Saints winning despite lackluster ground game

The New Orleans Saints are flying high even though they can’t

get anything off the ground.

Ranked near the bottom of the NFL in rushing, the Saints are 4-0

because they are doing just about everything else well.

Drew Brees is second to Denver’s Peyton Manning in yards passing

and the Saints’ offense is tied for sixth in the league in scoring.

Tight end Jimmy Graham is second in yards receiving and has six

touchdown catches, tied with the Broncos’ Wes Welker for tops in

the NFL.

The defense is sixth in yards allowed and has forced 10

turnovers, putting it on the same pace as the turnover-producing

2009 Super Bowl champion Saints.

New Orleans beat Miami 38-17 on Monday night with the same

formula.

Brees threw for 413 yards and four scores, two of which went to

Graham. The defense had four takeaways, turning those Miami miscues

into two touchdowns. And the Saints finishing with only 68 yards

rushing on 24 carries, dropping a spot to 25th in the NFL in

rushing with an average of 81.3 yards.

”We absolutely want to make improvements in that regard,”

Brees said Wednesday. ”We’ve found other ways to win, but in the

long run there’s definitely a lot of areas that we want to tighten

up, and some of the run game is included in that.”

New Orleans will see if they can do any better Sunday against

the Bears in Chicago.

They couldn’t get anything going against Miami.

In one stretch of the first half against the Dolphins, Saints

running backs were stopped for losses three times in a row, leading

to a pair of punts.

”At some point it comes back to haunt you,” Saints offensive

tackle Zach Strief said. ”It’s not something that’s lost on us.

It’s still an issue.”

New Orleans has struggled to run in all four victories. Its best

effort was 104 yards against Arizona, and nearly half of those came

as the Saints ran out the clock on their final possession with a

31-7 lead. New Orleans was ahead 14-10 at the half of that game

despite rushing four times for minus-6 yards.

”It’s frustrating,” Strief said. ”As a lineman, you’re like

let’s get these run plays in, and when you lose two yards, you’re

not going to get a run play for a while like that. You look at a

lot of plays and it’s one block. You look at some plays and it’s a

bunch of blocks. There’s plays with misreads. It’s not like you’ve

got nine guys getting destroyed, but there are a lot of things that

need to be addressed.”

”It’s more than one problem. It’s been all of us at any given

point of the year.”

Starting running back Mark Ingram has missed the last two games

with a toe injury, but he averaged only 1.8 yards per carry before

then and failed to score on fourth-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 1 in

week 2.

There are various explanations why they Saints are struggling to

run the ball, and many start with the offensive line.

The Saints lost starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod in free

agency to Chicago. Former offensive line coach Aaron Kromer joined

the Bears, too, after five years in New Orleans. Strief

acknowledged that a new scheme featuring more zone blocking

required a learning curve. Guard Jahri Evans is playing through a

hamstring injury that forced him to miss the first game of his

career in week 3.

Coach Sean Payton pointed to New Orleans’ success controlling

the clock in the fourth quarter of their last two wins. The Saints

lead the league in time of possession, averaging 34 minutes, 16

seconds a game.

”We’re at the top in time of possession because of

understanding how important the fourth quarter is,” Payton said.

”It (running the ball) is something that we feel like is important

and continue to work on.”

The Saints don’t mind being 4-0 while they try to solve the

issue.

They are not winning the way they did in 2009 and 2011, when

they complemented Brees’ prolific passing by ranking sixth in

rushing en route to matching 13-3 records, but they are still

winning.

”Every team is different,” Brees said. ”Every championship

journey is different. That’s what makes the season special.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org