METAIRIE — No doubt, if the New Orleans Saints coaching staff had been involved with the movie, the epic line from “Forrest Gump’’ would have read: “Pass, Forrest, Pass!’’
If Saints coaches had their way, the official theme of the Kentucky Derby would be “Pass for the Roses’’ and not “Run for the Roses.’’
A sick child would be “passing a fever’’ not “running a fever.’’
You get the drift.
“Run’’ must be viewed as an offensive word by Saints coaches, no pun intended. How else does one explain the team’s little regard for running the football, a trademark for most successful teams?
Through four games, the winless Saints are running on empty, averaging 80.8 yards per game, better than only six other NFL teams. Remove 163 rushing yards against Carolina in Game 2 from the equation, and the Saints are averaging a paltry 53.3 yards per game.
But they do have quarterback Drew Brees, so who needs to run the football?
In last Sunday’s 28-27 loss at Green Bay, a game during which Brees completed 35 of 54 passes for 446 yards and three touchdowns, Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael called 19 rushing plays resulting in 45 yards.
“That’s a tough one because I just tell Pete, ‘Throw it,’ ” Kromer said. “When Drew gets a hot hand like he did the other night, just throw it. You know, (Carmichael) will ask, and (it’s) ‘Just throw it again.’
“We need (to) mix some runs, and we did at times. But when (Brees) gets that hot, it’s only to calm down the pass rush, to call a run. That’s a special player playing special on a night like that.”
Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome may become even more special if the Saints have their way. With one touchdown pass against the San Diego Chargers, Brees will extend his consecutive game streak of at least one scoring toss to 48 games and surpass the legendary Johnny Unitas in the process.
According to national bookmakers, the question is not if Brees does the deed, but when. One betting establishment even has a line that Brees’ TD-per-game streak will eclipse Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
Why not? The Saints’ offensive game plan revolves around Brees and the passing game, no matter the score, down and distance or venue.
For instance, facing a first-and-goal from the Packers’ 1 at Lambeau Field, the Saints called three consecutive passing plays, including a toss to running back Mark Ingram in the right flat that resulted in a 1-yard loss on first down.
Two more passes fell incomplete. So, instead of tying the game at 21, the Saints had to settle for a 20-yard field goal. They trailed 21-17 with 9:41 remaining in the third quarter.
Several Saints offensive players are suggesting a stronger commitment to running the football.
“We had five passes that we were ready to call inside the 3-yard line that we thought were outstanding and then we had four run-pass checks that we liked,’’ Kromer said. “So, we had the plays on that we wanted to call and we were ready to execute but (we) just didn’t execute at that time.
“It’s hard to say ‘disappointing’ when you have almost 500 yards of offense,’’ Kromer continued.
“So, when you have something that’s working, you go with it and stay with it. We had one game with 162 yards of rushing and then we had three others where we have not. Sometimes it’s a product of the game and sometimes it’s a product of who’s hot.”
The Saints have become so reliant on Brees’ right arm this season, they unwittingly have set an NFL record for most passes in the first four games of a season with 191, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Yes, Brees leads the NFL in passing yards with 1,350, but his completion percentage (57.6) and passer rating (86.4) are down from a year ago (71.2 percent/110.6) when he set the league’s all-time record for most passing yards with 5,476.
“Maybe, (we’re) abandoning (the run) a little bit soon,’’ Brees said. “I think it’s been a combination of a little bit of everything. (It’s) a lack of execution at times. You want to feel confident that you’re going to dial those plays up, and you’re going to get the yardage that you need to sustain drives and be a threat.’’
The Saints currently carry five running backs on their 53-man roster — Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet. Thomas leads the team in rushing with 152 yards on 28 carries for a robust 5.4-yard average.
Thomas ranks No. 34 among NFL rushers, trailing among others Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III (234) and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton (167).
“We’ve got great backs, we’ve got a great scheme, and we’ve got a great offensive line,’’ Brees said. “So, we have all the pieces there. Now, it’s just a matter of execution and commitment.”
Time will tell if Brees is sincere or merely “running’’ his mouth.
The Saints will be without wide receiver Lance Moore for Sunday’s game. Moore, who has a hamstring injury, was ruled out by interim coach Aaron Kromer after he missed his third straight practice on Friday. ... Also out are WLB David Hawthorne (hamstring), RB Travaris Cadet (shoulder) and DE Turk McBride. SS Roman Harper (hip), LB Jonathan Casillas (neck) and WR Joe Morgan (knee) were limited Friday and are questionable for the game. ... Former Saints defensive lineman Derland Moore will appear at the Saints Hall of Fame Museum on Sunday from 5-6:30 p.m. The Hall of Fame, which is located at Gate B on the Plaza level of the Superdome, is open free of charge to ticketholders for three hours before and 45 minutes after each home game.
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