The NFL season is only three weeks old but one thing is for certain: the Saints refuse to let one running back pound the rock.
What’s wrong with that, though, right? The Saints are 2-1 coming off of a comeback win against one of the league’s better teams in the Houston Texans. The Saints’ offense is tied for 1st with 34.7 points per game. They’re also 2nd in the entire league with a whopping 437 yards per game. Nothing seems wrong with that on the surface, but let’s dig a little deeper.
The Saints are 2nd in the league in passing attempts, coming in at 43.3 throws a game. On the flip side, they are 23rd in the league with only 24 rushing attempts per game. To sustain long term success throughout the season, it’s widely believed that a team needs balance. See: The 2009 New Orleans Saints, Super Bowl XLIV Champions.
In this early part of the year, the Saints are already flirting with the territory of becoming a one-dimensional offense, not only that, but they are jeopardizing what could be a lethal ground attack by divvying up the carries to a point where it becomes detrimental to said running backs in question. In particular, Mark Ingram.
Ingram is averaging a mere 3.6 yards per carry…and it’s not his fault. For one, running lanes for Ingram are very narrow, if existent at all. The reason for this is that teams know why Ingram is in the game, and that is to run the ball right at them. The Saints have only passed the ball with Ingram on the field a handful of times and if an internet blogger notices that, then you know NFL defenses have as well. Shortly thereafter, as expected, Ingram trots off the field as Thomas or even Darren Sproles comes in. This, arguably, is the main problem.
Ingram needs a lot of carries to be successful. A lot of carries in a row, actually. The philosophy is simple: pound it, pound it, and pound it some more until something gives.
Ingram is your typical workhorse running back. He’s low to the ground, built for contact, and is one of the tougher runners in the NFL already in his young career. Look at the guy in Minnesota, Adrian Peterson. Obviously Ingram and Peterson aren’t being compared to one another, but Peterson is a running back who gets better as the game goes on. Hence the nickname “All Day”. Ingram is the same as Peterson in this regard, he’s the type of back you have to let get in to a rhythm.
Giving the ball to a workhorse, grind-it-out running back only 12 times a game is not how it works when it comes to guys like Ingram. Yes, you keep guys “fresh” the more they’re on the sidelines, but you also take away the potential flow a running back can develop with the lack of consistent carries. The flow that a Mark Ingram needs to be truly successful.
That said, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room here, Pierre Thomas. The dude is good. Real good. In even less carries than the aforementioned Ingram, Thomas is averaging almost five yards a carry (4.8 to be exact). I know what you’re thinking…if you feed Ingram the rock all game then you’ll waste Pierre’s would-be contributions. As Brent Musberger eloquently put it in “The Waterboy”, we know…we know…
To that I offer another of my not-so-insightful ideas: Run Ingram early. Run Pierre late.
For proximity’s sake, look no further than down the road in Baton Rouge with LSU as a prime example. RB Spencer Ware eats away chunk by chunk as Michael Ford comes in to finish them off, breaking big runs on a worn down defense. To get Ingram his consistent flow of carries as well as letting Thomas do his thing, simply run Ingram all day early on and let Thomas come in for mop-up duty in the second half. Granted LSU has had the luxury of being up on their opponents early while the Saints have been in shootouts save for the Chicago game, this game plan is suited only if the defense can manage to stop the opponent’s passing game on the first drive or so (that’s another article on it’s own…).
So, instead of trying to cram all running backs on to the field by subbing them out every single play, try letting each get in to their own rhythm at different points in the game. You give both backs an opportunity to get a feel for the game that leads to them carving their way up the field in their own special ways.
Ingram early, Pierre late.
…with a little of Darren “Do It All” Sproles sprinkled on top.