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John DeShazier: Saints running backs ready to carry the load in Chicago

With iffy weather team may lean on running attack

The New Orleans Saints this season are running the ball as well as they have since 2011, when the 13-3, NFC South Division champions ground their way to 132.9 rushing yards per game, and 4.9 yards per carry.

After a couple of seasons in which they didn't average 100 rushing yards per game, New Orleans is up to 123.7 yards per game, and 4.7 per carry on 26 attempts per game, this season.

Don't expect a planned decrease in those numbers Monday night, when the Saints (5-8) play the Bears (5-8) at Soldier Field. The Saints, in fact, very well may attempt to hammer away even more at the Bears, given the likelihood that the weather won't be favorable to a passing frenzy.

Game-time conditions are calling for temperatures in the low 40s, with an 80 percent chance of rain and 10 to 15 mph winds.

And with the Bears allowing 112.3 rushing yards per game, and 4.3 yards per carry, the Saints have cause to run at a higher percentage than normal, as Coach Sean Payton has suggested they might do in the nationally televised game.

"It's an area we've been improved in," Payton said. "We felt like it was going to be important going into the season, and it'll be important Monday, based on what you hear weather-wise. I think it's an area that's improved from a year ago."

It's substantially improved from last year, when New Orleans posted averages of 92.1 yards per game and 3.8 yards per attempt on 24.4 carries per game.

It's so significantly improved that it's not a surprise to hear Payton express confidence in choosing to lean on the running game if the situation dictates such.

"Any time they say it's going to be wet, or you're going to run the ball, I think any back loves that," said Mark Ingram, who leads the Saints with 810 rushing yards, the most for a Saints running back since Deuce McAllister ran for 1,057 in 2006. "(It's) just the fact that we're all going to have to step up and carry the ball, take care of the ball and be productive.

"Any time you have something like (last week's 41-10 home loss to Carolina), you want to get back on the field and make it better, make it right. So we've been working hard, practicing hard and we're looking forward to Monday."

Pierre Thomas especially may be looking forward to it. Not only was he born in Chicago, he has had several of his best NFL games at Soldier Field.

As a rookie in 2007, he became the first player in franchise history with a 100-yard rushing, 100-yard receiving day when he carried 20 times for 105 yards, and caught 12 passes for 121 yards and touchdown in Chicago.

The next season he carried 22 times for 87 yards and a touchdown, and caught seven passes for 59 yards and a touchdown at Soldier Field. Last year, he caught nine passes for 55 yards and two touchdowns, and ran 19 times for 36 yards in Chicago.

"Anybody knows that when you go into a game and the weather is a little rainy, it's a little wet, you're probably not going to pass the ball too much," said Thomas, who has run 43 times for 211 yards and two scores this season, and caught 38 passes for 271 yards and another touchdown.

"Not saying that we're not (going to throw the football), but we know we're ready as running backs," he said. "As running backs, you know what type of weather you play in, when you're going to get the ball a little bit more. Mostly in rainy games, you tend to see teams run the ball a lot more because you don't want to have that ball in the air, popping up, slipping out of guys' hands from a pass.

"We're ready, we're focused as a corps, as a group, and we're ready to get this thing going. We're so anxious to run the ball and show we can run the ball, against any team out here."

The top-100 photos of New Orleans Saints RB Pierre Thomas from the 2013 season(New Orleans Saints photos)

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