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New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) and New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) celebrate Kamara's 7 yard rushing touchdown against Tampa Bay, Sunday, December 31, 2017, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Few teams have been able to hold Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in check the way the Carolina Panthers did in last week's NFC wild-card game. 

But the New Orleans Saints' running game has been slowing down over the past month. 

After ripping off more than 100 yards rushing in eight consecutive games following the team's Oct. 10 decision to trade Adrian Peterson, New Orleans has been held to fewer than 100 yards rushing in four of its past five games, including a paltry 41 against the Panthers last week. 

Fully aware of the dangers Ingram and Kamara present, teams have started to pack people near the line of scrimmage to take away those opportunities.

"Me and Alvin have had some success, and some teams' priority to bottle us up a little bit so we're not beating them," Ingram said. "But we have other weapons on the field that can hurt you, so you've got to pick your poison."

The Panthers paid a dear price for the strategy in their 31-26 wild-card loss at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. 

Offered a chance to throw against a vulnerable, exposed secondary, Brees threw for 376 yards, spreading the ball around to a receiving corps that was led by Michael Thomas' eight catches and 131 yards, but also got heavy contributions from Ted Ginn Jr., tight end Josh Hill and Brandon Coleman. 

But that development might not keep Minnesota from trying more of the same in the divisional round Sunday. The Vikings, who boast the NFL's No. 1 defense, have a better secondary than Carolina. Minnesota might be content to take its chances with All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes and All-Pro safety Harrison Smith roaming around. 

The Saints know they must stick to the run even if the Vikings stack the box. 

"We've seen a little bit more stacked boxes, safeties coming," right tackle Ryan Ramczyk said. "We're going to prepare and try to run the ball still."

For the most part, the Saints have stuck with the run — even in games where the running game has had its issues. New Orleans ran it 31 times against Atlanta on Christmas Eve despite averaging just 2.8 yards per carry, 26 times against the Buccaneers while averaging 3.1 and 22 times against Carolina.

"You've got to keep running it to keep them honest," Ingram said. "Wear them down. Eventually it's going to pop at some point in the game."

New Orleans also has had trouble at times getting the ball into the hands of its backs enough for a "pop play" because of the Saints' problems on third down. 

Although they're still explosive, the Saints were just 19th in the NFL on third down, and it has cost the offense some plays. New Orleans has averaged just 58 plays per game over its past five games, nearly seven fewer than the 64.6 the Saints averaged during the eight-game streak of 100-yard rushing days. 

"I think to some degree, our third down numbers not being as good as they’ve been limit the amount of attempts you have in yards per carry," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Each week, though, that’s a focal point."

Minnesota will present a stiff test. 

The Vikings gave up just 83.5 yards rushing per game, a figure that ranked second in the NFL, and 3.67 yards per carry, a mark that finished fifth. 

"When you stack the box, it's hard to pick up yards, but I don't think the task is any harder," Kamara said. "We still prepare the same, to have success running the ball, but if a defense schemes to stop that, it is what it is."

And if Minnesota loads up to stop the run the way that Carolina did, the Saints are confident that their legendary quarterback is the answer. 

"Drew Brees," Kamara said. "Fill in the blanks."

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.