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John DeShazier: Sticking with the run game pays off for New Orleans Saints

Determination to run against Falcons was clear


Numbers don't lie. They just don't always tell the entire truth.

So, as pedestrian as they may have appeared to be for the Saints' running game in New Orleans' 23-17 victory over Atlanta on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the season opener, they didn't quite measure the full meaning.

The Saints totaled 78 yards on 29 rushing attempts – 76 on 27 tries when quarterback Drew Brees' two kneel-downs are subtracted. That's 2.8 yards per carry, numbers that include Pierre Thomas' quietly effective 43 yards on nine carries.

But a deeper delve is necessary.

Twenty-nine rushing attempts represents a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is total for Saints Coach Sean Payton and his staff, who have said the Saints want to have more offensive balance this season.

Last year New Orleans had 29 or more rushing attempts just twice, 28 or more three times. The Saints won all three of those games, including – coincidentally – a 29-rush attempt game against the Falcons in Game 9, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"It's the coaching staff saying that we're going to run it," center Brian de la Puente said. "The balance will only help our passing game.

"I think as a unit, (the offensive line) needs to take pride in that and say that the onus is on us. We like the stress and the pressure of the run game hinging on us. We'll take it and run with it."

And run, and run, and run.

"There's some frustrating snaps that we're going to look at, and there's some snaps where we're close and yet, it takes all 11 guys," Payton said. "But we were wanting to make sure we controlled that time of possession. I thought it was significant in the fourth quarter. I thought we possessed the ball quite a bit."

The Saints won the time of possession battle 35:11-24:49 overall, 9:01-5:59 in the final 15 minutes.

"We had one series in the second half, backed up to our 3 and although it didn't result in any points, that series was significant in that it changed the field position back in our favor," Payton said.

On that possession the Saints drove from their 3 to Atlanta's 42-yard line before punting. Half of the 10 plays were runs and the punt pinned Atlanta at its 9-yard line. The Saints forced a punt and drove for a field goal that provided the final margin.

"We'll continue to work on that element," Payton said. "It needs to be better. We were close in some areas and yet we still have to work on and clean up a number of things to improve it."

Too, the Saints could take into consideration the hidden yardage produced by running back Darren Sproles. Sproles caught six passes for 88 yards, both team highs, out of the backfield. Several were the equivalent of a long handoff from Brees.

Regardless of Sproles' catches, the actual run attempts were satisfactory for the Saints' offense. The willingness to invest was evident.

"It says a lot," left tackle Charles Brown said. "That feels good. When we were out there, the holes were opening up, it felt like. Then I watched the film and the holes were opening up pretty good. I think we've just got to get in unison, the backs and the line. And once we're in unison we're going to have more yards.

"It makes us confident in (Payton's) word, saying he's going to let us run. And that's a good thing. I think it's going to make the pass better and the play action better. I think it's going to make the whole thing better."

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