Saints' run game stuck in reverse

METAIRIE, La. -- As good as the New Orleans Saints’ offense looked on Monday night, the run game continued to struggle.

It’s like the Saints’ rushing attack keeps taking two steps forward, then falling 3 yards back.

The Saints had a total of five negative runs in Monday’s 38-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday night. Running backs Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson combined for a total of zero rushing yards on six carries in the first half.

There were a handful of positive runs in the game -- including Darren Sproles’ 5-yard touchdown on a well-designed draw play in the first quarter. And for the second week in a row, the Saints’ run game finished strong to help run out the clock with a big lead.

But as “Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden stressed often during the broadcast, the Saints’ run game just isn’t good enough right now.

Clearly, the Saints’ offensive line still hasn’t found its rhythm yet while instituting a new outside zone-blocking scheme this year. But the traditional power runs aren’t working either.

It doesn’t help that guard Jahri Evans is still less than 100 percent because of a hamstring injury. He continued to get pushed back more than usual in both the run game and pass protection against the Dolphins. But a closer look at the TV replay showed that Evans, guard Ben Grubbs, center Brian De La Puente, left tackle Charles Brown and tight end Benjamin Watson all got blown back by the Dolphins’ line at different times on Monday night.

Grubbs got uncharacteristically destroyed by Miami defensive tackle Jared Odrick on one of the costliest runs of the game -- a 3-yard loss by Thomas on second-and-1 late in the first quarter.

It’s hard not to wonder whether the Saints miss former offensive line coach/run-game coordinator Aaron Kromer, who left this season to become offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears (this week’s opponent). But, obviously, the blame can’t fall solely on new line coach Bret Ingalls, who spent the past four years as the Saints’ running backs coach -- just like the blame doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of running back Mark Ingram, a popular target in Weeks 1 and 2.

The problems have been more widespread than any one individual.

The Saints' offense is still keeping defenses off balance with things like screen passes, swing passes and draw plays. So the lack of an efficient run game hasn’t hurt them too badly yet. But coach Sean Payton insisted Tuesday that the Saints won’t abandon the run game and will continue to make corrections to get running in the right direction.

“The thing about looking at the tape after [Monday] night is that we’re close in a number of situations. So by no means do we look at it like, ‘Hey, we’re going in this direction,’” Payton said when asked if the Saints are planning to rely more on the screen passing game than a traditional run game. “Each week we’re looking to establish a certain type of run, whether it’s in the nickel or base, and [having] that being an important part of the game plan. It’s something that still we’re working on, and you want to avoid, more than anything, the minus plays. It’s still a work in progress and we’ll continue.

“It’s important to what we’re doing and we’ll continue to make the corrections and get to those looks.”