Week 1 is in the books, and to put it blatantly, the New Orleans Saints rushing attack left a lot to be desired against the Atlanta Falcons. This was due to a wide variety of reasons, which will be covered in the first half of this article. In the second half, we will break down the history of the Saints’ running game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and what we should expect from this unit in Week 2 of the 2022 NFL season. So, without further ado, let's get right into it.
What went wrong in Week 1 for the rushing attack?
There is a pretty wide variety of issues the Saints had in Week 1 for their running game. It actually seems more beneficial to break this into smaller sections just to cover each in depth.
Alvin Kamara injury/usage rate
The first issue was that Alvin Kamara reportedly sustained a rib injury during the game. While Dennis Allen did not seem overly concerned in the postgame press conference, stating that he thought Kamara would be fine. However, with any injury, they are going to drop the usage rate of the player to play it safe and prevent any further injury in that game. Kamara was on the field for 62% of the offensive snaps, compared to 76% of offensive snaps in games he played in last season. Is this an enormous difference? No. But his usage rate also took a drop, only having 9 carries and 4 targets in the game. The reason this is not concerning is that his yards per carry did not dwindle, at 4.3 per rush, so his effectiveness was still there, he was just being precautionarily limited.
Trailing on the scoreboard most of the game
The next one was pretty easy for everyone to notice, which was that for the large majority of this game, the Saints were behind on the scoreboard. Why does this matter? Teams tend to abandon the run game when they are trying to stage a late comeback, which could factor into why the Saints only had 13 rushing attempts in the game among RBs, plus 4 for Taysom Hill and 2 for Jameis Winston. As we saw, the passing offense was getting a ton of work in the 4th quarter, as it should in those scenarios, but it led to a lack of effectiveness in week 1 for sure.
A fumble from Mark Ingram late
With 5:23 left in the 3rd quarter, the Saints were attempting to start up on offense and kick into gear. A screen pass to Mark Ingram ended up being fumbled and recovered by Atlanta. This seemingly sparked the Saints not using the rushing game anymore, as they would rush the ball twice more in the remaining 20 minutes of play. The fumble from Ingram forced the Saints to push all momentum into the passing game, which was seen in the last 2 drives as they were 100% passing plays (aside from spikes to stop the clock).
What to expect in week 2 from the rushing game?
To put this in the clearest and simple manner, the Saints have struggled in the past with the rush game against Tampa Bay, understandably, as their front 7 has been phenomenal. Alvin Kamara in his career has never broken the 100 rushing yard mark against the Buccaneers in his 10 career games against them, and in 7 of such contests has had 10+ rushing attempts. On the bright side for Saints fans, he has had a rushing touchdown in 6 of those games, and in 3 of those games, has had 80+ receiving yards.
In fact, none of the Saints' rostered running backs have had much career success against Tampa. Mark Ingram in 14 career games against the Bucs has never broken 100 yards and only twice has broken 80. Even Taysom Hill has had little success outside one matchup in 2020 where he had 7 carries for 54 yards.
The Buccaneers' front 7 remains relatively unchanged as well, outside a few losses, primarily DL Ndamukong Suh. They held the Dallas Cowboys to 71 rushing yards last week, 11 of which came from Dak Prescott as well, so 60 from running backs. The Saints’ main objective in this game will have to be passing early and often, and then when the Bucs’ front 7 is somewhat backing off to drop into coverage, breaking off some quick and effective outside rushing to avoid a log jam at the Line of Scrimmage. Provided Alvin Kamara plays, which seems likely as he was limited in practice on Wednesday, getting him involved outside both in screens and outside runs will be the primary way out of the stifling Buccaneers defensive line.