Last Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh fans rejoiced after a huge game against the New England Patriots. Not only did the win snap the Pittsburgh Steelers three-game losing streak, it gave fans insight into what running back Jaylen Samuels could do in the NFL. After having a tough game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 14, the 2018 fifth-round rookie ran for 142 yards on 19 carries while tallying two catches for 30 yards. The Raiders are at the bottom of the league against the run and the Patriots are 17th, can Samuels produce against the Saints and their top-ranked run defense?
New Orleans deserves that top ranking because of not giving up a 100-yard rusher in any game. Their stingy defense has only given up 100 yards to an entire team three times in 2018.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the most success running for 112 yards. The win by Tampa Bay was helped by 36 yards on 12 attempts by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bucs handed the Saints one of their two losses in a 48-40 shootout.
Cincinnati Bengals and AFC rushing leader, Joe Mixon accomplished the second most rushing yards, 110. Mixon had 61 yards on 11 carries but the team stats are again propped up by the Bengals quarterbacks running for 41 yards (Jeff Driskel 35 and Andy Dalton 8) in a 51-14 blowout win.
The other game where the Saints defense gave up over 100 yards was against Tampa Bay in their second meeting of the season. Quarterback Jameis Winston accounted for 47 of the 105 total rushing yards in a 28-14 Saints win.
How did New Orleans fare against noteworthy running backs in 2018?
Zeke Elliott: 23-72 rushing and 6-60-1 touchdown receiving in the other loss the Saints had this season (13-10).
Christian McCaffrey: 15-53 rushing and 9 receptions for 67 receiving.
Todd Gurley: 13-68-1 touchdown rushing and 6-11 receiving.
Saquon Barkley: 10-44-1 touchdown rushing and 6-56 receiving.
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are second in the league in total rushing yards, yet the Saints held the team to a collective 23-77-1 touchdown. Baltimore averages 142 yards rushing per game.
Gurley, Elliott, and Barkley were the three NFC Pro Bowl running back representatives and with McCaffrey, the four running backs are the top four leaders in yards from scrimmage in the NFL. As a whole, the Saints gave up 237 yards on 61 for 3.87 yards per carry average.
Samuels will have a tough time running against the Saints, and it will be up to the offensive line to open the same gaping holes they did against the Patriots. The Steelers are dead last in the league in rushing play percentage (33.3) but against the Patriots the team ran the ball 44 percent of the time (25 of 59 plays). To have success running the ball will the Steelers have to have a similar balance? The bigger question will be, can Samuels generate success against the league’s top run defense when the league’s top running backs found limited success running? How will the Steelers fare against the Saints if they are backed into a corner and forced to be one-dimensional?