Less has meant more for Drew Brees.

At the halfway point of his 12th season in New Orleans, Brees is on pace for fewer completions, attempts, yards and touchdown passes than he's had in nearly a decade.

And that might be a good thing. 

Brees is on pace for 550 attempts, which would mark only the third season in his New Orleans career with fewer than 600.

The other two seasons? The magical 2006 run that effectively announced the Saints were back in New Orleans, and the 2009 season that ended with a Super Bowl.

"The goal is always to be as balanced as possible," Brees said. "But at the end of the day you want, we say, run-game efficiency and pass-game efficiency."

Efficiency in the run game has been an elusive target for the Saints at times during the coach Sean Payton-and-Brees era. While the passing game has always ranked in the top five — twice leading the league — New Orleans has only ranked in the top 10 in rushing twice, finishing sixth in 2009 and 2011, another banner year for the Saints overall.

This year, New Orleans ranks seventh in the NFL at 122.8 yards rushing per game, and that number keeps rising. During the six-game winning streak, the Saints are averaging 140.2.

This is the plan the Saints envisioned during the offseason.

"It’s game by game and how we want to play a game, but we felt we would be improved rushing the football this year, though," Payton said. "Certainly, we made a concerted effort, and it was a point of emphasis."

New Orleans overstocked its backfield with runners, putting together a group of backs so talented that the Saints traded a still-productive Adrian Peterson to Arizona to make room for Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to operate.

The Saints also added road-graders to an offensive line that was already headed in that direction. First-round pick Ryan Ramczyk was chosen from Wisconsin's run-heavy attack, and free-agent guard Larry Warford typically carries as much as 330 pounds on his frame. New Orleans added those two to a line that already included Andrus Peat — like Ramczyk, the product of a run-heavy college offense at Stanford — and center Max Unger, formerly the linchpin of the line that blocked for Marshawn Lynch.

"We've wanted to put an emphasis on running the ball the past few years," Ingram said. "I think that's been a commitment from the team, from the coaching staff, how they've been scheming things."

With all of that talent geared towards the running game, the Saints have run the ball on 44.6 percent of their offensive plays, their most since the Super Bowl season (45.3). The number is even higher during the six-game winning streak: New Orleans has run it on 48.9 percent of the snaps during the streak, including 30 or more times in each of the past four games.

But it's not as simple as making sure enough runs are called in any given game. The Saints have run the ball a lot in the past six weeks because they have often been in control of the game in the second half; all six wins have been by at least eight points.

The same was true during successful seasons in 2006, 2009 and 2011.

"Part of it is when you’re playing in games and you have maybe a two-score lead, maybe your rushing numbers go up or attempts," Payton said. "I always like when they say, hey, if you just attempt to rush the ball 30 times, you win."

For the Saints, the problem in the past has often been that the running game wasn't efficient enough to warrant 30 carries. When they have finished in the bottom quarter of the NFL rankings in rushing yards, they've often also finished near the bottom in yards per carry. Other than 2009, 2011 and 2017, the only time New Orleans has ranked in the top 10 in yards per carry was 2014, when they were ninth in yards per carry and 13th in total rushing.

New Orleans is averaging 4.3 yards per carry this season, ninth-best in the NFL.

"You have to be committed to it; you have to be in games, then you have to be efficient with it," Brees said. "And again, there’s a balance there. When you’re able to get a lead in games, and you’re able to run the ball effectively, why wouldn’t you just keep calling the plays?"

And if the Saints are playing with a lead, Brees is fine with slinging it a little bit less.

"Certainly better to be 6-2 than where we’ve been in the past at this point in the season for the last three years," Brees said. "I like the approach each and every week."

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.

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