Key to long Saints playoff run lies with a strong running game
In the first round of the NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints could have pursued a wide receiver. Instead, they drafted an offensive lineman.
In free agency, the club could have moved on from free agent guard Andrus Peat. Instead, he was brought back with a hefty $30 million signing bonus.
Offensive line was a priority and so was running the football.
This season, New Orleans ran the ball a lot, an average of 31 times a game.
For the season, Saints runners toted the football 494 times, or fifth most in the NFL.
In a pass-happy league, does running the football successfully truly make a difference?
It did for the 2009 Super Bowl champion Saints, who averaged 131.6 yards per game and ran the football 468 times in the regular season.
However, in the six playoff losses in the Sean Payton era in New Orleans, the rushing numbers skew heavily in favor of the opposition.
In those six games, opponents have rushed for 828 yards to just 442 for the Saints.
There are explanations as to why the rushing numbers are what they are.
In a January 2011 playoff loss to Seattle, the Saints were almost out of running backs. That day, Julius Jones was the club’s leading rusher. In an interview the following week, Drew Brees said if the Saints had beaten the Seahawks, they would have been “out of backs” for the next round.
Last January, Minnesota controlled the football and rushed for 136 yards to 97 for New Orleans. That day, the Saints were hurting on the offensive line with several players including left tackle Terron Armstead playing injured.
We know now that star tailback Alvin Kamara was also far less than 100 percent, as he fought a knee injury throughout the season.
One year earlier in the NFC Championship Game against the Rams, the Saints rushed for a putrid 24 yards.
A year earlier, in a playoff loss at Minnesota, the Saints rushed for a total of 80 yards.
Only once in six Payton era playoff losses have the Saints rushed for 100 yards.
Now it’s also true that rushing yards don’t always compute to victories.
In the 2020 regular season, four playoff teams finished in the bottom eight in rushing yards. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who won 12 games, were dead last and averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per rush.
Tampa Bay was fifth worst, averaging only 94.9 yards rushing per game.
On the flip side, the Patriots were fourth best in rushing yards per game and the Vikings were fifth. Both missed the playoffs.
Rushing yardage is a stat that can be overlooked in the playoffs,tpp.
However, in the midst of the euphoria over Kansas City’s 21-point fourth quarter in last year’s Super Bowl to rally past the 49ers was this: The Chiefs ran the ball 29 times and controlled the clock for more than 33 minutes.
Kansas City ran 75 plays to the San Francisco’s 54.
The Chiefs gave the run-heavy Niners a taste of their own medicine and captured a championship for their efforts. They won the line of scrimmage.
That’s something the Saints have been built to do in this year’s playoffs.
All they have to do now is do it.
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WGNO Sports Director/106.1 FM
Ed is a New Orleans native, born at Baptist Hospital. He graduated Rummel High School, class of 1975, and subsequently graduated from Loyola University. Ed started in TV in 1977 as first sports intern at WVUE Channel 8. He became Sports Director at KPLC TV Channel 7 in Lake Charles in 1980. In 1982 he was hired as sports reporter…