Balance in different forms could boost Saints offense this fall

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Drew Brees, Mark Ingram at Saints 2017 minicamp
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

METAIRIE — If Drew Brees throws the football less often and Mark Ingram touches it less often that could be good news for the New Orleans Saints.

That might sound incongruous, but a more balanced offense and a more balanced team would likely mean overall improvement for a team that has finished 7-9 each of the last three seasons.

“I always say that a quarterback’s best friend is a great running game and a great defense,” Brees said.

It remains to be seen whether the defense is improved but an offense that runs the ball more frequently figures to use more clock and keep the defense on the sideline more, thus mitigating whatever weaknesses the defense has.

Of course in order to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013, New Orleans will need Brees to continue to play at the level that has earned him pre-approved membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But if he can do that while throwing less frequently then the Saints might be on their way back.

In Brees’ 11 seasons in New Orleans his fewest pass attempts (514) came in 2009 when the Saints went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl and his second-fewest (554) came in 2006 when the Saints went 10-6 and played in the NFC Championship.

His most attempts (673) came last season and his second-most (670) and third-most (659) also came during 7-9 seasons (2012 and 2014, respectively).

Generally speaking, when teams are winning they are playing with a lead more often and running the ball to run the clock and reduce the risk of turning the ball over.

A more successful for running game could actually coincide with fewer carries for Ingram, who is coming off the first 1,000-yard season of his six-year career. That’s because of the free-agent acquisition of Adrian Peterson, whose entry into the Hall of Fame figures to happen fairly close to Brees’, and the drafting of former Tennessee star Alvin Kamara.

“If we hand it off 50 times a game, and we throw it 20 times a game, and we are winning, that is great,” Brees said.

That kind of disparity is unlikely, but the idea of a balanced offense is to prove to defenses that you are willing and able to throw run it or throw it effectively in all conventional down-and-distance situations.

“I think every time this team goes into a season the goal is to be balanced,” tackle Zach Strief said. “I also think that this team is very apt to do what is successful so you can bring in 100 running backs if you want but if there are no holes for them to run in, nowhere for them to go we will stop running the football and we will throw it.”

So if the Saints are more balanced on offense it likely will be less because of a pre-determined strategy and more as a byproduct of effective execution on both sides of the ball.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think there is more emphasis on the run game,” Strief said. “I have not seen one thing is this off-season that is any different in terms of what we’re installing and how we’re working it that says we’re going to run the ball 45 times a game. If we’re able to, we will, and there’s always a game or two in a year where we run the ball a bunch. You run the ball a bunch when you can do it.

“This team doesn’t have to lead the league in rushing to maybe make our running game more effective than anybody else’s. I think this running game being efficient … I think Mark is a great example of that, averaging 5.1 yards a carry, will go a long way toward opening up what will always be this team’s bread and butter, which is Drew Brees. I think that’s the goal — let’s be efficient, let’s eliminate negative runs and let’s make people respect both because that’s when we’ve always been the best.”

Ingram said he hopes the Saints run the ball more.

“You have two guys that want to carry the ball and run the ball a lot. We’ve got the offensive line to run the ball very effectively and I think they can be the best offensive line in the league. Definitely hope we can run the ball more.”

Regardless of just how many times the Saints throw the ball and how often they run it, one fundamental doesn’t figure to change.

“What I think is important and what has become more and more of an emphasis for us is maintaining balance to keep Drew clean,” Strief said. “I think he’s always going to be the engine as long as he’s here no matter how old or frail people think he’s getting. He’s always going to be our engine and so all of that stuff is complementary to get him in the best position for him to make plays.”

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Les East

Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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