NEW ORLEANS — 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.”