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New Orleans Saints run defense presents formidable wall

Saints haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 49 consecutive games

See the best moments from the Saints defense in the Week 7 match up against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
See the best moments from the Saints defense in the Week 7 match up against the Carolina Panthers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

The best way to frame it is, it's a grown-man thing.

Defensively, the New Orleans Saints simply will not allow a breakout running day, from a team or individual.

Proof of the former: After holding Carolina to 37 rushing yards (on 14 attempts) in Sunday's 27-24 victory, New Orleans (4-2) is limiting opponents to 89.7 rushing yards per game, fourth fewest in the league this season entering Sunday's game against the Bears (5-2) at Soldier Field in Chicago. And that falls in line with New Orleans holding teams to 93.9 rushing yards per game last year, and 80.2 in 2018.

Proof of the latter: The Saints have not allowed a 100-yard runner in 49 consecutive games, a streak that dates to Washington's Samaje Perine gaining 117 on Nov. 19, 2017.

Grown-man stuff.

"We take pride in that, especially if you're an interior guy," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "Rushing the passer is great, I love to do that with the best of them.

"But being able to physically stop another human from moving you off the ball, and being able to make tackles in the backfield, and stopping teams from being able to truly stick to their gameplan – I don't think any team goes into a game saying, 'We're going to abandon the run after seven or eight carries, or something like that.

"Being able to stop a team early and often and make a team say, 'Yeah, there's no point in even trying anymore,' that's definitely something I take pride in, and my fellow D-line mates take pride in as well."

Of course, it's good that New Orleans has had a dependable run defense, because it has been vulnerable to big plays in the passing game, especially this season. Already, the Saints have allowed chunk-passing plays of 37 yards (to Tampa Bay), 31 yards (to Las Vegas), 72 and 48 yards (Green Bay), 50 and 31 yards (Detroit), 64 and 49 yards (the Chargers) and 74 yards (Carolina).

Those numbers can't be ignored and have become more alarming as the season has progressed.

"It's closer to the a lot than not," Coach Sean Payton said when asked about his level of concern over the pass defense.

"We've just got to kind of get everything else corrected and fix some little things here and there," Rankins said. "And once we get those things clicking on all cylinders as well, our defense will be exactly where we expect it to be.

"We bust our ass to do everything right on defense – stop the run, defend the pass, rush the passer. It's just some things that we've got to correct. We always say it's a beautiful thing to be sitting at 4-2, and feeling like you haven't played your best football. We're excited about that and we'll continue to move forward and correct those things and get everything on the right page."

The next attempt to do so will be against the Bears, whose offensive weakness is the Saints' defensive strength. Chicago runs for 84.1 yards per game, fewest in the league, and 3.8 yards per carry, third fewest.

Still, there's nothing to be taken for granted by the Saints, who have emerged as one of the best in the league at stopping the run.

"It starts with pad level, fitting your gap, all the techniques that are involved, tackling properly, good eyes," Payton said. "So there's a series of things, generally speaking, that are in place. We'll need to be able to do that again this week because these guys will be committed to running the football and complementing their defense."

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