A lot of people have uttered concerns over the past few weeks about whether the Saints’ running game would be able to survive all of the devastating preseason injuries and the departure of Mike Bell. Well I’d say worriers can put those concerns to bed after Thursday night’s performance.
In the first half of the showdown against the Vikings, the Saints’ rushing attack was virtually nonexistent; they attempted only three rushes for 9 yards. But in the second half, they mixed things up and were able to establish the run against a very stout Vikings defense. Behind the stellar blocking of Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, Pierre Thomas was able to slice and grind his way to 71 yards and a hard-fought touchdown on the night. To put it mildly, they dominated on the ground.
I’ve got to tell you–Evans and Nicks have got to be the best tandem of guards in the NFL. The way they were able to just manhandle Kevin and Pat Williams (or as they are fearfully known, the “Williams Wall”), was nothing short of spectacular. They consistently overpowered the wall, bulldozing them to the ground and totally reversing their field of vision which allowed Thomas to muscle his way through for positive yards and critical first-downs. I don’t think enough can be said about the sheer power and precision executed by those three against one of the best (if not the best) defensive fronts in all of football.
The running game has been so integral in setting the tempo for the Saints offense that it’s hard to envision it being successful without it. So naturally people got anxious when running backs started dropping like flies in the preseason. I even wondered myself if having to rely on Thomas and Bush would be enough to catapult this year’s rushing attack into the elite status of last year’s. In this league, the way it’s played out now, having two power backs is almost a necessity. But having watched how effectively the offensive line sprang those holes for Thomas and how masterfully he exploited them, I realized that the running game is going to be just fine, especially when a healthy Chris Ivory is added into the mix. And though I haven’t seen much of DeShawn Wynn, I figure he had to really show something special to even make the roster.
One thing I can say is that being able to establish the run is going to be just as important this year as it was last year. Not only does it chew up time off the clock, but it also allows Drew Brees to take some shots down the field. In order for the Saints to duplicate their success of 2009, they will need to duplicate that same type of balance; it was quite evident Thursday night. Well, I think they answered the call on that, proving that finishing 6th in rushing in 2009 was definitely not a fluke. If the premiere backs and the ProBowl-caliber offensive linemen can stay healthy, the Saints running game is on target to once again be one of the most efficient in the league.
Just a note: I made a prediction in an earlier article that Carl Nicks will be elected to the ProBowl this season. I’d say he’s off to a great start.