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How Unbalanced is the Saints Offense?

Who Dat Nation has been up in arms this week about the balance of the Saints offense and more specifically the desire to see more dedication to the run game. Just recently coach Payton came as close as he ever will to admitting that perhaps he has been a little too pass heavy this season.

"We're going to -- and I'm going to, certainly, as a play caller -- strive for more balance . . ., " Payton said. "Each week, depending on the opponent, that might vary from how we want to attack a team, but certainly our ability to have a good running game is something that we take seriously."

-Sean Payton

We will never know why Payton and this years team have avoided a consistent running game but it has been fairly obvious to even the most casual observer that the Saints are a pass first team.

Brees also talked about the offensive balance.

"We’re going to do what works. We want to be balanced. We talk balance with practice balance and we preach it. We get into a game, see what works. When we’re at our best is when we’re able to mix the run and pass effectively. When you look at it at the end of the day, it’s pretty even, then there are those times where it’s weighted to the other and with us it’s more pass. We won this division back in 2006 doing the same stuff we’re doing now."

-Drew Brees

But while we've all been brooding over this issue as well as debating over who we think should get the bulk of the carries once the team actually does establish a ground game, have any of us actually looked at the numbers? I suspect most of us haven't, so I put together some facts and figures to look over. Below are the Saints run/pass percentages for the past eight seasons.

Year Total Plays Pass % of Plays Rush % of Plays
2008 777 482 62% 295 38%
2007 1060 668 63% 392 37%
2006 1075 603 56% 472 44%
2005 1017 594 58% 423 42%
2004 989 583 59% 406 41%
2003 1019 571 56% 448 44%
2002 1001 575 57% 426 43%
2001 1031 612 59% 419 41%

Not surprising, the last two seasons have seen the Saints most unbalanced offense in recent years so I have to disagree with Brees when he says this team is doing the same things as they were in 2006. As Saints fans we all look to try and get the magic back from that season and as you can see the Saints have not been able to get back to the same offensive form over the last two years.

Okay, so maybe the Saints are going to the air a lot. Is that such a bad thing when the supremely talented Drew Brees is your quarterback? Shouldn't a team play to its strengths or is Payton so goofy over Brees that this team is unrealistically unbalanced? To get some perspective, below are also the run/pass percentages of the top 6 teams in each conference.

Team Total Plays Pass % of Plays Rush % of Plays
Titans 751 359 47% 392 53%
Steelers 750 403 54% 347 46%
Jets 759 419 55% 340 45%
Broncos 758 461 61% 297 39%
Colts 733 457 62% 276 38%
Ravens 809 357 44% 452 56%
Giants 777 387 50% 390 50%
Buccaneers 787 439 56% 348 44%
Vikings 771 386 50% 385 50%
Cardinals 773 496 64% 277 36%
Panthers 707 347 49% 360 51%
Falcons 769 346 45% 423 55%

You can see there is a pretty healthy mix of run/pass balance among all of these teams so its fair to say that the Saints are not doing anything unusual as far as the rest of the league is concerned.

And now that we've got that out of the way only one question remains...

...who should be the feauture back: Reggie or Pierre?