METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees isn't worried about the Saints' conspicuously heavy reliance on the passing game during a season-opening loss.
On one hand, the result begs the question of how much the four-game suspension of running back Mark Ingram is affecting New Orleans' ability to gain advantages in time of possession from running the ball. At the same time, one game does not make a trend and it's hard to be overly critical of an approach that produced 475 yards and 40 points.
If not for a couple of lost fumbles — including one on a running play that was returned for a Tampa Bay touchdown — the Saints might have pulled out their high-scoring affair with the Bucs instead of losing by eight .
Brees explained that two factors led to the Saints passing 45 times and running only 13. One was that they liked their matchups in the passing game. They also fell behind by multiple scores in the second half, which all but forces the team playing catch-up to throw more.
"That's just kind of the way that game went," Brees said after practice on Wednesday. "The next thing I'd say is, 'Were we efficient?' And I'd say we were. So there's going to be games where it's lopsided in one way or the other.
"There are going to be games where we're probably running the ball more than passing it," Brees continued. "And I'll ask the same question: 'Are we efficient?' So, if we are, if we're moving the ball, if we're scoring points, then I'd say obviously that was the right plan."
Last season, with Ingram and fellow running back Alvin Kamara operating as a Pro Bowl tandem, the Saints ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing with 129 yards per game. When their defence played well, they were able to build leads and then control the clock. That recipe helped produce an 11-win regular season and one playoff victory before they fell in the divisional round at Minnesota on the last play of the game.
While New Orleans had only 43 yards rushing last Sunday, a bright spot was the effectiveness of two running plays from within 5 yards of the end zone. Kamara scored both times. He also ran for a 2-point conversion, showing that the Saints' offensive line could get the push it needed in those situations.
Still, even Kamara had most of his production — 112 yards — as a receiver. Meanwhile, Michael Thomas set a franchise single-game record with 16 receptions for 180 yards and a score.
When asked if playing from behind was the main reason for the Saints' lack of balance on offence, coach Sean Payton said, "Not just that. We also wanted to throw it when we began to see how we were getting defended."
Against Cleveland, Payton added, "We'll look closely at the best way we think we have to move the football in this game and understand the type of defence we're playing is quite a bit different than what we just saw."
While the Buccaneers did not generate a relentless pass rush on Brees, who was sacked only once, the Browns come in with a blitz-heavy scheme and defensive end Myles Garrett. Garrett is an emerging star who had two sacks against Pittsburgh in Week 1 and who has at least one sack in each of his past three games.
Two other factors on the Saints' injury report are worth watching this week as they pertain to pass-protection against Garrett and the receiving game. Saints left tackle Terron Armstead (knee) and left guard Andrus Peat (ankle) were listed as limited in practice on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Thomas (illness) and fellow receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (knee) both missed practice. Ginn was among the Saints' top three receivers in Week 1 with five catches for 68 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown.
Browns coach Hugh Jackson said he sees little reason to doubt the Saints' ability to move the ball on the ground.
"A lot of teams are not able to throw the ball as much as they did with the success that they did" against Tampa Bay, Jackson said. "You look up when it's all said and done, and they have 40 points on the board. That's a credit to them, a credit to Drew and the rest of their offence.
"I just think they got behind," Jackson continued. "We've all been in those situations where sometimes the game plan goes out the door; you do what you need to do to try to win the game.
"At the end of the day, I think they're going to still be able to run the football. They have really good runners. They've got blockers. They don't want to be as one-dimensional, but if they are going to be, they do have the right quarterback to do that."
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