It was announced Wednesday that the New Orleans Saints placed running back Pierre Thomas on injured reserve, meaning that the defending champions will be without their top two runners from the past season (rookie Chris Ivory was placed on IR earlier this week). Reggie Bush, who looked very impressive in Week 17 against Tampa Bay, is the top running threat remaining in the New Orleans backfield. Bush is joined with veteran Julius Jones the only other player who had carries as a running back this season.
So does this news mean that the Saints are toast for the upcoming postseason? It’s always said that a good defense and running game is what is needed to win championships. But if any team proved that a great running attack is not needed to take home the title, it’s those very same Saints.
The Saints ran for a whopping 51 yards in their 31-17 victory in Super Bowl XLIV last year. And 68 two weeks earlier in their 31-28 win in the NFC Championship Game. Not exactly results that you need Jim Brown or Walter Payton to replicate.
The Saints won in the postseason last year by forcing 8 turnovers in 3 games and only turning the ball over once (a muffed punt by Bush against Minnesota). That, combined with the prolific air attack led by Drew Brees, was what led New Orleans to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
How about the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl run the year before the Saints? The Steelers ran for just 52 yards in the AFC Championship against Baltimore, and 58 in the Super Bowl against Arizona.
If there’s anything that’s clear in today’s NFL, it’s that the passing game is now king. Any beliefs that a team needs to have a running back to “pound the rock” in order to be successful are simply outdated. Only four playoff teams were in the top 10 in rushing this season (Kansas City, NY Jets, Philadelphia and New England), as many as finished in the bottom 10 in the NFL (Seattle, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Green Bay). This league is now run by quarterbacks and the passing game. Case in point, only Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler “led” their teams into the postseason without ranking in the league’s top 12 in passer rating.
Losing both Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory is bad news for the Saints offense. It certainly won’t allow the offense to attempt to be very balanced throughout the Playoffs, but that doesn’t mean it will prevent them from winning their four postseason contests. It just puts more pressure on Brees to cut down on his career-high 22 interceptions that he threw this season.
So do the Saints losses in the backfield mean that they won’t be repeat Super Bowl Champs? Let’s just say that I won’t be betting against the Saints.