The Adrian Peterson experience is over for the New Orleans Saints. The 11-year pro was traded on Monday to the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional draft pick. Peterson had 81 yards on the ground this season with no touchdowns and only two catches in the passing game. It was clear in the Saints offense, Peterson was being downgraded to the third running back soon. Rookie running back Alvin Kamara made that happen with his impressive play through four games.
Four months after the Saints drafted Kamara in the third round of this year’s NFL draft, the backfield got more crowded with Peterson. He was signed in August, adding more competition to both Kamara and starter Mark Ingram who were already there. But since the start of the season, it seemed like it was just Ingram and Kamara with Peterson watching from the sideline. Peterson could not get established in the offense and his carries dropped significantly. Trading him to the Cardinals made sense for both Peterson and the Saints. Now the running load solely falls on Kamara and Ingram for the rest of the season.
The reality of the situation is the Saints are still trying to figure out the running game and how to have it be successful. Trading Peterson was a good start, but it does not fix every problem the Saints have. The Saints sit at 21st in the league in rushing yards per game, and that is with Peterson’s 81 yards. Take away those, and they have the second worst yard per game average on the ground. The Saints need to establish some sort of running game to make things easier on quarterback Drew Brees and the passing game.
The blame does not all fall on the running backs, however. In the past few seasons, the Saints have had troubles with both run and pass blocking with their offensive line. This year, injuries to that offensive line have made things more difficult. The Saints lost veteran tackle Zach Strief to a knee injury in the Saints last game for the Dolphins. Strief, being one of few veterans on that offensive line, will miss a majority of the season after being put on injured reserve. The task falls on young offensive lineman like rookie tackle Ryan Ramczyk and third-year guard Andrus Peat to cover the void left by Strief.
With Peterson off to Arizona, Coach Sean Payton should be able to find a better flow with his running back play. He will not be forced to put Peterson in situations that did not fit him, like he had to in the first four games. Payton’s focus falls on how he can use Ingram and Kamara effectively in the offense. Both can run straight up the middle, work the boundaries on stretch plays, and go out on a pattern in the passing game. The possibilities are endless with this two-running back system.
The first test the new running game will have is against the Detroit Lions this Sunday. The defense for the Lions have shut down opponent’s running backs through the first five weeks. They boast the third best ranking for rushing yards allowed. This coming against teams like the Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings, and Carolina Panthers, all teams who have two running-back systems like the Saints. To make it three wins in a row, the Saints need to figure out their own run game and crack the stingy defense of the Lions. This will be a big key to the Saints getting back in the playoffs.
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