The Saints are 2-2, and things are looking better than what we as fans are used to this time a year. The defense has shown promise and should only get better as the season progresses. This is obviously a big difference from what we have seen in recent years. Another thing that has been different for Sean Payton and company are the struggles from the offense. Guys like Drew Brees and Michael Thomas have been outstanding, but outside of that the performances have been ranging from bad to above average.
One of the key reasons for this has been the run game. The Saints are currently averaging 4.0 yards per carry (T-17th), which is 0.1 yard under the league average of 4.1. Furthermore, the team is only gaining 94.0 rushing yards per game this season. This statistic is quite a bit under the league average of 107.3, and clearly a sign of the struggles the running backs and at times receivers have faced.
If we take a look at the individual stats for each running back, then you will see that it's been mixed results. Ingram has averaged 4.0 yards per carry, which is way below his average in of 5.1 in 2016. Alvin Kamara has been excellent and is currently averaging 5.5 yards per carry. But because of a lack of attempts, he hasn't been able to help much. This could and should change with Adrian Peterson gone.
For the RBs to succeed, they need the offensive line to open running lanes, and that hasn't happened much this season. Ingram, Kamara, and Peterson have so far been required to shed their way through contact to get any yards and this has forced some struggles. If we take a look at the grades by Pro Football Focus, the lack of run blocking becomes clear.
Let's be clear. PFF grades do not tell the whole story, but they do give us a good indication of the performance of a player, and as you can see it hasn't been good. If you want to see real-life examples of the lack of run-blocking, I suggest you go watch my fellow writer Deuce Windham’s YouTube channel with film breakdowns.
If the Saints manage to get the running game going, it could affect the entire team. Getting to more manageable 2nd and 3rd down distances would help ensure the offense wouldn't stall as much as now, and the defense wouldn't have to be on the field. By using that formula, the Saints could dominate time of possession and only rely on Brees throwing 300+ yards when it's absolutely necessary.
The Saints play the Lions on Sunday, and it will be interesting if they can get Ingram and Kamara going on the ground. The Lions have been great at defending the run all year, but they just lost their big interior presence in Haloti Ngata for the season. The Saints should try to use this to their advantage. We will see what they do, but they absolutely need to improve the running game going forward to challenge for the playoffs.