With off-season team activities complete and just over three weeks remaining until training camp begins, the New Orleans Saints are slowly preparing to kickoff their 50th NFL season in 2016.
Coming off a 7-9 season filled with inconsistency and injuries, the Saints have become a much younger team throughout the off-season; with the hope that the new additions will increase the number of wins for the franchise in the Saints’ “Golden Anniversary” season.
While some will blame the Saints’ defense or the non-existent balance of running and passing the ball on offense, the Saints are in a good position to restore its competitive spirit in the NFC South division.
But in order to regain their ability to challenge for the division title, the Saints first need to establish an efficient balance to their offensive attack by strengthening their running game — in an effort to at least somewhat match their prolific passing attack.
During the Saints’ greatest years of success during the Sean Payton Era, having a strong running game was an essential part of the team’s success.Sept 13, 2009; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mike Bell (21) in the first quarter of a game vs. the Detroit Lions at the Louisiana Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
In the 2009 Super Bowl Season and in 2011, New Orleans ranked sixth in the league in rushing yards per game and averaged almost five yards per rushing attempt.
In the 2015 season, New Orleans averaged a meager 93 rushing yards in comparison to 311 passing yards per game.
Talk about a lack of balance.
The Saints finished 24th in the league in average yards per carry with 3.8. Those are abysmal numbers for a team that finishes in the Top 5 NFL offenses every year.
Even more mind boggling, in the seven games that the Saints won, the leading rusher averaged only 88 yards. In the nine losses, the leading rusher averaged a paltry 53 yards, an average of 35 yards less — a clear sign that the running game was nearly abandoned in those games.
If the Saints are serious about becoming a Playoff contender again, it is almost imperative that they turn back towards making a commitment to the rushing attack.
As Big Easy Believer editor and featured columnist Barry Hirstius mentioned in his column just last week, the Saints may be looking to do just that.
Alex Gibbs, a long-time assistant head coach who is still an adviser for several teams throughout the League when called upon, may be advising the Saints and helping them out with improving their running game.
Gibbs age 75, is considered the godfather of the popular NFL offense “zone blocking” scheme. He still serves as a consultant (most recently in Denver) and been spotted at a few of the Saints practices this off-season.
— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) February 16, 2015
His presence is notable because it means that the Saints and Sean Payton along with offensive line coach Dan Roushar, are more than likely going to be incorporating Gibbs’ concepts into the Saints running game.
That could have a huge impact upon the Saints running game, and the Saints’ current stable of RB’s all stand to benefit.
Starting / #1 running back Mark Ingram led the team in rushing in 2015 with 769 yards, averaged nearly five yards per carry and recorded six touchdowns before being placed on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury after the Week 13 match-up against the Carolina Panthers.
If Ingram would not have gotten injured, it is safe to say that the former Alabama running back would have eclipsed his first 1,000-yard season and helped Drew Brees and the offense to remain balanced.Sep 27, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) scores a touchdown as Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (24) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
But, things happen — and as we all know: in the NFL, injuries are an unfortunate part of the game.
Current back-up and #2 RB Tim Hightower stepped in and did an admirable job in Ingram’s absence, recording 327 yards over the last four weeks of the season.
Hightower’s emergence could prove beneficial in 2016, as it not only gives the Saints a capable back-up to replace the departed Khiry Robinson (now with the Jets), but also gives them the capability of rotating the backs in to keep them healthy.
Saints head coach Sean Payton is accustomed to having two and sometimes even three running backs to keep his RB’s healthy and fresh, and it should not be any different this season.
Ingram still wants to be the featured, every-down running back; and if he can stay healthy, he will. Hightower showed great signs of his play-making capability at the end of the season, and he is more than ready to help with the rushing load.
C.J. Spiller has a lot of potential to do great things for the Saints’ offense but he played in only two games last season. Payton brought in Spiller to fill the production of former Saints running back, Darren Sproles.
However, that production has yet to be seen from Spiller. Payton wants to get Spiller more involved in the offense, and if he can, this will add an extra dynamic to the Saints offense, something fans expected of him last season.Oct 4, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back C.J. Spiller (28) breaks the tackle of Dallas Cowboys strong safety Barry Church (42) to score the game-winning 80-yard touchdown in overtime at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans has plenty of youth on the team and key players who can make a huge impact early on in the passing game and on the defensive side of the ball.
But — a key to their success in 2016 could be the balance of run and pass on offense; and having an efficient enough offense to take the pressure of the defense.
In turn, if the young and improving defensive unit can make the necessary stops against opponents and manage to get off the field in critical 3rd down situations, it could mean a few additional wins to the Saints’ overall win-loss record.
And a few more wins on their record could be good enough to be competitive once again in the NFC South and perhaps more importantly, get back to the NFL Playoffs that they’ve missed for the last 2 seasons.
Wouldn’t that be a great present for their “Golden Anniversary”…..