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Ground Game Pulls Vanishing Act In Saints Victory

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Saints RB Pierre Thomas held the honor Sunday of having the longest run of the day for New Orleans - a brief, 11-yard gallop to pick up a pivotal first down. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.
Saints RB Pierre Thomas held the honor Sunday of having the longest run of the day for New Orleans - a brief, 11-yard gallop to pick up a pivotal first down. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

The New Orleans Saints emerged victorious in Sunday’s divisional battle against the Atlanta Falcons after a pivotal goal line stand in the final minute of the game. Atlanta was unable to convert on four downs from the Saints seven yard line, which ultimately sealed their fate. The Saints offense opened up sluggishly as their first two drives amounted to a meager 42 yards and the run game could not find any room to gain big chunks of yardage. Eventually, QB Drew Brees and his high powered offense started moving the ball downfield and putting points on the board.

A glaring setback that can be taken from New Orleans' offensive drives was the ineffectiveness of the rushing game, which could not find any room all day. The Saints did make an effort to have a balanced offense as they attempted the rush 29 times. The problem was, however, that those attempts amounted to a paltry 78 yards, which averages out to 2.8 yards per carry - not a formula for maintaining balance on offense. Ultimately, the Saints had to abandon the running game in crunch time in the fourth quarter.   

The running back trio of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram had an equal distribution of touches, but none of the three could get it going. The longest rush of the day came from Thomas late in the third quarter when he scampered for 11 yards on a pivotal third down when the Saints were pinned deep in their own end of the field nursing a 20-17 lead. Even more alarming was the fact that the Saints ran for only three yards in the fourth quarter. The offense was one dimensional as the passing game accumulated 120 of the 123 yards for the team in the fourth quarter. 

The Saints were fortunate to emerge victorious in this game with this one sided offense. At such a crucial point in the game where eating up clock is your main focus and the “ground and pound” is the most effective way of doing this, the Saints had to rely on the aerial attack to maintain possession and keep the ball out of the hands of Falcons QB Matt Ryan. The Saints did an exceptional job at keeping the ball in their hands, maintaining possession for over 11 minutes. The rushing attack was in no way a factor, nor an option as it all but disappeared.

Looking ahead to their next matchup in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Saints will really have their work cut out for them as they will be going against the NFL’s best rushing defense from a year ago. In their Week 1 matchup against the New York Jets, the Buccaneers surrendered just 90 yards to the Jets. That number can be misleading, due to the fact that 47 of those yards were gained by Jets QB Geno Smith. 

So the Saints will have their work cut out for them next week on the road against Tampa Bay and whether they will be able to escape with a victory remains to be seen, but a lack of a running game is not a winning formula for any NFL team.