Chris Ivory's Return To Prominence In New Orleans Comes At The Perfect Time

Chris Ivory

After quietly making their way into the 2011-2012 playoff picture, the New Orleans Saints have suddenly begun to make some noise in the minds of the talking heads at the many mass media sports networks around the country.  Ever since the Black and Gold pounded the Atlanta Falcons in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Monday Night Football in Week 16, everyone seems to be in agreement about one thing.  Whether or not you believe it, the Saints may be the only true NFC opponent capable of taking down the 15-1 Green Bay Packers in the postseason.  Whether we’re talking about the Brees v. Rodgers argument (for MVP) or the entire squads in general, one thing is for certain:  if these two teams meet in Lambeau in the NFC Championship Game, then it will certainly be coined as “The Game of the Year.” 

Heck, even heading out West to San Francisco in a divisional round matchup will draw its share of attention, as the second ranked defense in the league would go toe-to-toe with the top-ranked offense.  Regardless of who the Saints face off against over the course of the next few weeks, a specific aspect of the offense will need to find balance in order to achieve success.  Heading into the 2011 campaign, the Black and Gold had a “Three-Headed Monster” in the backfield.  In the Draft, the organization scooped up former Crimson Tide Mark Ingram; in the offseason, former Chargers RB Darren Sproles joined the party in “The Big Easy.”  At this point, everyone knows the story of how this trio (Pierre Thomas being the third piece) came together, and every fan in the “Who Dat Nation” witnessed its success as the season wore on.  The trio had plenty of hype to live up to, and they proved exactly why they were worth every penny.  At the season’s end, the group finished sixth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (132.9), something that helped QB Drew Brees find plenty of open targets downfield en route to breaking Dan Marino’s record for the most passing yards in a single season. 

Even with this success in the run game, though, things appeared to take a turn for the worst late in the season.  Suddenly, Ingram’s injury-prone worries became true, as a toe injury sidelined the rookie RB for the final few weeks of the year.  Little did anyone realize that he would have surgery on his toe during the final weekend of the 2011 campaign, ending his hopes for a playoff appearance in his premier season.  With this injury, the Saints needed someone to be the “next man up” and take over where Ingram left off.  Ingram’s 122 carries, 474 yards and five TDs wouldn’t be easy to replace.  That is until Chris Ivory made his way back into the New Orleans spotlight.

Back on October 4th, I wrote an article here at Chat Saints that brought up the following question:  “Where does Chris Ivory fit on the 2011 Saints?”  I speculated that Ivory wouldn’t have a place on the 53-man roster in 2011, and that the organization should look to the trade market or special teams in order to find a spot for him.  I even made the following statement:  “Let’s get one thing straight right now:  do not expect Ivory to be getting that many carries this season.”  Looking back on that article, I realize now how wrong I was.  I had always believed that Ivory may be needed in case an injury occurred in the Saints’ backfield, but never did I think that his presence would have to be felt at this point in time.

If the Saints wish to find success in the 2011-2012 postseason, they will have to find an effective run game once again.  Ever since he made his 2011 debut against the St. Louis Rams on October 30th, Ivory has found himself to be a key contributor.  He has accumulated 79 attempts for 374 yards and a TD, and his 4.7 yds/carry have made him a weapon in short yardage situations.  Against defenses like the Packers and 49ers, Ivory will have to make an even bigger impact. 

As poor as the Packers’ pass defense has been in 2011 (ranked last in the NFL), their run defense has been mediocre, as they rank 14th in the league and allow 111.8 yds/game.  If the Saints have to travel to Lambeau on January 22nd, then the run game will have to be at full force.  The “Achilles Heel” for the Saints has been playing outdoors, and there aren’t many more brutal places to play than in the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field in January.  In these cold weather situations, the combination of Thomas, Sproles and Ivory will be more heavily relied on, as the passing game tends to take a hit once the temperature drops.  The same can be said if the Black and Gold were to travel to Candlestick Park in San Francisco.  In that situation, though, Ivory’s presence must be felt in order to achieve victory.  The 49ers were ranked first in the NFL in run defense this season, as they allowed a mere 77.2 yds/game.  Add on the fact that their pass defense is decent (16th in the league), and the need for a solid play-action game plan becomes necessary. 

In order to get the best feel for Ivory’s abilities outside of a Dome environment, we must look back to 2010.  Last season, Ivory was actually more productive when away from the Superdome.  While indoors, Ivory had 95 attempts for 391 yards (4.1 average) and three TDs.  In fresh air, he had 42 carries for 325 yards (7.7 average) and two TDs (he also caught a pass for 17 yards).  Long story short:  Ivory thrives in outdoor conditions, and that should prove to be a solid plus for the Saints in the latter parts of the postseason. 

In the end, an NFC title and a World Championship can only be achieved through offensive balance.  The “Who Dat Nation” let out a collective “gasp” after learning of Ingram’s season-ending surgery.  After watching Ivory rush for 127 yards on 19 carries (6.7 average) and a TD against the Carolina Panthers in the season finale, though, the fan base was able to gather its breath and look forward to a bright future.  If the Saints are able to conquer the Detroit Lions on Saturday night (Honestly, I think this victory is essentially a guarantee.), then the need for Ivory will be even greater. 

All along, Ivory had a place on the 2011 New Orleans Saints.  He just had to wait a little longer to rediscover it.

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