By Clay A. Smith
The Saints are a franchise best 8-0 and sit alone atop the NFC. But for three consecutive weeks New Orleans has spotted their opponents substantial leads, only to erase them in the waning moments of the game. They fell behind by twenty-one against the Dolphins and their vaunted "wild cat," but responded with a thirty-six point second half to leave Land Shark stadium with a win. They took the Falcons best shot the very next week after the "Birds' jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but stood their ground and found ways to stay perfect. Last night history would repeated itself -again.
On the second play from scrimmage the Saints allowed Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams to break free for a 66 yard touchdown run, to quiet the home crowd, and put the visiting Panthers in position for a mid season upset. Eventually, behind 330 passing yards from Saints' quarterback Drew Brees, and 90+ receiving yards from both Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson, the Saints would right themselves and come away with a 30-20 point victory. But why the sudden change? How does a dominant high scoring team, that hadn't trailed for a second in their first five games, find itself playing catchup three weeks in a row? Is it because teams are throwing the "kitchen sink" at them? Yes. Is it because of the turnovers? Yes, but even more than all of that, its because they're struggling against the run.
The Saints have struggled to stop the run in each of their last three games. Key injuries have hurt the them in their run defense. Starting LB Scott Fujita has missed the last three games with a calf injury and starting DT Sedrick Ellis has been out the last two games. The Saints are also missing DT's DeMario Pressley (7 games) and Kendrick Clancy (six games), weakening their already thin interior line.
Regardless though, injuries are apart of the game, but these particular injuries came against the Dolphins (5th in the league in rushing), the Panthers (4th in the league in rushing), and the Falcons ( RB Michael Turner is seventh in the league in rushing). Up until that stretch, the Saints hadn't allow a one hundred yard runner the entire season, and even though the Dolphins ran "wild" with 137 yards (mostly between Ricky Williams 80 and and Ronnie Brown 48) not even they had a running back go for over one hundred yards. However, against Atlanta, Turner had 151 yards and last night Williams had 149 in a Panthers' loss.
The Bottom line is that the Saints have been playing with house money all season, and so far all the cards have fallen in their favor. Although they've managed to fight through some tough games, there is still something unsettling about a Super Bowl contender that can't stop the run. Whatever the case, they'd better find a cure for what ales them, because you can be sure that they are going to start getting heavy doses of the run. Because If the Saints can't figure out a way to improve against the opposition's ground game ,they could wake one day to find that their luckhas run out.