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Week 12 Preview: Saints run offense faces stiffer competition in Broncos run defense

The Saints need to get their running backs going again

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Talking about the New Orleans Saints running game right now is an extremely weird endeavor. Obviously, Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara are the leaders in the conversation, but now the Saints have a quarterback in Taysom Hill who rushes the ball nearly as much as his running backs. It’s a new dimension to the New Orleans offense, and one that is undoubtedly strange for defenses to gameplan for.

This week, it’s Ed Donatell’s unenviable task to rally the Denver Broncos run defense to stop the Saints. New Orleans was ridiculously balanced against the Atlanta Falcons last week, with Murray and Hill rushing for 49 yards each, Kamara rushing for 45 yards, and Deonte Harris even breaking off a 23-yard run.

For the Saints, it’s extra important to establish the run in this game. The Broncos are ninth in the league against the pass, but just 19th against the pass. Expect head coach Sean Payton to try to exploit the Broncos run defense early and often, especially as it will be Hill’s first start at Mile High (no I will not call it Empower Stadium). The most important thing for Hill will be to hang onto the ball, something he’s struggled with this season.

For the Broncos, the man to pick up in the front seven is Alexander Johnson. Johnson has been excellent this year, leading the team with 84 tackles and three tackles for a loss (TFL). At the point of attack, Bradley Chubb is having a nice year of his own. The Saints will need to run away from Chubb and hit Johnson on the second level if they’re to succeed. Otherwise, it will be hard to get a rhythm going against a stout Broncos defense.

The Saints aren’t quite working with a full deck up front. Andrus Peat is battling a concussion and didn’t practice on Wednesday, and Cesar Ruiz has been up and down so far this season. The rest of the line has been extremely strong, if a bit inconsistent at times due to lapses at specific positions.

Latavius Murray should get a heavy dose of carries in this game, especially as Kamara needs to get on the same page as Hill in the passing game. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a lot of short passes to Kamara early, while Murray gets his carries between the tackles. Hitting a groove is so important to this Saints offense, the Saints will want Kamara to get involved.

That plan would also exploit the Broncos’ weaknesses defensively. DeShawn Williams is excellent against the pass, but he can struggle at times with interior rushes. The Saints would do well to attack him early and try to push him off the ball.

All things told, the Saints can exploit the Broncos run defense, and we shouldn’t expect to see anything radically different from last week, in which the Saints passed the ball 23 times and rushed it 36 times. This Taysom Hill experiment is one for one, so it’s unlikely Payton will try to reinvent the wheel week to week.

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