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Uncharacteristic O-Line Play May Hurt Come Playoff Time

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Due in part to the inconsistent play of the offensive line this season, Saints RB Pierre Thomas has rushed for only 188 yards on 59 carries. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.
Due in part to the inconsistent play of the offensive line this season, Saints RB Pierre Thomas has rushed for only 188 yards on 59 carries. Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images.

Every good offense needs a great offensive line to succeed. It is the responsibility of the line to create space for the running backs and buy time for the quarterback to make throws down the field without being pressured and forced out of the pocket. Without time and space, the offense is thrown off balance and ultimately becomes ineffective.

More often than not, a sack will make any third and manageable down into a third and long scenario where the best chance at achieving a first down is through the air. Thus, an offense’s drive is more likely to stall out than gain any rhythm. Luckily for the New Orleans Saints, this has not translated into a major problem but come playoff time, sacks will cost them and third and long conversions will be few and far between.

A lack of a running game has, at times, stalled the Saints on offense. On countless occasions, the running backs have been tackled in the back field or at the line of scrimmage. Defensive coordinators took note of this weakness in the offense and called upon the blitz more often, which has led to an increased number of sacks. Thankfully, QB Drew Brees has managed to keep his turnover numbers down despite being hurried more than he has been accustomed to since joining the team.

Ever since the arrival of Brees, the Saints have done an exceptional job at providing him protection. Since he joined the team in 2006, New Orleans has ranked in the Top 5 every year in fewest sacks surrendered, including the 2008 season when they led the NFL by yielding only 13.

Even more impressively, the Saints have surrendered 148 sacks since 2006. With numbers like that, it is no wonder why the offense has been so prolific since the 2006 season. Brees, being the beneficiary of such great protection, has been able to stay healthy. In addition, he has been able to run the offense at his tempo and as a result, the Saints have been one of the league’s best offensive teams.

This year, it has been a different story though. The line has struggled, especially early in the season, to protect their quarterback, who has been sacked 14 times through his first seven games. In recent weeks, the line has done a much better job at protecting Brees, who is on pace to set a career high in sacks.

Even more alarming is the abysmal running game of the Saints this year. New Orleans ranks 25th in the NFL in rushing, 28th in yards per attempt and 22nd in yards per game. RB Pierre Thomas leads the team with a meager 188 rushing yards on 59 attempts. It is startling that he has no rushing touchdowns and the team as a whole has only three. The team's longest run went for 21 yards, which is disappointing considering the talent they have at their disposal in the backfield.

The Saints will have their work cut out for them when they face the New York Jets on Sunday. The Jets rank fifth in the NFL in sacks and third in rushing yards surrendered this season. To make matters worse for the Saints, New York has allowed the fewest yards per rushing attempt and has surrendered only five rushing touchdowns this year.

The bottom line is that if Brees is not given time to run through his progressions, this offense is off balance and not running at full throttle. If the Saints can’t establish some form of a running game moving forward, they will falter against upper echelon opponents.