Running game appears set to take center stage for Saints in 2021

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Alvin Kamara, Saints at Falcons
(Photo: William E. Anthony)

The New Orleans Saints are looking to run more in the 2021 season and that is a sound outlook and approach.

I know head coach Sean Payton loves to throw the ball and the modern NFL invites that pathway to success.

However, with quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill battling to start as questionable options until proven otherwise over a whole season, success with the run game will set up downfield pass plays.

Looking at the off-season personal moves and current depth chart leads me to believe the Saints are thinking about becoming more run- oriented on offense. They have one of the best run blocking offensive lines in the NFL and kept all of their running backs, including Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington and Ty Montgomery, despite serious salary cap challenges. There is the added running threat of Hill when he is on the field.

New Orleans could not afford to be active in veteran free agency but they did sign run blocking tight end Nick Vannett and blocking fullback Alex Armah.

Second-year tight end Adam Trautman has shown flashes. The 2020 third-round pick is big and physical with reliable hands. He also happened to impress as a rookie as an in-line blocker.

The signs of greater commitment to the run are clear.

This may be the year the Saints finally run the ball more than pass it. That’s not common these days but it won’t take much more to make it happen, looking at last year’s numbers.

In the 2020 season, the Saints ran 48.6 percent of the time and passed 51.4 percent.

I think they will take deep shots downfield more in 2021, but will need the returning quarterbacks to protect the football better than they have previously. Fewer fumbles and interceptions will keep opposing defenses honest while they have to commit more numbers to defend the run.

Teams with more run attempts than pass attempts in 2020 were the Titans (51.8 % run attempts to 48.2% pass attempts), Ravens (57.8% to 42.2%) and Patriots (53.3% to 46.7%).

Tampa Bay skewed heavily the other way because of Tom Brady, passing 62.9 percent of the time and running only 37.1 percent of the time.

Running the ball well keeps your own defense off the field, and the Saints’ question marks at the cornerback position alone make that helpful.

The Saints passing game will have to rely on Michael Thomas coming back to form before injuries derailed most of last season for the All-Pro. A bunch of unproven receivers with good potential make complement Thomas well but it remains to be seen long-term without the retired Drew Brees to distribute the ball.

Wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith is a solid run blocker but he needs to take a big step forward in a contract year.

I think the receiver with the most potential is top return man Deonte Harris, who needs to get more snaps on offense due to his explosiveness.

Marques Callaway has shown good hands and the ability to get open.

This year’s seventh-round draft pick is a bit unknown.

Kaawan Baker, a big prospect at 6-foot-1, 212 pounds from South Alabama has good run-after-catch ability, tracks the ball in the air well and shows enough speed to get deep. He still tends to body-catch too many balls, but he does have potential.

The Saints are moving big wide receiver Juwan Johnson to the tight end position as well to add more downfield punch to the position group.

I think there will be another free agent pick-up or two near training camp, specifically at cornerback.

However, the Saints seem set on offense and primed to play to their current strengths by running the rock frequently this fall.

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