Run game could be key to success for the 2016 New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints got exposed last year when it came to the running game, both offensively and defensively.
That has to change in 2016, as they look to improve on their 7-9 record. This may be a tough task, but with the right pieces on offense finding their way and the new additions to the defense, it shouldn’t be an impossible one.
Throughout the 2015 offseason we heard that the New Orleans Saints were going to change their philosophy. Instead of passing the ball all game and relying on Drew Brees to win the game single-handedly, the running game was going to be the big key. It would allow the Saints to control the time of possession and furthermore make sure Brees could avoid sacks and not have him put up 300-yard games every week.
What seemed like an excellent idea never materialized, and the Saints ended up having to pass the ball way more than they probably intended to going into the season. Only four times all season did the Saints finish with more rushing yards than the opposition. In all of those four games, the Saints ended the game with a win. So if the Saints can get back to their original game plan in 2016, they should be in good shape to get more wins.
But how do they do it? When you look at the Saints offense, they seem to have the right pieces in place. The offensive line played well in the running game last season, but we are yet to see exactly how the line will look this season. If they can keep up the good work from last season, then there should be holes to find for the running backs.
Holes that the running backs outside of Mark Ingram didn’t seem to find last season. Ingram finished with a more than solid 4.6 yards per carry, but as a team the Saints only had 3.8. That has to improve in 2016 for the team to be successful. So, players like C.J. Spiller and Tim Hightower both have to improve on their consistency so the Saints can work on controlling the game more effectively in 2016.
Not only did the Saints struggle with running the ball, but also when the opposing team rushed against them. They couldn’t stop them all season. The Saints defensive gave up a league-leading 4.9 yards per carry. That’s a massive number. If a team can gain nearly 5 yards per carry against you on a consistent basis, then you have almost no chance of stopping them going down the field.
So, the front office had a mission to change that this offseason. And even with a limited amount of cap space at their disposal, they still found a way to sign solid pieces to plug-in on the front seven. Craig Robertson and Nathan Stupar should help create help from the edges, and James Laurinaitis brings experience and fantastic tackling technique to the young linebacker corp. What’s possibly more important is that the two new defensive tackles, Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins, will help give the push and gap shooting the Saints have lacked for the last two seasons.
All in all, it should give the Saints better opportunities to be aggressive on defense when it comes to defending the run. Last season, the team played more conservative in fear of giving up the big play, but this season they have the experience and the high football IQ in Laurinaitis and athletes all around the defensive line and outside linebacker positions to make sure the runner goes down closer to the line of scrimmage.
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What can we expect
Only time will tell if the “new” New Orleans Saints can begin to improve on the dreadful run defense over the team from last season, but the additions general manager Mickey Loomis brought in should only be an upgrade to the personnel Dennis Allen had available last season.
As far the as offense goes, improvement will be needed from all the tailbacks not named Mark Ingram. Overall, the offensive line played well last season. No matter who starts this season, they have to continue the good momentum from last season and make sure the running backs can rack up more than 3.8 yards per carry.
An important thing to look for is Ingram’s health. For the last two season he has missed time and as a result the running game hasn’t been the same without him. But if he can stay healthy, the rushing attack should improve as he continues to show he’s one of the better running backs in the league.
If the Saints want to see Drew Brees win more games at the end off his amazing career, then they can not allow the opposition to outgain them by over 600 yards like last season. They need to improve on both sides off the ball and make sure that 2016 becomes the year where they win the war in the trenches.