As the running game of the New Orleans Saints flounders, it is time to ask one thing. Can a team compete for a Super Bowl championship without a quality running game?
The answer is, of course.
In the 2009 season, the Indianapolis Colts paid little attention to running the football. The Colts were dead last in the NFL in yards per game at 80.9.
On February 7th, 2010, the Colts lost to the Saints in Miami.
This upcoming Monday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, two undefeated teams with paltry running attacks collide.
The Saints are 24th in the NFL with 257 rushing yards. The Dolphins are 28th with a meager 211 rushing yards.
Will New Orleans suddenly "find" the running attack that head coach Sean Payton expressed a desire to discover in the offseason?
The answer is, not likely.
In 2011, the Saints were arguably the best team in the NFL and averaged 4.9 yards per rush. But, that was a different time. Guards Carl Nicks (who departed to Tampa Bay in free agency) and Jahri Evans were a tandem of maulers who opened holes for Saints runners.
Evans, who is nursing a hamstring injury after struggling with a back issue, didn't play against Arizona last week, snapping a streak of 122 consecutive starts.
Meanwhile, the rest of the New Orleans offensive line is more finesse than power.
Center Brian de la Puente, left guard Ben Grubbs and left tackle Charles Brown are all quality players but won't be confused with Nicks and Evans, who formed the best duo in the NFL.
Starting tight end Jimmy Graham can block, but in many sets, he is almost a third or fourth wide receiver.
Running back Mark Ingram, who missed the Arizona game with a toe injury, has been a disappointment.
Running back Darren Sproles is effective on the edge, but most dangerous as a pass receiver in space.
Rookie free agent Khiry Robinson might get a look after his solid work against the Cardinals (4 carries, 38 yards) on the final drive as the Saints ran out the clock. But the undrafted rookie free agent has yet to block a single down in pass protection, a must against the NFL's multitude of blitz packages.
Perhaps the lack of a solid running attack is part of the reason why the Saints are dead last in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage. NEw Orleans stands at 30.77 percent.
Despite a pedestrian running game so far, the Dolphins are first in the league in red zone TD percentage at 87.50 percent.
If Payton is concerned about his team's lack of rushing yards, he certainly didn't portray it after the win over Arizona. The Saints boss explained that Arizona was playing five man lines, determined to stop the run and force his offense to complete throws against man coverage.
Drew Brees was more than happy to oblige.
So, can the Saints ride a hot quarterback, the best tight end in the league, and a surprisingly stout defense to a run at another Super Bowl title?
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