In his weekly press conference, Mike Tomlin made a special note of the New Orleans Saints league rankings in run defense for 2018.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are number one in football versus the run. Part of that, obviously, is being a 12-2 football team. I understand that having leads and so forth, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that their number two in the league versus the run in terms of yards per carry. So they’re probably not getting a lot of carries because of the nature of the game or the circumstances that they’re in but you better acknowledge that they are just formidable at stopping the run period. Because the yards per carry illustrate that as well.”
The Saints currently lead the NFL with the fewest rushing yards allowed with 1,107 yards. Subsequently, they are tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the fewest number of rushing attempts against them with 301. When it comes to yards per carry, the Saints are averaging 3.68 Y/A, second only to the Houston Texans at 3.56 Y/A.
Coach Tomlin was asked if New Orleans’ statistics against the run were due to the game circumstances of teams having to play catch up against them.
“You can always shape those stories however you want. Again I think the yards per carry speaks to the dominance of their run defense. They’re number two in the league in terms of yards per carry. So forget the number of runs. Forget the game circumstance- ahead, behind, the nature of that. When people choose to run it, they’re number two in the league in terms of yards per carry, so they’re run-game dominant.”
Tomlin did acknowledge the positive situations that the Saints have put themselves in have allowed them to be more successful against the run.
“They’re a 12-2 football team so they’ve been up on some people so that creates a reasonable environment where some of the other things that you mentioned may occur.”
Although it can be assumed game circumstance has contributed to the Saints ability to stop the run, the statistic show that their success is fairly consistent across the board. In fact, the Saints yards per carry decreases in games when they are tied or trailing, which are situations were teams are more apt to run the football.
So far in 2018 when the Saints are leading the game, teams have only rushed the ball 28.1% of the time for 3.82 yards per carry. In situations where the Saints are tied or trailing their opponent, teams have rushed against them 45.9% of offensive plays while gaining 3.53 yards per carry. If New Orleans is trailing by three points or greater, their yards per carry given up decreases even further to 3.29 Y/A. So when the likelihood of a run is greater, the Saints have stepped up and allowed less yards per carry.
Knowing when New Orleans is expecting a run they have excelled at stepping up their defense, it will be very important for the Steelers to disguise their personnel and formations in order to catch the Saints off guard with rushing the ball this Sunday.