Saints’ Payton credits Falcons’ defense with stopping run

Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday that at least part of his team’s inability to run the ball effectively during Sunday’s game with the Atlanta Falcons can be attributed to the Falcons’ defense.

Even though they won 23-17, the Saints’ halfback rotation of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles netted just 78 yards and a 2.7 average on 29 carries after they averaged just 98.6 yards a year ago. Ingram, a third-year pro, was held to 11 yards on nine attempts.

“We had some tough looks,” Payton said of the Falcons’ defense. “I think, by and large, that’s something we talked about just improving on in general. I wouldn’t point at one player.

“More than anything else, there were some plays there where we had some decent gains and some plays that weren’t as good. That’s something we’ll continue to work on.”

On Tuesday, Payton was asked during an appearance on Pro Football Talk Live if the low numbers are a reflection on Ingram or the rushing game in general.

“It’s a good question because we try to look at that and make sure that, ‘Hey, is this the right play or player?’” Payton said. ‘“Did he have a chance?’ One weak-side lead play, he slips on the turf and gets a minus-2 where we think it’s well blocked.

“So that’s something I’m sure he’s frustrated with. Then, there’s a  run or two where it’s tough for any of our backs.”

GETTING DEFENSIVE: It was only one game, but the Saints have something different to show for their efforts on defense against one of the better offenses in the NFL in Sunday’s win against the Falcons.

After giving up an NFL single-season record 7,042 yards and allowing 440.1 yards per game last season, the Saints gave up just 367 yards to the Falcons.

That ranks them 18th in the league after one week. They’re also 19th against the run and 20th against the pass after giving up 88 and 279 yards, respectively, Sunday.

BUCS’ NICKS RETURNS: Carl Nicks, a former Saints’ All-Pro guard who missed the season opener with a staph infection in his foot, had limited participation in Wednesday’s practice for the first time since contracting the infection in August.

Bucs coach Greg Schiano said he doesn’t know when Nicks will return to the lineup after missing the second half of last season with a toe injury.

“He did some things, so that’s good … that’s more than he has done,” Schiano said. “This is really going to play out as a day-to-day thing. We’ll figure it out at the end of the week.”

PRACTICE REPORT: Only three players didn’t participate for the Saints in Wednesday’s practice as DE Tyrunn Walker (knee), NT Brodrick Bunkley (calf) and S Isa Abdul-Quddus (ankle) were held out.

Walker and Bunkley were both injured in Sunday’s game.

LB Curtis Lofton (knee), CB Jabari Greer (back), CB Patrick Robinson (foot) and DE Glenn Foster (ankle) all had limited participation.

For the Bucs, CB Michael Adams (knee) and TE Tom Crabtree (ankle) did not work, while Nicks, CB Rashaan Melvin (hamstring) and RB Erik Long (calf) were limited.

OLSEN WAIVED: The Saints reached an injury settlement with guard/center Eric Olsen, who had a foot injury in the preseason, and waived him after he was put on injured reserve on Aug. 31.

Olsen was signed by the Saints at the end of the 2011 season and played in all 16 games a year ago. He made four starts while lining up extensively as an extra tight end, but played mostly on special teams.