Much stiffer test for Saints' run game

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' offensive line was dominant last week in a 49-17 rout of the Dallas Cowboys, and their 242 rushing yards was their highest total in 23 years.

So, problems solved, right?

Not necessarily.

It was impossible to tell how much of that performance had to do with the Saints' own improvement and renewed commitment to the run game -- and how much had to do with the lousy performance of an injured Cowboys defense.

In truth, it was probably a little of both. But the Saints don't have to wait long to test themselves. This Sunday they'll face one of the NFL's most physical defensive fronts when the San Francisco 49ers come into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"You know, those guys were banged up, we knew that. But the biggest thing is that we took advantage of that, and that's a positive,” Saints guard Jahri Evans said. "So, you know, this team's a different team [the 49ers]. A completely different team. So it's gonna be some tough sledding here and there, there's gonna be some adversity. And we've just got to respond.

"Right now we're going in there to execute every play that's called. But we know that they're gonna throw a few punches too.”

The Saints' run game -- and their overall play along the offensive line -- stood out before last Sunday night as two areas of concern. The Saints had shown signs of progress in both areas, but they weren't consistent enough.

Coach Sean Payton insisted last week that it was his responsibility to make more of a commitment to the run game, especially when it was working well. And he lived up to his word, running on the first snap against the Cowboys and consistently throughout the game.

However, everyone both inside and outside the organization is waiting to see if that will continue this week and beyond. After San Francisco, the Saints have a few more physical defenses on the schedule, including the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers (twice).

"Here's the thing: Every game, every opponent is different. It's a new scheme, it's a new game plan,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "But I think the balance element, the success we had running the football is something that we would like to be able to continue to be able to repeat. That doesn't mean you're going to go out and rush for 240 yards per game. But I think the commitment to it, the emphasis on it, and the buy-in from everybody is important.”

The jury is especially out on Saints running back Mark Ingram, who had the breakout performance of his career against the Cowboys with 145 yards and a touchdown. Although Ingram's performance was impressive because of the amount of burst and aggression he displayed, he did pile up 130 of those yards in the second half -- when the Cowboys defense was especially worn down.

Regardless, Evans said he's confident that game will serve as a "confidence builder" for Ingram and the offensive line. Ingram agreed.

"I just want to keep it going, man,” said Ingram, who again praised the offensive line for blazing his trail. "Coach did a great job of calling the runs, giving us the right looks against the right defenses, and that's what made us have success [against Dallas]. So we just have to keep building on that, keep getting better. And hopefully we can prove it against this San Francisco defense.

"Any football player especially loves a game that's going to be physical. You look forward to those types of games, because as a runner you just want to set the tone. You want to wear them down. You want to hit them in the mouth, wear them down and do whatever you can to help the team have success.

"We're confident going into Sunday and know what we've got to do.”