Coming off a disappointing season, much of the blame was laid on the historically atrocious defense that took the field last season, and rightfully so. However, this doesn’t mean the offense is completely free of blame. Drew Brees, for one, threw a league high 19 interceptions, and the offense was close to the bottom in time of possession. Though the time of possession can also be blamed on the defense, the 25th-ranked running game didn’t help.
Even though the New Orleans Saints are defined by a prolific passing game, the running game is what ultimately leads to team success. Since the Brees-Payton era began, the Saints two most successful seasons, the Super Bowl run in 2009 and the 13-3 2011 season, both featured running games ranked in the top 7. And in seasons where the Saints didn’t make the playoffs (2007, 2008, 2012), the running game was ranked in the bottom 5. The lack of a running game also has a residual effect on Brees. In the years Brees hasn’t had a running game, he has posted at least 17 interceptions, including a career high 22 in 2010.
If the Saints have any chance of getting back to the promise land, the running game will have to make an impact, and more specifically Mark Ingram.
Ingram, widely regarded as a disappointment or bust by the fan base, has the burden of carrying the Saints’ running game. Though fans are down on him, let’s start by saying he isn’t as bad as one might think. Trent Richardson, a top five pick out of Alabama, is regarded by many experts as one of the up and coming premiere backs in the league. However, when looking at the numbers, one can see that Ingram is slightly better. With roughly the same amount of carries, 278 for Ingram and 267 for Richardson, Ingram actually average more yards per carries at 3.9 versus Richardson’s 3.6. Also, keep in mind that Ingram has only made 9 starts compared to Richardson’s 15. Ingram has one less touchdown and 126 more yards. So right off the bat, Ingram isn’t as bad as the fan base thinks he is.
Also, Ingram has a lot working against him. Inherently, he is in a bad system for his skill set. While at Alabama, the offense centered around him and his job was to wear down the defense with twenty plus carries. However, in his two seasons with the Saints, he has only received over 15 carries in a game five times. So, one could argue that a lack of opportunity that has held Ingram back. This aspect should be less of a problem this year with the departure of Chris Ivory via draft-day trade. With Ivory gone, the only backs Ingram is competing with are Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, and to a lesser extent Travaris Cadet. The Saints would probably like to see Thomas reduce his workload a bit, but he will still do the same type of job as Ingram. Meanwhile, Sproles isn’t a 20-plus carry type back. The Saints would rather use him as the line up everywhere type back to create mismatches. This all sets up nicely for Ingram to come take the starting job.
Having said all this, Ingram still has to step his game up and be productive. Maybe the switch from number 28 to 22, the number he wore at Alabama, will rekindle some of the magic that made him a Heisman winner in college. Whatever the case, the Saints, despite the fact they are regarded as a high flying passing team, need a running game to be truly prolific, which means that it is time for Ingram to put up or shut up in what is a make or break year for the former Heisman winner’s career.