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Halo 10-13-2010 11:30 AM

Now taking applications: running back, NFL team (Saints), healthy a must
 
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Injuries are a part of the world of professional football and they pretty much can't be avoided entirely by any team whatsoever. No matter how well they play or how careful they are or how good their training staff is; injuries are going to happen. That especially holds true for the New Orleans Saints this season and for one position in particular.

While the defensive secondary has been battered and bruised, there is another position which has suffered the injury bug much more since the beginning of the season. As a matter of fact, this all began during the preseason making things kind of confusing before the Saints even stepped onto the field against the Minnesota Vikings in the season opener. The running back position has gone through a series of weekly face lifts in New Orleans and took on yet another appearance Tuesday when the Saints signed Julius Jones.

It makes you wonder then if things would be a little different for the team right now rather than the 3-2 record they currently sit with in the NFC South. Let's take a look at the different running back line-ups each week and how they have fared to produce for an offense that really hasn't seemed to find its fire just yet.

First of all, we can't forget that Mike Bell was allowed to leave via free agency in the offseason and he went and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Bell's absence opened up a competition for the third running back spot between Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill. This competition actually excited a lot of people because both young running backs are extremely talented and many feel they would surely exceed all that Bell did last year. It was going to be a hot fight but quickly fizzled out when Hamilton suffered an injury that put him out for the season.

Turning to Hill, the Saints still had a lot of faith that the back could fill in nicely between Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Hill started showing more and more promise but then he went down with a season ending injury after just two preseason games. Ok, so now what? Well, the Saints had yet another answer in rookie Chris Ivory who showed shades of Bush mixed with former Saints' back Deuce McAllister. He had a little bit of a fumbling problem though so coach Sean Payton wasn't sure that he was the answer just yet. In come LaDell Betts and DeShawn Wynn and thus the merry-go-round of running backs truly began.

Week 1 Vs. Minnesota: The Saints went into the season opener with a tandem of running backs we're all too familiar with in Thomas and Bush. In the first half of the game, the Saints ran the ball a mere three times and many were wondering what happened to the great balance from last season. Payton showed in the second half that it was still there when a good mix of passing and rushing plays helped the Saints build a lead and hold onto it. Thomas finished the day with 71 yards rushing and one touchdown. Bush ended t up with only 14 yards on two carries but did catch five passes for 33 yards.

Week 2 Vs. San Francisco: Game two saw the same pairing in the backfield of Thomas and Bush, but also saw the Saints rush for a mere 50 yards. Thomas rushed for 46 yards and caught 8 balls for 57 yards. Bush ran for only four yards but caught four passes for 30 yards and one touchdown. This would be the game that really turned things upside-down for the black and gold when Reggie Bush went down with a broken fibula after diving to recover a muffed punt. The explosive and exciting back was now out at least six weeks and many wondered where the Saints would turn.

Week 3 Vs. Atlanta: Quickly into the third game of the season, the team knew that they would be alright in the passing game without Bush's production as Lance Moore stepped up and caught a career high of 149 yards. But what about the rushing game? Pierre Thomas remained in as the starter and rookie Chris Ivory stepped in as the second running back. Thomas had another sub-par day rushing with only 30 yards, but finished with a good game receiving wise 61 yards on six receptions. Ivory's first NFL action saw the rookie finish with 13 yards on seven carries. He also channeled his preseason form and lost a fumble. A change in the system and it helped result in the Saints' first loss of the season.

Week 4 Vs. Carolina: Pierre Thomas suffered an ankle injury in the game against the Falcons that actually looked as if it was going to be much worse then it was. Still, it kept him out of this game and meant another new look to the offensive backfield. Now it was Ivory and LaDell Betts behind Drew Brees which really didn't appear to be that bad a combination. Betts, in his first action as a Saint, ran for 47 yards and had 23 yards receiving. Ivory ran for 67 tough yards but lost yet another fumble. Personally I thought there was no way he would see the field again, but Payton let him back in and he appeared to be over his little issue.

Week 5 Vs. Arizona: The ankle injury plaguing Thomas hung around and kept him out a second straight week which meant a bit of consistency as Betts and Ivory took over the workload again. Ivory was able to hold onto the ball this week but he finished with a paltry 39 yards on 10 carries. Betts on the other had 44 yards rushing and 26 receiving, but it was his week to make the mistakes. Betts fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter which led to a Cardinal touchdown and a two-score lead for Arizona. Earlier in the day, Betts couldn't bring in a short pass from Brees and the ball bounced right into the arms of a Cardinals' defender for the interception. The lack of a rushing game kept the Saints from keeping a number of drives alive and the longing for Bush and Thomas was growing stronger. Loss number two in the books.

Now the Saints are traveling to Tampa to face the Buccaneers with Bush out at least another week or two, Thomas' status up in the air, and a dup of Betts and Ivory who just aren't quite cutting it. So the team went out and signed former Cowboys and Seahawks running back Julius Jones on Monday to help bolster things a bit; especially if Thomas can't go for a third straight week.

If the Saints can find some semblance of a balanced offensive attack then they won't have to worry about losing to teams like the Arizona Cardinals or even fear them keeping it close for that matter. The inability to get that short yardage for a first or finishing drives inside the red zone is what's killing this team right now and without a decent running game, those problems will not be fixed. Injuries aren't helping the matter though because Sean Payton playing a life-sized game of "Guess Who?" every week has to be everything but pleasurable.

Maybe Julius Jones will be the answer. Maybe Pierre Thomas will return this week. Maybe Reggie Bush will be healed up by the Cleveland game next week. Could we see Ivory break out and hold onto the ball? None of this is known as of right now, but something needs to be found out and fast.

Linkback to The Examiner

Danny Cox 10-13-2010 03:19 PM

It's the inconsistency man. Bobby Hebert said it on the radio yesterday...Julius Jones is a great signing but if he goes into the game against the Bucs on Sunday then it's yet ANOTHER new combo. No-one has the time to learn to play side-by-side with one another before someone else new steps in or has to that is.

Rugby Saint II 10-14-2010 12:45 PM

I understand that he has a similar running style as PT. He is a patient runner that follows his blockers well. Payton could use him as a system player.


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