OWINGS MILLS – Power, size, speed, versatility and star quality, the New Orleans Saints’ running backs collectively have it all working in their favor.
With three contrasting styles and body types, Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory have turned the Saints’ backfield into a powerhouse.
“It’s kind of tough when you’re dealing with a three-headed monster,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Anytime you’ve got a three-headed monster in the NFL, you’re a pretty good team. They’re a really deadly offense.”
Bush is the flashy former Heisman Trophy winner who has missed eight games with a broken leg, but is back now and primed to contribute to the Saints’ playoff push.
Speed and moves define his game.
Thomas is an all-around back who can run, catch and block.
And Ivory is a burly 6-foot, 222-pound undrafted rookie from Tiffin who leads the Saints with 683 rushing yards and five touchdown runs, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
“They’ve got a good change of pace,” nose guard Kelly Gregg said. “They’ve got some weapons.”
The Ravens rank eighth against the run, allowing 98.8 yards per contest on the ground.
They have been steamrolled a few times this year, though, giving up 100 yards to the Houston Texans’ Arian Foster, 120 yards to the Carolina Panthers’ Mike Goodson and 144 yards to the Cleveland Browns’ Peyton Hillis.
“Those guys have all played well,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “They’re all good backs. They’ve had veteran guys in there, they’ve had young guys in there, and they’ve all looked good. They all do different things. Reggie Bush is different than Pierre Thomas, who’s different from some of the other guys.
“It’s really just their run game, I think, more than anything. You understand who the back is and his style of running, but you have to apply it to the run game because they run the same plays for the most part. That’s really getting a hand on the blocking scheme more than anything.”
The Saints are rushing for 101.1 yards per game, but are capable of putting up big numbers.
Their diversity of backs is their strength.
“You got to know who’s in the game,” Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “The different backs do different things. You got to play off what they can do. Reggie Bush can line up anywhere, he’s such an explosive player.
“Pierre Thomas, he’s a powerful back. He hits the holes real hard. You’ve got make sure you know who’s in there and play off those guys.”
Thomas is back after missing nine games with an ankle injury.
Last year, he rushed for 793 yards and six touchdowns.
This season, he has 186 yards and 21 catches.
“He was an important part of our success a year ago,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He’s one of those players that does a lot of things well. He’s versatile, he can block the blitz, he’s got good hands, and he is a patient runner.
“So, having him back and getting him healthy, we felt was important.. Pierre is one of those guys that is very smart, and he understands our system very well.”
HOPING FOR SNOW?: According to weather forecasts, the Ravens and Saints could be playing in snowy conditions.
“Whatever the weather is, you got to play in the conditions,” Harbaugh said. “I’m sure the Saints will be prepared to play. They can run the ball. They’ve played in cold weather before."
When it was suggested that the Saints, who play indoors at home in the Superdome, might not be ready for wintry weather, Harbaugh smiled.
"We’ll probably clear the field, but that’s not a bad thought,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got to keep that in mind. We’ve just got to lose those blowers."
HEADING TO THE RECORD BOOKS: Kicker Billy Cundiff is on the verge of booting his way into the NFL record books.
He leads the NFL with 37 touchbacks. He had more in the first six games than the amount of touchbacks the Ravens had in 2008 (nine) and 2009 (four) seasons combined.
He’s three shy of tying Mitch Berger’s NFL record of 40 touchbacks set in 1998 with the Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s a personal record, maybe if I beat it, maybe it might mean something,” Cundiff said. “The thing I try to keep in mind is how we rank as a kickoff team.”
The Ravens rank second in the NFL in average field position for opponents.
And Cundiff is the lone NFL kicker to produce a touchback in every game this season.
His 58.7 touchback percentage leads the league. Only 25 of his kickoffs have been returned, the fewest in the league.
“As it gets colder, it’s a bigger challenge,” Cundiff said. “It’s a team stat. I think it’s nice. At the end of the year, I’ll be more appreciative. Right now, I’m just trying to win games. Maybe at the end of the year, I can look back and appreciate it.”
BUSHROD PROTECTING BREES: The responsibility of protecting Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ blindside belongs to left tackle Jermon Bushrod, a former Towson standout.
The Saints have put their trust in Bushrod, trading former Pro Bowl tackle Jammal Brown to the Washington Redskins.
“His progression has been fast,” Saints coach Sean Payton said during a conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday afternoon. “Jammal Brown was injured, and he was put in the starting lineup. Each week, you saw growth spurts in regards to how he was playing. He’s a player that’s become more and more comfortable and is still very young at the position. He’s been very consistent, and that’s a very good characteristic to have as an offensive lineman.
“He sees some of the better pass rushers every week. We try to do some things protection-wise, and yet, a large majority of the game, he’s going to be one-on-one battling that player. So I think he’s handled it well, and especially as young as he is at the profession.”
Bushrod will be assigned to block Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who leads the Ravens with 10 sacks to rank fifth in the NFL.
“Bush has done great,” Brees said. “He was a first-year starter last year and he really grew into that position and kind of the learning curve of going from small school to going to big-time NFL football and playing at a high level against really good pass rushers, just like he’s going to go up against this week. He’s really done a good job and continues to get better each week.”
Suggs is expecting a highly-motivated opponent.
“I saw that he’s from Towson, he’s going to be coming home,” Suggs said. “So, I think he’s going to be fired up to have a good game.”
HARD-NOSED: Saints defensive boss Gregg Williams is regarded as one of the more aggressive, creative coordinators in the league.
The Saints rank sixth in the NFL in total defense, allowing 308.6 yards per game. They’re fifth in scoring defense, surrendering 18.5 points per contest.
They’re also fifth against the pass.
“He definitely gives some different looks, and he’ll bring some pressure,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. “He likes to put pressure on the quarterback, likes to hit the quarterback. We’re going to have confidence in our offensive line to get the calls right and protect us up this week.”
The Saints have 26 sacks and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is expecting Williams to dial up a few blitzes Sunday.
“Absolutely, one of the really good coordinators in this league, one of the good coaches in this league for a long time,” Cameron said. “They’ve got a good defense, a good team, and it’ll be another big challenge.”
CHESTER TAKING IT IN STRIDE: Demoted from his starting job at right guard with the Ravens’ new line configuration of Oniel Cousins at right tackle and Marshal Yanda at right guard, Chris Chester is adjusting to his new role as a blocking tight end.
“I still get a great chance to block,” Chester said. “Blocking is blocking. I would love to play guard, but this is what’s best for the team. It was an opportunity to get better, and it is what it is.”
Chester said he expects the Ravens to stick with the new lineup.
“It’s definitely something that we’re considering,” Reed said.
KEEPING IT UP: Rookie wide receiver David Reed is still getting used to his new status as the leading kickoff returner in the league.
After his franchise-record 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Reed leads the NFL with a 29.9 average per kickoff return.
“That’s amazing,” Reed said. “It’s a blessing. I’ve got to keep it going. That takes the responsibility to another level. I’ve got to keep driving myself to succeed.”
QUICK HITS: Veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason is one catch shy of tying injured tight end Todd Heap’s franchise record for receptions. Heap has 464 catches for 5,439 yards and 41 touchdowns. And Mason has 463 receptions for 5,651 yards and 28 touchdowns. “I hadn’t thought about it,” Mason said. “It would be an honor. I consider Todd to be one of the better tight ends in the league and top two or three in the league. He was playing well before he got injured. It’s an honor for me to be mentioned.” … Mason doesn’t think the Saints will be affected by the cold climate expected for Sunday. “They’ve played in plenty of cold games and have won games in cold weather,” Mason said. “That might be kind of a myth. I guarantee those guys have played in cold weather and out in the street. I don’t think it’s an advantage either way.” … Newly-acquired practice squad offensive tackle Andre Ramsey is getting accustomed to his new surroundings after playing for the New York Jets earlier this season. He was signed after a tryout Tuesday along with fellow offensive lineman Julius Wilson. “It went pretty well,” Ramsey said. “I think I did my best and it’s good to be here. I’m learning a lot.” … Harbaugh is impressed with cornerback Josh Wilson, who intercepted a pass and returned it for the game-winning touchdown Monday night. “He played really well the whole game, was in the right place, played technique,” Harbaugh said. “Hopefully, we can build on that against this great passing offense this week because this will be a big challenge that way for those guys.”