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Saints gravitating toward the run?

By Larry Hartstein | Senior Analyst

Coach Sean Payton said at the NFL Owners Meetings that the Saints didn't approach this offseason with the mindset of becoming a more run-oriented team. The evidence suggests otherwise.

The Saints traded pass-catching running back Darren Sproles while retaining all-around back Pierre Thomas and power runners Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson.

They signed sledgehammer fullback Erik Lorig (6-4, 250) to a four-year deal, including a $1 million signing bonus. They re-signed right tackle Zach Strief and landed free agent safety Jairus Byrd. In the immediate aftermath of the season, Payton was asked about continuing to improve the defense and his overall 2014 approach.

"I think we try to pay attention to what is winning, who is winning," Payton said. "I think you study the San Franciscos and the Seattles, and you recognize that there is still this formula that has won in our league for a long time. And that is your ability to stop the opponent ... and then have balance in both the running and passing game."

The Saints' transformation started late last season, following an embarrassing Week 15 loss at St. Louis. New Orleans fell behind early and ended up passing 56 times in the 27-16 defeat, compared to 20 runs. Over the next four weeks, including playoffs, the Saints ran the ball an average of 30.5 times (compared to 23 times over the first 14 games).

In the playoffs they averaged 146.5 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry.

New Orleans had the sixth-highest percentage (62.8) of pass plays last year, but over the last three games the Saints were very balanced, throwing 54 percent of the time.

The finish was reminiscent of New Orleans' 2009 Super Bowl season, when the team passed 514 times (10th-most) and ran 468 times (7th-most).

Since then New Orleans has ranked 2nd, 2nd, 2nd and 3rd in pass attempts while ranking 30th, 20th, 29th and 25th in rushes.

Drew Brees, the third-ranked Fantasy quarterback, has thrown at least 650 times the past four years. Look for a little more balance in 2014 and for Brees to end up closer to 600 attempts.

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