It has been 44 combined regular and postseason games since any opposing running back has eclipsed the century mark against the Saints impressive run defense. The last to do it was Semaje Perine in the 11th week of the 2017 season with 117 rushing yards in an overtime thriller in the Dome.
New Orleans will visit and play host to some talented backs in their upcoming season. Can the defense, who has retained the majority of its personnel, maintain their streak against them? Ranked below are five of the top backs they will face in the 2020 season as well thoughts on the potential of the individual success against one of the league’s best run-stopping units.
5. Melvin Gordon, Week 12 at Denver
Had some trouble to start this list off. Making the decision here between Gordon, whose season began late with the Chargers thanks to his holdout, and second-year back Miles Sanders in Philadelphia. Ultimately, the nod goes to the guy with more NFL experience and a young QB for whom Gordon will be trusted to ease the load.
Gordon, when not holding out, has been very consistent. Rushing for at least 850 yards three straight years before his abbreviated 2019. Even with that short season last year, he has put together four-straight season with at least nine total touchdowns each season as well with no fewer than eight on the ground.
The last time that Gordon faced the Saints was in San Diego during a 2016 matchup. In that game he gathered on 36 rushing yards on 19 attempts. He did have two touchdowns in the game, but was far from notching three-digit yardage. New Orleans and their 2020 defense should be leaps and bounds better than the 2016 team that allowed over 101 yards per game to the run. The big advantage for Gordon comes in the fact that this game will be played in Denver in the winter months. If there is any inclement weather, the run game will be leaned on heavily.
4. Josh Jacobs, Week 2 at Las Vegas
While Miles Sanders might still have some left to prove before making this list over some vets, Josh Jacobs is a different matter. After putting up over 1,100 rushing yard and 1,300 all-purpose in only 13 games, it should not be too much of a surprise. Jacobs was a very talented rusher coming into the NFL and proved in 2019 that he can continue his trajectory and live up to the promise that accompanied him and other young backs entering their pro careers. Just watching him run is a thing of beauty.
Josh Jacobs short area quickness and the way he finishes runs are impressive. pic.twitter.com/JNvAJILuvi— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) May 13, 2020
Jacobs was a terror on his home turf last season rushing for just under 100 yards per game. Literally. He averaged just about 99.85. In a primetime and brand new home opener for Las Vegas, following the Saints’ longest travel of the season, the stage is set for Jacobs to have a big game and establish himself as a large part of the franchise’s future. The challenge, outside of the Saints’ defense itself, will be whether or not the kinks are ironed out early enough in the year for the Raiders to take advantage of Jacobs’ talent.
3. Aaron Jones, Week 3 vs. Green Bay
Immediately after taking on Josh Jacobs, the Saints will return home to host Aaron Jones. Jone also had a very successful 2019. Though his yardage was a stop below Jacobs’ at 1,084, his 16 rushing touchdowns are hard to miss. The Packers went through this offseason without addressing or adding another option for Aaron Rodgers at the wide receiver position but did add A.J. Dillon and Josiah Deguara who can both contribute in the run game.
The Packers backfield has the potential to feel as crowded as their new-look quarterback room. Then again, look who is talking. With Aaron Jones potentially splitting carries with not only Jamaal Williams but now A.J. Dillon, he may not be a threat to break the 100-yard rushing mark. But regardless of that, he is still one of the more talents, effective, and consistent backs the Saints will face.
Jones can be a bit boom or bust on the road. In 2019 he run for over 100 yards in three away contests (two against division opponents), but also went for less than 40 yard four times. This particular game that has the opportunity to be a shootout early in the season. That in and of itself could be a factor in limiting the opposing run game.
2. Dalvin Cook, Week 16 vs. Minnesota
Cook is the back that was most recent the closest to breaking the Saints’ streak. In last year’s Wildcard loss, Cook toasted the Saints run defense for 94 yards. He did so by constantly winning on the outside along with his offensive line. They kept New Orleans from being able to control and set the edges like they otherwise do consistently. Absences of Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport were, of course, no help either.
Dalvin Cook is unreal in space. Makes breaking four tackles look easy. pic.twitter.com/KTNYe6FK9e— Chad Graff (@ChadGraff) November 11, 2019
Those injuries are worth remembering as the Saints and Vikings will meet late in the 2020 season. So health and availability can play a large role in what happens with this matchup. Cook feels like one of the two most likely to break the streak. But very little question that he is one of the top backs the Saints will face this coming year.
1. Christian McCaffrey, Weeks 7 & 17, Carolina
Mcaffrey may not see a ton of success on the ground against New Orleans, but he is undoubtably the best back they will face this upcoming season. Topping 2,000 yards of all purpose offense last season wth 19 total touchdowns, McCaffrey is the Panthers’ offense. Now they have added a new quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and deep threat in Robby Anderson. However, McCaffrey will still very much be the focal point of that offense.
Week 7 feels like the most likely game of the pair in which the talent dual-threat back could challenge for those 100 yards. Week 17 may end up being only a contest ending with early exits for starters. However there is the potential, much like with Green Bay, that this games turns into a blow out or shootout quickly.
Man...Christian McCaffrey downright embarrassed the Jaguars pic.twitter.com/6z8Bw1cOCZ— Josh Parcell (@JoshParcell) April 14, 2020
Sean Payton has already begun to have his fun at Joe Brady’s expense. There would be very little surprise if Payton were to continue that during the Week 7 matchup and aim to blow the doors out early and emphatically. Should that happen, the Panthers would be forced away from the run game to try and keep pace.
The Saints will face some massively talented back this season. Some in their own division. As well as others from around the league including Kerryon Johnson, Damien Williams, and rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire who performed pretty well the last time he was in the Superdome. These are some of the top guys, but as Semaje Perine showed back in 2017, it could be anyone that happens to catch a rhythm that could rattle off that century mark on the ground. Or, as history has told over the last few seasons, no one.
How do you feel about this list? Agree? Disagree? Thoughts on other backs? Let us know in the comments! Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA.