The New Orleans Saints' backfield is a cluttered, perplexing place that only head coach Sean Payton seems to understand.
Payton regularly deploys a fleet of four running backs, all of whom received over 50 carries in the 2013 regular season. To put that in perspective, not only were they the only team to regularly use four backs, only four teams had three running backs carry the ball more than 50 times.
What some might call excellent depth at running back in New Orleans, I call nonsensical and disorganized. Perhaps that's a glass half-empty outlook, but with no Saints running backs averaging 10 carries per game in the regular season, how are they supposed to establish a rhythm?
Logic would say yes, and featuring Khiry Robinson in 2014 is the answer. Robinson was used sparingly throughout his first season as a pro, but he flourished when Pierre Thomas missed both playoff games due to injury.
He ran for 102 yards on 21 carries in two games for an average of 4.9 yards per carry, and he showed great burst both between the tackles and out in space. His field vision in Sunday's game in Seattle was also lauded by Fox announcer John Lynch during the broadcast.
Payton chose to hand the ball to Robinson a team-high 13 times against the Seahawks, and it may have had something to do with a conversation between Payton and his mentor. It was reported that Bill Parcells and Payton had a discussion in the days leading up the game in which Parcells reportedly compared Robinson to Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.
Talk about high praise.
The 6'0", 220-pound Robinson has the size and speed to be an every-down back in the NFL. The undrafted rookie out of West Texas A&M runs with remarkable power, and he showed off a potent stiff arm on a few notable occasions this year.
Payton recently addressed his running back situation by saying that, "Each one of those guys has a different skill set, and the versatility is important."
Are all four of them really that different, or is Payton more concerned with having fresh legs in a backfield that includes the 29-year-old Thomas and 30-year-old Sproles? I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the solid play of Mark Ingram over the last few games of the season, but the backfield in New Orleans is simply too crowded.
Listen, there's no questioning that Payton is an offensive savant. Outside of a few head-scratching decisions against the Seahawks, he's a very difficult guy to second guess. But with a running game that finished just 26th in yards per carry in 2013, it's time to simplify the Saints' approach to running the football.
Featuring one back and relegating an aging Sproles to third-down situations would enable the offensive line to better anticipate the lead back's tendencies. It would also allow a Saints running back to find a real rhythm.
Why not turn over the primary rushing responsibilities to the next Curtis Martin?
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