner, you love that, you enjoy that," said Pierre Thomas, who leads the team in attempts (107) and yards (413). Thomas ran for 136 yards on 29 carries the last two games.

"It's helping our team out a whole lot, where we're able to throw the ball and not have too many problems. Since we run the ball very well, it's opened up a lot of things for us and that's what we wanted to become, a balanced team. We're showing that now.

"Most of the teams look at us as a passing team, which we kind of are. We know that we've got a good quarterback, great receivers and a good line that can allow time for Drew (Brees) to get (the football) out to the receivers. But we also want to show that we are physical too.

"We are that physical team that can pound the ball if the plays are called. Our last few games, we've been showing that we can run the ball, we can pound it, we can be physical when we want to."

For the Saints, rushing attempts may be just as critical as the yardage totals. The attempts force defenses to play honest. Plus, the team's short passing game – screen and swing passes to Thomas and Darren Sproles – also can double as a running game.

Thus, with Thomas averaging 6.8 yards on his 51 receptions and Sproles averaging 9.6 on his 48, their yards per carry in the running game (3.9 and 3.8, respectively) balance better when the category shifts to yards from scrimmage (4.8 on 158 touches by Thomas, 7 on 86 touches by Sproles).

Still, though, the old-fashioned run game has been good for the Saints when they get in the attempts they seek.

"It's encouraging because for the first couple of weeks, we saw the run game being close and knew that if we kept focusing on the little things, it would be successful," center Brian de la Puente said. "That focus and that belief in it is coming forth and it's good to see that the hard work and keeping our head down, and not listening to the outside stuff, to see it have success is encouraging.

"I think balance is key with this offense and I think Coach Payton knows that. A good passing game, I think the best compliment is a good run game. We know the importance of it and we've just got to keep that balance. We're tough to stop when we have that balance and everything is clicking on all cylinders."

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