Coming off the bye week and an impressive performance from the Saints’ backfield the week before, this week’s performance was a tale of two polar opposites. Coming into this week the Bills’ run defense was ranked 28th in the league. What should have been another tune-up game for the running backs only turned out that way for one of them. For the other back who saw carries, it was a much more difficult day.
Since only two backs got carries, let’s look at each player first. Pierre Thomas had a very nice day at home in the Superdome. Overall he had 65 yards on the day with a 4.6 yards per carry (ypc) average. Of his 14 carries, 7 went for 5 or more yards and only one went for a loss. Despite the rather fluid blocking performance of the offensive line this season, Thomas managed a solid 4 ypc between the tackles while managing more than double that on the outside. Probably most impressive is that he averaged more than 5 ypc in each quarter except the 4th. By then though, the focus was more about burning clock than the yardage. Thomas certainly took advantage of the opportunity to continue moving his season back in the right direction.
The other side of the coin this week was Khiry Robinson. After such an impressive showing heading into the bye, this week was far less impressive. Out of 9 carries on the day, only one went for more than 2 yards. He also didn’t average more than 2 ypc in any individual quarter of the game. While part of this week’s struggles are certainly on the player as always, I think there were two other things working against Robinson as well. Obviously part of his struggles can get chalked up to rookie growing pains. What concerns me is that he may be falling into a trap that the Saints’ coaching staff allowed Mark Ingram to fall into. In 5 games on the field, Robinson has not been used once in the passing game. As a result, teams know when he is on the field he’s either running or blocking which makes him easier to defend. If the coaches don’t want to see him end up like the third-year Alabama product, they need to develop Robinson in the pass game as well. One-dimensional running backs simply aren’t as effective.
As for the run game as a whole, it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from this week’s performance with one exception. If the Saints want their run game to be more effective they need to develop all of their backs fully. By only using two backs this week it made the distinction between the two types a bit more obvious. Thomas’ performance against Buffalo showed that the ball carries who pose a true dual threat (Thomas and Darren Sproles) will typically be more effective than strict ball carriers (Robinson and Ingram), as shown by Robinson’s performance this week. If the coaching staff will start developing and using all of their backs in the pass game, they would likely see the increased production they have been wanting from their backfield.
Here’s this week’s smaller-than-usual carry breakdown. As usual, feel free to leave any questions or comments in the section below.