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John DeShazier: New Orleans Saints looking for more balance on offense

Sean Payton and Drew Brees have stressed the importance of a balanced offensive attack this week

Pro sports in general, and the NFL in specific, are nothing if not copycat leagues.

Team B figures that what was a successful strategy for Team A last week can be a successful one for Team this week.

Thus, though the Dallas Cowboys (5-4) statistically haven't run the football very much or very well this season (183 carries for 681 yards, an average of 3.7 yards per carry), it won't be much of a surprise if they attempt to run it more Sunday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, when they face the Saints (6-2) in a nationally-televised game.

After allowing 198 yards on 36 carries against the New York Jets last Sunday, New Orleans' season total rose to 970 yards on 196 carries for opponents, an average of 4.9 yards per carry.

So even though the Cowboys offense has been best at passing (267.1 yards per game) Dallas may opt to try its hand in the run game this week.

"I think philosophically, there's a personality to a team that you gameplan on and yet, it's important that we fit the run the right way this week, it's important that we're efficient running the football ourselves offensively," Coach Sean Payton said.

"Now, during the course of a game, often times, there's some adjustments or flexibility within your gameplan. But I think each team is different and clearly, this is a different type of team than we just played."

The Jets were a top-15 rush team before last Sunday. The Saints, in the search for efficiency rising to that vicinity, know that one way to get there is by giving the running game more of a chance. New Orleans ran on 13 of its 66 offensive plays against the Jets, for 41 yards.

"It's not even 'force yourself (to call more running plays),' " Payton said. "It's just paying attention – the efficiency level that we operated at last week when we ran it was pretty good.

"That's something that you look closely at, and how the game is unfolding. I thought when it came to running the ball, we blocked that front pretty well. It takes a little bit of pressure off the offensive linemen. When you're throwing it that many times, that formula is often times not good, especially on the road, against a good rush team like that."

But, too, the evolution of the game can determine how many runs are called. [internal-link-placeholder-0]

"There have been plenty of occasions where we go into a game and we've got a certain gameplan and early in the game, mid-second quarter, you realize that we are able to take advantage of this matchup or this deficiency in the defense," quarterback Drew Brees said. "And maybe that wasn't necessarily part of the gameplan but you've got to be able to make adjustments on the run.

Said Payton: "There's a fine line. It's game-related – I'll take Arizona, for instance. There were certain things going into that game we wanted to do in regard to the running game and yet, we got an entirely different look. Or a different front, with a five-man rush, a lot more single man than maybe we had seen from them.

"So that midstream adjustment was to throw it a little bit more versus some of those heavy run looks. And then, conversely, there are going to be times where all of a sudden you're having a little bit more success in one area. So paying attention to that is important."

Thus, the Saints' objective will be to dissuade Dallas from copying, while adding more run attempts themselves.

"You focus on it, you commit to it," Brees said. "Something we've 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're only getting two to three yards a rush early on, you keep plugging away and plugging away and then by the fourth quarter, those numbers go way up and it just takes its toll on the defense.

"We still have to get more efficient. We have to get more efficient both in the passing game and the run game, and understand how those complement one another and how that helps us overall as an offense. It opens up the big-play opportunities, it helps with protection, time of possession, complimentary football with our defense, all those things."

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