The victory over Denver presented a bit of run-production skew, given that the New Orleans Saints adjusted on the fly and flexed their way to 229 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 44 carries – all season highs – in the 31-3 road victory.
"In the game we just played, that plan shifted with the news of who was going to be playing quarterback for them," Saints Coach Sean Payton said, referring to the fact that Denver was left with practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback, after its four quarterbacks were ruled out due to Covid-19 protocol. "So, obviously, we ran it more than probably we had planned. But the good news was that we ran it pretty efficiently."
Brutally efficient, one might say. And even though New Orleans posted season high numbers in all three categories, the output didn't present so much of a skew that it blew out of proportion the overall effectiveness that the Saints (9-2) have fashioned over the last two months.
While running their winning streak to eight straight entering Sunday's game against the Falcons (4-7) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the Saints did much what they've done since beginning their streak in a 35-29 victory over Detroit on Oct. 4.
In the last eight games, New Orleans has 262 rushing attempts for 1,169 yards and 16 touchdowns, averages of 33 carries, 146 yards (4.4 per carry) and two touchdowns per game.
"It's been a big point of emphasis," Payton said. "It's something that we feel like is important to what we do as a team and as an offense."
It has been a glaring point of production even more so in the last two games, victories over Atlanta (24-9) and Denver (31-3). In those eight quarters, New Orleans has totaled 80 carries for 397 yards (five per carry) and seven touchdowns.
Quarterback Taysom Hill has run for 95 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries in the two wins, and has combined with running backs Latavius Murray (173 yards and two scores on 31 carries) and Alvin Kamara (99 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries) to give New Orleans a formidable attack.
"Yeah, well, Coach (Payton) always talks about in order for us to have a good run game, we have to block the perimeter," said Hill, who's set to make his third straight start in relief of the injured Drew Brees, and Hill's second start against Atlanta. "And I think we're as good as anybody up front align-wise.
"And then if you look at our backs with Alvin and Latavius, those two guys are some of the best in the NFL in yards after contact and everything else. But I think what has separated us the last few weeks has really been blocking the perimeter. And so, the two-, three-yard gains are going for four or five. And then when we do spring a five- or six-yard gain, it goes for 12 to 15. And that's been huge for us."
Against Denver, the Saints were able to create damage up the middle and on the perimeter as Murray had a 36-yard touchdown run, Hill popped a 17-yarder and Kamara had runs of 15 and 14 yards. The week before, against Atlanta, Hill had a 20-yarder, Murray had an 11-yarder, Kamara's long gain was 12 and receiver Deonte Harris sprinted 23 yards on an end around.
"I truly believe we could go out and run the ball like that every week and we have that mentality as an offensive line," guard Nick Easton said after the victory over Denver. "We honestly have a ton of weapons at receiver, too, and love to get them the ball and block for them as well.
"But our mentality every week is to go in and run the ball like that and honestly, after watching the film, I think we left some meat on the bones, too. I think we could have ran the ball even better. And I think, a huge credit to the Broncos defense, they could have easily just packed it in, but they came and played and played hard against us."
Still, Denver couldn't hold off New Orleans' continued pounding. The rhythm has progressed this season to the current stage, with the Saints ranking No. 7 in rushing, at 134.7 yards per game.
"I think it just gradually gets there," said Kamara, who leads New Orleans in all rushing categories (128 carries for 585 yards and eight touchdowns) and all receiving numbers (68 catches for 646 yards and four touchdowns).
"We flow with our rhythm and we find what works. I think we try to do more of that, we try to duplicate the success.
"Part of it is just putting an emphasis on it. I think I said something after the (Denver) game, like, we want to run the ball, we want the game to be in our hands, me and Latavius and our room, as a running back room. We want it to be put in our hands. I think when Sean gives us an opportunity to do that and the game gives us an opportunity to do that, we shine. (But) it starts with the O-line."