Giants, Saints, both looking to improve run game

Drew Brees and Eli Manning have racked up elite passing numbers

this season by picking up the slack when their clubs’ running games

struggled.

That could be the case again when New Orleans (7-3) hosts the

New York Giants (6-4) on Monday night, yet both teams have

emphasized the importance of running the ball more this week in

hopes of improving balance and becoming less predictable.

”Being able to run the ball and being able to stop the run is

vital to winning,” Brees said. ”We want to be able to run the

ball better.”

Although the Saints are in the top half of the NFL – 13th with

117.5 yards per game – consistency has been a problem. New Orleans

gained 41 yards on the ground in their game at Atlanta, but got

away with it in that case by pulling out a 26-23 win in

overtime.

The Giants were even worse in a home loss to Philadelphia last

weekend, managing 29 yards on the ground while falling to 31st in

the NFL in rushing with an average of 83.2 yards, the club’s lowest

figure since the 1940s.

While the urgency to address the running game may be greater for

the Giants, the solutions are less apparent with leading rusher

Ahmad Bradshaw sidelined by a right foot injury. D.J. Ware,

meanwhile, is trying to recover from a concussion, although it

appears he’ll be available to back up Brandon Jacobs after

practicing fully during the latter part of the past week.

New York also will be shuffling its offensive line because left

tackle Will Beatty needed surgery to repair a detached retina.

Complicating matters even more is fact that the Giants will be

playing in the Superdome, where noise has been known to hinder

communication for opposing offenses at the line of scrimmage.

That could be a factor, given that Manning, when asked about

ways to improve the running game, stressed the need for

communication in the time between a run is called in the huddle and

the snap of the ball.

”The offensive line and the backs and I have to get us out of

some bad runs,” Manning said. ”We just have to try to get into

some things where we get 3 and 4 yards a carry. There is just too

many times where we are losing 2 yards. When you are playing in

second-and-12, it makes for a long day.”

Despite the lack of a credible running threat to this point,

Manning is averaging 295.2 yards per game.

”Two big allies to the quarterback are good defense and the

ability to run the football,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.

”What has been impressive about (Manning’s) season to date is

despite them not having the same numbers that they would like

(running the ball), he has been very consistent and very productive

and a big reason why they are having success this year. He is

having a fantastic season.”

Still, Payton said he does not expect the Giants to abandon the

running game, which would be out of character for coach Tom

Coughlin.

”They’re run numbers aren’t really what you might be accustomed

to,” Payton said. ”Clearly that’s something they’ll look to

correct as they come into our game just like we had done the same

thing.”

”The approach we have to take is understanding what we’re

seeing from a scheme standpoint in the running game and understand

that this is a team for good reason who believes strongly in that

element to winning football games,” Payton continued. ”It’s

always been a big ingredient to their success. I would expect that

to be the case coming up in this game Monday night.”

The Saints, meanwhile, are hoping their running game can

neutralize the Giants’ pass rush. New York is tied for ninth in the

NFL with 41 sacks.

”They get that pressure from their front four. They’re very

good against the run as well as the pass,” Brees said. ”As we

look at it, you have to find a way to keep those guys off balance.

You want to be good rushing the football and mix in the

play-action.”

The good news for the Saints is they are coming out of their bye

week with the top four running backs on their depth chart – Darren

Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory – all

healthy.

Ivory has played only in Weeks 8 and 9 because of a combination

of injuries dating to last season. The Saints still might activate

only three, but now can base that decision on how best to match up

personnel with the game plan, rather than having their hand forced

by health concerns.

”I don’t think we’ve ever had this stable of running backs,”

Brees said. ”Sproles can do so many things and Pierre Thomas is in

the prime of his career as well. Mark Ingram is a young and

exciting talent. Chris Ivory is just getting back into the mix,

too.”