Injuries? "The Fever"? : Why The Saints Had Trouble Running In 2010 by Preston J. Gary, Jr.
This post is actually a response I made in another thread who's title isn't really related to the subject. Why create a separate thread to display such a comment? I feel that this subject needs to be fully exlpored all on its own. So without further delay:
I agree that the Saints need to run the ball more. It’s obvious. Why do you think Sean Payton traded up for Ingram? However, what happened last year wasn’t Sean Payton getting “the fever” and reverting back to his pass happy ways. No sir. It can't all be blamed in injuries either. Last year's decline in rushing production was a combination of a few things, and the first was evident in pre-season.
The first big problem with our rushing attack was that after the offseason ended and training camp began, it was obvious for anyone to see that Jeremy Shockey “lost” his legs. Shockey no longer created that separation which in turn would force a defense to defend him with bracket coverage. Shockey no longer got much YAC either. Anytime he left his feet to make a catch, his legs buckled when he came down. He was no longer a threat.
Now there were a few games where Shockey had plenty of catches. Yet those catches came because they were what the defense was giving us. They no longer had to put both a Safety and LB on Shockey— they could make do with one or the other. What affect did this have? It meant that free defender is now able to cover a WR who in 2009 was enjoying 1 on 1 match-ups and having Drew “throw them open” on a seam route. Week two, Reggie breaks a leg. Now whoever is taking his place doesn’t demand the bracket coverage Reggie enjoyed. Which means that other S can focus on our bunch of WR’s.
How does this affect the running game, you ask? Simply put, in the passing game the safeties who used to be concerned with Reggie and Shockey beating a LB are now free to focus on actually playing safety and not letting a WR beat a CB over the top. In other words, they can now keep everything in front of them— the Saints lost their ability to create the mis-match on whim and stretch the field vertically consistantly.
With the vertical threat minimized, the field is more compact. Without that RB and TE combo coming out into the flats, the field doesn’t get stretched horizontally as well either. So those big lanes our RB’s saw in 2009 shrunk. While in 2009 defenders were concerned with not letting Drew find that mismatch, in 2010 they were able to keep everything in front of them and force Drew to revert back to nickle and diming them. A congested field means less running opportunities.
Sure, Lance Moore filled in for Reggie and as a slot WR didn't miss a beat in production. But EVERY time Moore was in, a defense knew who to defend him with-- a single DB-- no bracket coverage that would occupy two defenders. Sure, we still completed a few deep passes, but not at the clip they were coming in 2009. You didn't see Devery or Dave Thomas or Robert Meachem catching that 20 yard vertical multiple times every game. You didn't see Drew having phenomenal numbers throwing the ball 20+ yards in the air as he had in 2009. Look it up. When Drew had those mis-matches, he had almost double the completion % and yards on deep passes, by far better than everyone else, including Brady and Manning and Farve. Compare that to 2010 when the Safeties were able to actually provide support for the CB's on our WR's. That is exactly why the running game took a step back.
In essence, much of the success the Saints had running the ball in 2009 was a direct result of the defense being occupied with our passing attack and the mis-matches we created in that facet. Remove those mis-matches, and defenses can play our passing game like they’d play any other— by stopping the run on the way to the QB and counting on their secondary to keep everything in front of them. Add to that all the injuries we incurred at the position after Reggie went down, and you’ll see our offense in 2010 was simply the only thing it could have been; running the ball more wouldn’t have helped.