The New Orleans Saints were defeated this past Sunday by the Kansas City Chiefs, in a game where the Saints beat THEMSELVES much more than the Chiefs beat them.
Ill-timed penalties, crucial miscues, head-scratching coach or player decisions and late game ‘bone-headed’ mistakes short-circuited an otherwise nice effort by a short handed New Orleans team, in a tough place for any team to play.
One of these critical mistakes was a fumble by running back Mark Ingram late in the 4th quarter and deep within Chiefs territory.
Despite the penalties, this was one of the mistakes that likely cost the Saints their 3rd consecutive victory, and drew the ire of many fans.
What was notable to me was that he had been running hard during the 4th quarter, was fighting for extra yards, and the Chiefs defense did make a fine play.
Oct 23, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) is tackled by Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 27-21. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
That was only Ingram’s seventh fumble in now the 6th year of his NFL career — a career that some Saints fans feel has failed to meet the expectations of a former All-American and Heisman Trophy winner with 2 National Championships to his credit.
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Only 4 of those fumbles over that time were lost to the other team, so it is difficult to be critical of Ingram for that singular play.
What ‘should’ be noted, however, is the questions that some members of the team’s fan-base have been asking since Ingram’s entrance into the league.
During the 2011 NFL Draft, the Saints traded back into the 1st round (with the New England Patriots) to draft the Heisman Trophy winning running back out of Alabama.
The selection of Ingram came on the heels of a loss to Seattle in the 2010 Playoffs, where the defending 2009 Super Bowl champions were absolutely ravaged with injuries at running back — and started their 4th string RB (Julius Jones) in a loss at Seattle.
Mark Ingram came with a pedigree from a winning collegiate program and had NFL bloodlines, something that Saints head coach Sean Payton has clearly had an affinity for during his era in New Orleans (Mark’s father, Mark Sr was a wide receiver for the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins).
Some of the things that draft pundits had written about Ingram included “runs angry”, and “productive career”, but also “limited upside”, and “needs the right system to be productive at the next level”.
Nov 13, 2010; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram (22) scores on a 78 yard reception in the second quarter against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
It was this last analysis that had some Saints fans, myself included, asking why the team would make such a move; and wondering exactly how the new running back would fit in with an offensive system that did not look to suit his style.
Ingram has produced mixed results during his time as a Saint.
He has yet to produce a 1000 yard season, his effort has been questioned by some, and has been nicked up with injuries at times as most NFL running backs are.
To his credit, Ingram has worked hard on his receiving skills; with a career high in both receptions and yards coming last year. This has made the New Orleans offense far less predictable when he is on the field, something that had been the most criticized aspect during his career.
During the six years that Ingram has donned a Saints uniform, a number of other running backs have had success in New Orleans as well, but nearly all of them (Reggie Bush, Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles, Khiry Robinson) have since taken their talents on to other places; leaving some to question the mystery behind the decision to make Ingram the featured back — while not giving opportunity to others who may have fit New Orleans offensive “system” better.
Below we’ll compare some of these backs, why they were brought in, why they are gone, or theorize whether it may have been a good choice. Starting with….
Oct 25, 2009 ; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush (25) leaps across the goal line for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins during the fourth quarter of a game at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Bush was Payton’s first draft pick, 2nd overall in the 2006 draft. He was never a featured back in New Orleans, and was traded to the Miami Dolphins following an injury plagued 2010 season, which undoubtedly played a factor in the team’s decision to target Ingram in the 2011 NFL Draft. Bush had some very productive seasons after leaving the Saints (two 980+yd years in Miami and another with Detroit) Bush never showed the production envisioned for him in New Orleans, and showed little sign of doing so, thus allowing the team to look elsewhere. Reggie’s career has been derailed due to numerous leg injuries since 2014.
Feb 7, 2010 ; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas (23) dives across the goal line for a touchdown in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLIV at Sun-Life Stadium. The Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts 31-17. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons – US PRESSWIRE
“The PT Cruiser” was one of the best big-game performers in the team’s 50 year history and undoubtedly one of it’s most popular players. (Definitely one of my personal favorites). Pierre played the ultimate “team first” role during his time as a Saint (2006-14), and many wondered how well he would have fared if ever given the featured back role. Gradually, Pierre’s skills began to decline; and the team released him after the 2014 season.
Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets running back Chris Ivory (33) runs the ball against the Tennessee Titans during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Titans 30-8. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Now, here was an ANGRY runner, Saints fans. An undrafted free agent out of little-known Tiffin University in 2010, Ivory was a fan favorite almost immediately due to his hard charging style. Ivory’s best year as a Saint was in that rookie year (716 yds. 5 TD’s). Upon Ingram’s arrival, Ivory was often little used during the remainder of his Saints career. Prior to the 2013 season, Ivory was acquired by the Jets, where he had 3 extremely productive years as a runner, including a 1000+yd campaign in 2015. To this day, many Saints fans continue to insist that the team made the choice to keep the WRONG running back — by allowing Ivory to leave and retaining Ingram.
Sep 22, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles (43) returns a punt in the third quarter of their game against the Arizona Cardinals at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Sproles’ arrival to the Saints from San Diego in 2011 gave them exactly the type of performances that they wanted when Payton drafted Reggie Bush in ’06, and Sproles was an instant favorite for both Drew Brees and the fans. By 2013, however (his final year with the team), the offense had become very predictable when Sproles was in the game, due to his limitations as a traditional running back. Too often Sproles would have a stat-line that read 6 receptions for 8 yards or 5 rushes for 6 yards. The Saints traded him to Philadelphia before the 2014 season, and since then Sproles has shown some of the big play flashes he had during his first 2 years in New Orleans, but also much of the one-dimensional nature.
Oct 5, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Khiry Robinson (29) runs for the game-winning touchdown in overtime vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The Saints signed Robinson as an undrafted college free agent out of West Texas A&M in 2013. A hard running player similar in the Chris Ivory-mode, Robinson had many fans calling for him to be the featured back. Unfortunately, Khiry suffered a serious injury in each of his 3 years as a Saint, and he was allowed to depart following last year as a free agent. Robinson signed with the Jets, but was released prior to the season and is currently not on any NFL roster as of this moment.
Dec 21, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back C.J. Spiller (28) in injured in the first quarter of their game against the Detroit Lions at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
One of the worst free agent signings in the Sean Payton Era came to an end after just one miserably unproductive year. Signed away from Buffalo after 2014, it was assumed that Spiller would give the Saints the explosiveness out of the backfield that Bush, Sproles, and Thomas gave to them. Save for literally ONE play in the 2015 season (an overtime winner against Dallas), those hopes never materialized. Spiller is currently on the Seahawks roster, where once again he seems to be an afterthought in a team’s offensive plans.
As we’ve seen, a number of other running backs have have been through the Saints system, but Ingram remains “the last man standing” among them all, even signing a 4 year contract extension last year.
Current back-ups Tim Hightower and Daniel Lasco (currently injured), have shown the ability to be productive in limited appearances.
While Ingram’s skills have certainly evolved in the last couple seasons, some Saints fans are asking one of two questions:
1) Why was Ingram continually given opportunities when other backs while here were at least as productive, if not moreso?
And 2) As the NFL trading deadline approaches, is it time to TRADE Mark Ingram to a running back needy team (Minnesota comes to mind) for draft choices and/or much needed defensive help?
In a recent article, our Editor and Featured Columnist here at Big Easy Believer — Barry Hirstius — listed a few names of Saints players that would have the most value for the Saints in a trade (click HERE to read), but without “crippling” the team (Drew Brees, Cam Jordan, Brandin Cooks, and Kenny Vaccaro for example, would NOT be considered).
But one name that did make Barry’s list?
You guessed it — Mark Ingram.
Sep 27, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) scores a touchdown in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
After some consideration, maybe both the fans’ cries and Barry’s observation, have some merit after all.