METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Sean Payton's play selection has backed up the coach's offseason pledge to restore more balance between the times the Saints run or pass.
Now, as New Orleans prepares to visit Tampa Bay this Sunday, it's up to the offensive line and running backs to give Payton a reason to stick with it.
"It's going to get better," running back Pierre Thomas promised.
In last Sunday's triumph over Atlanta, New Orleans attempted 35 passes and ran the ball 29 times. The passing game accounted for 357 yards and both Saints touchdowns. The running game, by contrast, averaged only 2.7 yards per carry.
"We got some stuff we need to work on, but we had some good stuff called," running back Darren Sproles said after Wednesday's practice. "We really worked on it today, so we're kind of getting our groove back."
Last season, the Saints were quick to abandon a running game which averaged about 99 yards and ranked 25th in the league.
Payton wasn't around for last season because of his bounty suspension. Not long after his reinstatement, Payton said he wanted to re-establish more balance in the offense.
Payton doesn't necessarily see the running game as a great way to move the ball. Rather, he wants his record-setting quarterback, Drew Brees, as involved as possible in the attack, even if that means distributing the ball to running backs through short passes when downfield options are not as attractive. However, Payton does see merit in using the running game to punish defenses physically, and to control the clock, particularly with leads.
To some extent, Payton said, the running game succeeded in those areas against Atlanta, even though it only accounted for a total of 78 yards and no touchdowns.
"The final drive that led to a field goal took a lot of time off the clock," Payton said, referring to a six-minute, 12-second possession which gave the Saints a 23-17 lead with 3:12 left. "We will continue to work on that element. It needs to be better. We were close in some areas and yet we still have to work on and clean up a number of things to improve it."
Some running backs did better than others in terms of yards per carry. Thomas, who averaged 4.8 yards on nine carries, was the best of the lot. Sproles averaged 2.8 yards on eight carries and Mark Ingram 1.2 yards on nine carries.
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