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The one about the Saints' running game

Darren Sproles of the New Orleans Saints celebrates

Darren Sproles of the New Orleans Saints celebrates a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during a game at the Superdome. The Saints defeated the Colts 62-7. (Oct. 23, 2011) Credit: Getty

Think of the New Orleans Saints and what likely is the first thing that comes to mind? Well, aside from “Bountygate” and that ongoing scandal.

The vaunted passing attack, of course.

The Saints are averaging 306 yards per game through the air – second most in the NFL – and Drew Brees already has thrown for 3,674 yards and a league-high 31 touchdowns. A season after setting the NFL record for yards, Brees is within passing distance of 5K again this year. He also set the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass, and the Saints are averaging 41 pass attempts per game.

So, entering Sunday’s game, what has the Giants defense super concerned?

That ol’ New Orleans running game. Wuh?

Apparently, there have been several instances in which the Saints interrupted the chuck-a-thon and executed a maneuver being termed “the handoff.” And, difficult as it may be to fathom, considerable yardage has been accrued by way of this so-called “running.”

The Saints, actually, were one of the better running teams in the league last year. They averaged 133 yards per game, good for sixth-best. Those numbers are way down this year, and they’re only 27th with 1,107 yards. But that, at least somewhat, is a product of them being 5-7 and having, statistically, the league's worst defense. They haven’t had too many opportunities to play clock-kill. Nevertheless, the Saints do have four talented backs in Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles. (Earth, Wind, Fire & Mist?)

“They have a good run game,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “They’ve got an array of runners and a big offensive line. We’ve been victimized by that before, too.”

The Giants gave up 207 yards on the ground to the Redskins on Monday, including 72 from the legs of quarterback Robert Griffin III.

“A lot of people talk about their passing game, but they run the ball very effectively,” linebacker Michael Boley said of the Saints. “They’ve got four backs that can run it.”

But the Saints’ biggest threat still is Drew Brees and his cadre of big-play receivers, correct? That, of course, will be the defense’s primary focus, considering Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns in the Saints’ 49-24 win over the Giants last season. Right?

“You’ve got to read run first,” Boley insisted. “If you’re thinking pass first and they get you back on your heals, they’re going to pound the ball on you.”

The Saints’ ostensible weakness on offense has been the turnovers. Brees has again been prolific, but he leads the NFL with 16 interceptions, seven of which have come in the last two weeks. He threw a career-worst five picks in a 23-13 loss to the Falcons on Sunday. That hasn’t been lost on the Giants defensive players.

“The last couple weeks he has thrown [some] interceptions, so hopefully we can build off that and create some opportunities for him to throw some interceptions,” cornerback Corey Webster said. “Hopefully we can get some turnovers.”

Added Boley: “Everyone has their day and that was his. I’m sure he’ll come in here with his A-game.” Are great quarterbacks only allowed one bad day? “No… Hopefully he has another bad one this week.”

New York Sports