METAIRIE, La. (AP) When Saints coach Sean Payton studied last week's victory over the previously unbeaten Falcons, he couldn't ignore troubling trends that might have been more costly if not for a bonanza of big plays in New Orleans' favor.
The Saints allowed Atlanta to gain 150 yards on the ground, with Devonta Freeman gaining 100. Meanwhile, New Orleans managed only 81 yards rushing.
Now New Orleans, which visits Indianapolis on Sunday, ranks third to last in the NFL this season against the run (giving up 138.2 yards per game), as well as second to last in yards rushing (84.7 per game).
"We have to be able to run the ball better and our run defense has to be better or it's going to be an up-and-down ride," Payton said. "There are some numbers over six weeks, and some of them go back past six weeks."
Payton sounded particularly annoyed by the frequency with which his defense has allowed opponents to break the 100-yard mark. Going back to last season, it has happened in 14 of 15 games, including all six games this season, with a season's "best" of 115 yards given up against Dallas.
The Saints blocked a punt for a touchdown and recovered three fumbles against the Falcons, which Payton said "overshadowed" Atlanta's 150 yards on the ground.
"They had some explosive runs - obviously their yards per carry (7.1) were up," Payton said. "Both sides of the ball need to improve there or the games where we don't have three takeaways and a blocked punt for a touchdown" will be tough to win.
Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said defending the run was the first thing brought up in New Orleans' team meeting Wednesday.
"Alignments will be a big key. You've got to set yourself up to be in an easier position to make the tackle before the snap," Ellerbe said. "We'll just start with alignments and go from there, because it's an attitude when you're stopping the run.
"You've got to get off a block and get to the ball," added Ellerbe, who was part of Baltimore's defense when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in New Orleans at the end of the 2012 season. "I know what it takes and I'm going to let the guys know what it takes and help out where I can."
On the offensive side, the Saints have rushed for 100 yards only twice this season and not more than 104 yards in a game.
So when Payton talked about the need to move the ball better on the ground, the message resonated with running back C.J. Spiller, who was one of New Orleans' highest-profile free-agent signings.
"Obviously you take it personally," Spiller said. "It's a challenge, because we want to be able to hang our hat on being able to run the football.
"It's going to take a group effort. You can't just pinpoint one group not doing stuff," Spiller said. "It just comes down to mindset. We have the guys to be able to run the ball. We have the plays that we need to be successful. Now we just need to go out there and do it. Each week it's going to be tough. It's the NFL. You're not always going to rush for 200-something yards as a team, but you definitely want to try to get to 100."
NOTES: Ellerbe (hip) was among four Saints players listed as not participating in full team drills on Wednesday. Also out were left tackle Terron Armstead (knee), cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip, illness) and tackle Andrus Peat (knee). ... Those listed as limited during team drills were safety Jairus Byrd, receiver Marques Colston, linebacker Ramon Humber, guard Tim Lelito (shoulder) and punter Thomas Morstead (right quadriceps). ... Cornerback Damian Swann returned to practice after sitting out last week with concussion symptoms.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL