The New Orleans Saints put a wrap on their week of practice Friday and will be in Oakland by Friday night. Sunday the Saints take on the Raiders and the team deciding to leave early in order to adjust to the time difference.
Saints running back Darren Sproles practiced fully for the second straight day but is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Sproles has practiced all week but team doctors will ultimately decide if it is a good idea to play mainly because there still swelling in his hand.
Wide receiver Courtney Roby (shoulder) is listed as probable after fully practicing on Friday.
Three players have been ruled out for the game. Right tackle Zach Strief (groin), defensive end Junior Galette (ankle), and cornerback Corey White (knee).
JUST RUN IT
Former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson once said famously “throw me the damn ball” when he felt he was being underutilized by the New York Jets. While you won’t hear something quite like that from the Saints locker room, you could almost sense this week from the Black and Gold running backs a desire to say “hand me the damn ball.”
The Saints running game has been pretty nonexistent for most of the season. I know that a bad defense at times did not help the Saints establish a ground game as having to play catch-up can tends to limit running plays. Still, at least to me it was more about a mindset. Aaron Kromer during his stint as acting head coach told reporters that they call runs to keep the defense honest and give Brees a breather. Wow. If you treat the running game like an accessory then no wonder you can’t call upon it when you need it at a crucial point of a game.
Last season the Saints rushed for over 100 yards in 12 out of the 16 regular season games. The off-season leading into that year, head coach Sean Payton told reporters during owners meetings here in New Orleans, that the running game was a key area of improvement. The six games that Vitt was off serving his bounty suspension the Saints couldn’t rush for a yard at times (remember Green Bay!).
The Saints this season have rushed for 32 yards against Washington, 163 yards at Carolina, 83 yards against the Chiefs, 42 yards at Green Bay, 53 against the Chargers, 81 yards at Tampa Bay, and 51 yards at Denver.
“I mean it was frustrating, you saw we weren’t getting anything. We saw that and we just had to say we just have to keep establishing it,” Thomas says of the team’s lack of run production to start the season. “I kind of saw that, I don’t want to say we gave up too early but we started to give up just a little bit if things weren’t going our way. You’re not going to break 10 or 15 yard runs every time you touch the ball. You got to work at it. You got to keep pressing it and that’s what we’re doing no matter what. Things have been in our favor when we been coming together and really trying to establish the run.”
The Saints have come out looking to run the football however the last two games and have gone over the century mark each time. New Orleans rushed for 140 yards against Philadelphia and 148 yards against Atlanta in games the Saints won. What’s changed? Well apparently there was some tinkering to the running scheme. “In the beginning of the season we called some running schemes that really wasn’t working out for us,” says Thomas. “We called some run plays we put together that try get us outside but we could never get outside. Now we’re putting a good run game plan that’s allowing that to happen. We won’t want to show that we can run it outside. We want to run inside too as we’re doing a good job of mixing that up so the defense doesn't know who we’re going to run the ball or if we’re going to run it at all.”
The addition of Chris Ivory to the running attack has excited the fans and the numbers as Ivory has combined for 120 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns in the pair of games he’s seen action in.
“I can’t really complain about that. I’m getting my share of carries,” Ivory said this week when asked if he should get more carries. “There are three, four backs and they’re trying to spread the carries among all of us. The carries I get I’m just going to try to make the best out of them.”
One other reason that the running game has picked up recently is the run blocking of the offensive line. “The holes are opening up. They’re there,” says Saints running back Mark Ingram. “Our line is doing a great job of opening the line of scrimmage, knocking the front line off the ball and creating a lot of seams for us to run through. It’s a lot more encouraging as a runner and it makes your decisions a lot quicker when there are seams to run through.”
The Saints may want to continue to try and run the football to an extent as they are 27-4 since the beginning of the 2010 season when rushing the ball at least 21 times in a game. When the there are 20 carries or fewer, the Saints are 1-9.