The New Orleans Saints continued their preparations on Thursday for Sunday’s divisional game against the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay.
During the bye week the coaching staff self scouted and took a look at what worked and what didn't work. A trouble spot clearly was the Saints running game which is ranked 30th in the NFL averaging just 75.2 yards per game.
The Saints through five games have thrown the ball 236 times and rushed it for just 96 times. “There are a lot of circumstances that dictate that. We’re going to go with what’s working,” says quarterback Drew Brees. “In a perfect world we’d like to come out of a game 35-40 pass attempts and the rest run. Hopefully we’re getting a lot of plays that means we’re on the field a lot and we’re sustaining drives, we’re converting third downs and that kind of thing.”
Brees adds that even if the game plan or circumstances, such as being behind in a game take place, when the opportunities to rush come up the offense needs to be able to produce on the ground. “We want to continue to emphasize our effectiveness with the run game and how the pass game can complement the run game as well and just how those work together.”
I wouldn't expect this week to be the breakout game on the ground for the Saints. Tampa Bay ranks 4th in the NFL at stopping the run and are 31st in the league at stopping the pass.
“They’re awfully aggressive,” says Saints right tackle Zach Strief. “These guys are coming off the ball, penetrating and when a team has given up as few yards rushing as they are that comes from the d-line. There’s nowhere else that could come from. They've done a really good job.”
Tampa’s ability to stop the run could be the reason the numbers seem inflated when it comes to the Bucs stopping opponents passing game’s. “That’s what it appears when you watch the games, that people give up on the running game because they have done such a nice job against the run,” Kromer notes. “It has boosted the numbers in the passing game. The first and second down passing appears to be good. They've been good on third down against the pass, they've had a good percentage. They've kicked it up a notch there. We definitely have to be able to establish some sort of running game and do what we do.”
Linebacker David Hawthorne and Scott Shanle were the only two Saints that did not practice on Thursday.
Tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle) was limited a day after not practicing. Right guard Jahri Evans (toe) was full go as were cornerback back Jabari Greer (groin), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (neck), running back Travaris Cadet (shoulder), defensive end Turk McBride (ankle) and receiver Lance Moore (hamstring).
As for today’s take, “Jonathan looks good. He is running around well and he is physically ready,” said interim head coach Aaron Kromer. “He has made some plays in practice that you’re impressed with. We are excited and hoping he is ready.”
So he is going to play on Sunday? “We have to wait until Sunday because there are still a lot of things that we’re going through in the gameplan and we don’t have it all in ye,” Kromer stipulated. “As the week goes on we still continue to see how he feels after each practice. Are there any kinds of setbacks? Is there soreness or anything like that that could hold him up as well? It’s physically and it’s mentally. He definitely would like to play because he’s Jon Vilma and that’s what he does.”
There is no question that if you judge simply from Vilma’s teammates he is dying to play but in reality can he play? He last stepped on a football field at full speed back in January when the Saints played the 49ers in the playoffs. “It’s been a long time since he has been on the football field with the team and seeing plays and pass routes run at him. It has just been a while,” says Kromer. “We just have to feel how comfortable he is and how comfortable we are with him.”
Vilma currently does not count against the Saints roster as the team has 21 days after a player comes off the PUP list to decide. For Vilma to play Sunday, he would have to be added to the roster and a corresponding move would then need to be made.