METAIRIE, La. -- Sean Payton said this week that the New Orleans Saints’ offense has been too “lopsided,” insisting he wants to do a better job of sticking with the run game when it’s working.
However, this might not be the week.
The Saints (6-2) will be facing one of the NFL’s most porous pass defenses when the Dallas Cowboys (5-4) visit the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday night. The Cowboys have already set a NFL record this year, allowing four 400-yard passing games. And they rank 31st in the league, allowing 305.2 passing yards per game.
Sure, the Saints want to run the ball more consistently. But they won’t be too stubborn about it if the passing game is a better option -- which is usually the case for New Orleans.
“We’re never going to force the run game. (If the passing game is working), we’re gonna stick with it, trust me,” Saints guard Jahri Evans said. “Listen, there’s no secret. We’re gonna throw the ball. That’s what we do.
“The run game, we want to be efficient in it. The thing that matters to us is yards per carry. We’re not gonna run the ball that much. But we want to be efficient, we want positive yards.”
Every once in a while, Payton draws criticism from some analysts -- or even from the Saints’ fan base -- for throwing the ball too much and abandoning the run too quickly. But it’s hard to argue with how much success Payton and quarterback Drew Brees have had over the years by throwing the ball aggressively and often, trying to exploit the mismatches they find in opposing defenses.
“I think there’s a fine line,” Payton said. “I think it’s game-related. I’ll take Arizona for instance (a 31-7 victory in Week 3). There were certain things that we wanted to do with regards to the running game, and yet we got an entirely different look or a different front. With a five-man rush, a lot more single-man than maybe we had seen from them. That midstream adjustment was to throw it a little bit more against some of those heavy run looks.
“Conversely, there’s going to be times where all of the sudden you’re having a little bit more success in one area, so paying attention to that is important.”
An opposite example was the Saints’ 30-27 loss at New England in Week 6. The Patriots devoted so much effort to pass coverage that they were practically begging the Saints to run the ball -- so the Saints finally did, rushing for 112 yards on 20 carries in the second half.
Then there are games like last week’s 26-20 loss to the Jets, where the best approach wasn’t clear. The Saints wisely planned to throw the ball against a Jets secondary that has struggled all year, while New York’s run defense is ranked No. 1 in the league. And it partly worked -- Brees threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. But Brees also threw two interceptions on tipped balls in the first half, and the Saints dropped three first-half passes. In the second half, Brees started to absorb several hits when the Saints became too one-dimensional while trailing by two scores.
After the game, Payton said he wished he had stuck with the run even more because it was working well on the few occasions when they did run the ball.
“It’s not forcing yourself. It’s just paying attention,” Payton said. “When you’re throwing it that many times, that formula is often times not good. Especially on the road against a good rush team like that.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett sounded like a kindred spirit when talking about the same subject this week.
Dallas has been even more lopsided than New Orleans this year. The Saints have dropped back to pass on 65 percent of their offensive plays this year (349 pass plays, 191 run plays). The Cowboys have dropped back to pass 67 percent of the time.
“Well I think Sean (Payton) will probably want to run the ball more and run it more effectively. And there’s no question that we would want to do that as well,” Garrett said. “We both have very good quarterbacks and very productive passing games and, having said that, you’d like to have (balance). But at the same time, you want to make sure you’re doing the things that give your team a chance to win. If we need to pass the ball more to do that, we’ll do that. If we need to run it more, we’ll do that as well. I’m sure he believes the same thing.”