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John DeShazier: Saints have rushing numbers moving in right direction

Improved performance matches winning streak

It wasn't especially revelatory on the Monday before the New Orleans Saints played the Colts in Indianapolis when Saints Coach Sean Payton said that New Orleans needed to run the ball, and to defend the run, better.

The Saints had run for an average of 84.7 yards per game, topping 100 just twice and averaging less than four yards per carry four times, in their 2-4 start. And their six opponents had run for 138.2, and never for fewer than 115 or four yards per carry.

Today, it also is not especially revelatory that once New Orleans (4-4) improved in both areas, it was able to extend its winning streak to three games entering Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans (1-6) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The Saints' last two opponents, the Colts and Giants, ran for 75 and 87 yards, respectively. Each came with a footnote – the Saints pounced on the Colts to take a 27-0 lead in what became a 27-21 victory, and the offense pushed the Giants into a position where New York had to score as quickly and as often as possible in a 52-49 Saints win, so both opponents essentially had to abandon the run.

But it was the first time the Saints had held consecutive opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards since they did so last season in Games 5-7 against Tampa Bay, Detroit and Green Bay, a two-wins-in-three-games stretch.

And offensively, New Orleans ran for a combined 286 yards and three touchdowns – 223 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries by Mark Ingram – and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. That helped the Saints dominate time of possession in each game, 38:23-21:37 against the Colts and 34:59-25:01 against the Giants.

Footnote or not, the Saints have the numbers moving in the right direction in the run game offensively and defensively.

"Last week (against the Giants) was a little different in regard to the type of game that was played," Payton said. "We went in wanting to throw it more and then mix in the run and be able to finish when we needed it with the run. But the Indianapolis game was a good springboard offensively. Defensively, I thought we did a really good job in Indianapolis.

"Last week, half the battle is neither offense wanted to break up their rhythm and if they were throwing it as effectively as they were, they weren't going to attempt to run it. But I think for us, it's the right fits (on defense), it's proper tackling, population to the ball – there's a handful of things that contribute to playing better run defense.

"And you flip it around offensively, you get with angles, you've got to block the perimeter and have that mind-set. We'll be challenged this week with this team."

The Titans allow 118.7 rushing yards per game on 4.3 yards per carry, and run for 100 yards per game while averaging 4.1 yards.

Linebacker David Hawthorne said the Saints are getting in sync defensively against the run.

"I think it's just guys keying in and really getting to their alignment and assignment," he said. "Just focusing and understanding the run game plan, and taking that from practice to the field."

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