Saints' rushing total was highest in 23 years

METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton was a man of his word.

The New Orleans Saints coach insisted last week that he wanted to bring more balance to the offense. And sure enough, the Saints wound up running for 242 yards in Sunday night’s 49-17 rout of the Dallas Cowboys.

It was New Orleans’ highest rushing total in 23 years.

Most importantly, those yards didn’t just come when the Saints started running out the clock in the second half.

The Saints were clearly committed to the run game early. Thirteen of their first 30 snaps were run plays -- including a 7-yard run by Pierre Thomas on the first play and an 8-yarder by Thomas three snaps later.

“We wanted to establish this,” Thomas said Monday. “We said it as a corps, as a group, as a running back group, that we [have] got to establish the run game today. It has to start tonight. We can't wait. We can't put it on the side anymore. We really have to come out here and run the ball and that's what we did."

Thomas finished with 87 yards on 17 carries. Then Mark Ingram took over in the second half and finished with 145 yards on 14 carries. Thomas, Ingram and Darren Sproles each ran for touchdowns.

Obviously New Orleans’ performance has to be taken with a grain of salt because the Cowboys looked so defenseless against both the run and the pass. They’ll face a much stiffer test this week against the San Francisco 49ers, and other physical battles loom against Seattle and Carolina (twice).

But the Saints have shown a gradual improvement in the run game over the past five games. And they are optimistic that Sunday’s game was just the beginning of a renewed commitment to run the ball.

"Well, I hope so,” Thomas said. “As a group, we really wanted to show the coaches, show everybody that we can run the ball, and our O-line is a good offensive line, and our tight ends and wide receivers, they can block the DBs and the corners and the secondary.

“We wanted to show everybody that we can run the ball as long as we just persevere at it. You might not have good runs in maybe the first quarter or first few carries. You're not always going to break a long one. But as long as you keep calling it and don't give up on it, you're bound to break one; you're bound to have a good game. And that's what we did. We had a good game from the start.”

For the record, Saints quarterback Drew Brees didn’t do a bad job himself of “establishing the pass.”

Brees made 19 straight completions during the first half, tying his own franchise record. He finished 34-of-41 for 392 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

“I thought he played with real good rhythm,” Payton said Monday. “I thought his decision-making was outstanding. And I think last night was a great example of his preparation and getting into a game against a zone defense and knowing right where he wanted to go.

“He was really on.”