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Inside Week 10: Saints Rushing Attack vs. Titans Run Defense

With the struggles of their passing game, New Orleans has relied on their running backs and bullying teams along the line of scrimmage. Will that be a successful approach against an equally physical Tennessee defense?
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A 5-3 New Orleans Saints team travels to Nashville to face off against the 7-2 Tennessee Titans this Sunday. The Saints are coming off a disappointing home loss to rival Atlanta that halted a three-game winning streak. Tennessee has won their last five outings and sit atop the AFC South.

New Orleans has been battered by injuries on both sides of the ball after several offseason personnel losses. Coach Sean Payton's offenses have annually been ranked among the league's top units, but injuries have most affected the team on this side of the ball.

The Saints have averaged 25 points per game, 12th in the NFL. They rank only 28th in total yardage, averaging 314.6 yards per outing. Season-ending injuries to QB Jameis Winston and WR Michael Thomas, along with an ineffective receiving corps, has the Saints sitting at a lowly 31st in passing production.

New Orleans takes on a Titans team that plays physically on both sides of the ball. The Titans rank 19th in total defense, giving up 365.8 yards and 23.4 points/game. Tennessee held two of the NFL's most explosive offenses, the Rams and Chiefs, to a combined 19 points this season.

The Saints have been one of the league's most physical teams over the last few seasons. With the struggles of their passing game, New Orleans has relied on their running backs and bullying teams along the line of scrimmage.

Will that be a successful approach against an equally physical Tennessee defense?

SAINTS RUSHING ATTACK VS. TITANS RUN DEFENSE

New Orleans Running Game

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) scores against the Tennessee Titans inside linebacker Jayon Brown (55). Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) scores against the Tennessee Titans inside linebacker Jayon Brown (55). Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY

The Saints average 123 yards/game on the ground, ranking 10th in the league. Opponents have stacked the box against them, which has eliminated big runs, but they've remained patient with their game plans. The Saints have the fourth most rushing attempts in the league.

Versatile RB Alvin Kamara has been the focal point of the entire offense over the last two seasons, sometimes single-handedly carrying the attack.

Kamara leads the team with 530 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. He also has 310 receiving yards on a team-high 32 catches and 4 scores.

The team has struggled to the dynamic Kamara in space this season, but he’s still arguably been the league's most indispensable offensive player. Unfortunately for the Saints, that could be tested this weekend.

Kamara suffered a knee injury in last weeks loss to Atlanta. He’ll sit out practice this week and might be a game-time decision for Sunday. Kamara will be limited, at best, and could miss just the fifth game of his five-year career.

New Orleans Saints center Erik McCoy (78) blocks for running back Mark Ingram II (14) against Tampa Bay. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY 

New Orleans Saints center Erik McCoy (78) blocks for running back Mark Ingram II (14) against Tampa Bay. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY 

Without a healthy Kamara, the Saints will turn to 11-year veteran RB Mark Ingram to carry a much bigger load of the offense. Ingram returned to New Orleans in a trade with the Houston Texans last month.

Already the franchise's all-time rushing touchdowns leader, he needs just 20 yards to surpass Deuce McAllister as the Saints career leader in rushing yardage.

The 31-year-old Ingram has 116 yards from scrimmage on 22 touches in two games back with New Orleans. He’s a bruising runner between the tackles and still has the burst to get to the edge or explode into open field.

Expect New Orleans to use utility weapon Taysom Hill more in this matchup. Hill is a Jack-of-all-trades player that can be a short yardage receiving weapon, but is most effective as a runner.

The 6’2” and 221-Lb. Hill is a powerful force between the tackles, but also possesses sprinters speed to pull away from defenders. He played just 17 snaps last week after missing two games with a concussion, but should see the field much more against the Titans.

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New Orleans has also dealt with some injuries along the offensive line. Except for a season-ending injury to LG Andrus Peat, the rest of the line is back fully intact. James Hurst has proven to be an adequate replacement for Peat, while reserve Calvin Throckmorton provides strong depth at both guard spots.

Center Erik McCoy is blossoming into one of the NFL's better players at the position. Tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead have performed below their usual elite level this season. The duo is still the best pair of edge blockers in the game.

Tennessee Run Defense

Indianapolis running back Nyheim Hines (21) is tackled by Tennessee Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans (54) and defensive back Chris Jackson (35). Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis running back Nyheim Hines (21) is tackled by Tennessee Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans (54) and defensive back Chris Jackson (35). Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans allow only 100 yards/game on the ground, ranking eighth in the league. They've held seven of their last eight opponents under 100 yards rushing, including each of the last four games.

Tennessee employs a hybrid 3-4 defense with big bodies up front and physical linebackers. They have 33 tackles for loss this season and allow 4.5 yards per carry, but have shut down the run in key moments of games.

Third-year ILB David Long leads the team in tackles and has four stops for loss. He's an undersized defender that plays with great positioning and leverage. Long has a hamstring injury that’s kept him out of practice this week and might affect his game status.

Tennessee's depth up front might also be affected by injuries to DE/DT Jeffrey Sammons (ankle), DT Teair Tart (groin), and ILB Rashaan Evans (ankle) that have kept them out of practice this week.

Simmons and fellow defensive lineman Denico Autry have developed into major forces up front.

Their ability to create disruption allows Long and Evans an open pursuit to ball carriers, while edge players Bud Dupree and Harold Landry crash down on plays from the outside.

What to Watch

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs for a short gain against the Tennessee Titans. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs for a short gain against the Tennessee Titans. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Titans had success against the Rams by pinching their defensive linemen inside and stacking linebackers Long and Evans behind them. That shut off inside rushing lanes and created interior chaos for the pass rush.

To combat this, the Saints offensive line must win their battles against the physical Tennessee front. New Orleans has most of their rushing success over the guards, with linemen opening up lanes to cut inside or bounce plays outside.

The Saints must hit the Titans with fast developing rushing plays and focus their runners off-tackle. Wideouts Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, and Kenny Stills may be used on end arounds to get outside the Tennessee defense, especially if Kamara is limited or misses the game.

Kamara's athletic ability would be perfect against the game plan that the Titans used last week, especially with their limited defensive athleticism.

Ingram has proven he can still be effective as an off-tackle runner. Much of Taysom Hill's success comes over the right side, where he has the physicality to bowl over tacklers and the speed to break gains off the edge.

READ MORE SAINTS COVERAGE