Although the New Orleans Saints boasted an impressive 6-2 record coming into last night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, fans in the Who Dat Nation had started to question whether the Saints could win against the NFL’s elite without demonstrating any semblance of a running game. Having a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Drew Brees certainly gives the Saints incentive to throw the ball, but even a Brees-led offense could benefit from using a ground game to draw defenses’ attention away from No. 9’s receiving corps. Too often this 2013 NFL season, Brees has had to use check-down passes to his running backs due to their inability to effectively carry the ball.
In the Saints’ past 22 games, no player in a black and gold uniform has managed to achieve a 100-yard rushing game. Ironically, running back Chris Ivory, whom the Saints traded to the New York Jets this summer, managed to rush for 139 yards against his former team during the Saints’ ugly loss to the Jets last week. Witnessing Ivory’s success carrying the ball inspired heated discussion among Saints fans regarding the cause of their team’s rushing struggles.
Head coach Sean Payton, the Saints’ offensive line, and running back Mark Ingram all drew criticism from the Saints’ fan base. Judging by the Saints’ stellar rushing performance against the Cowboys, they took the criticism to heart. Payton demonstrated his commitment to the run by calling a more balanced offensive game. The offensive linemen held their blocks, opening up wide lanes for the Saints’ running backs. Ultimately, Mark Ingram stole the show in New Orleans’ 49-17 victory over Dallas, though.
As New Orleans’ first-round draft pick in 2011, Ingram faced high expectations at the start of his rookie season. He did win the Heisman Trophy during his sophomore year at Alabama, after all. However, Ingram has struggled to find his rhythm since joining the Saints, and since the 2013 NFL season began, speculation has swirled that the Saints might consider trading him.
Saints fans made their frustrations with Ingram known by showering him with boos when he dropped an easy pass from Brees at the start of yesterday’s game against the Cowboys. Instead of becoming dejected, Ingram appeared to use the criticism as motivation. He responded with his best performance as a Saint, gaining 145 yards of rushing by the end of the night. After running into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown, Ingram lifted his arms and basked in the cheers, rather than boos, emanating from the crowd in the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome.
Winning 49-17 against the Cowboys on national television gave the Saints reason enough to celebrate Sunday night, but in the process of winning, the team also managed to find its running game for the first time this season. The Saints’ rushing corps, especially Mark Ingram, got a much-needed confidence boost last night, and if they are able to build off their success, last night’s game could serve as a critical turning point in the Saints’ season. Perhaps, Who Dat fans, the Saints’ running game won’t prove to be the team’s Achilles’ heel.
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