On Mark Ingram: Examining the Saints' Rushing Attack Under Sean Payton

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On Mark Ingram: Examining the Saints' Rushing Attack Under Sean Payton
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An effective rushing attack will help the Saints win another Super Bowl

The Saints' selection of RB Mark Ingram in the 2011 draft signaled coach Sean Payton's desire to re-engineer a rushing attack that has frequently sputtered during his tenure as coach. 

Adding Ingram to the Saints' backfield not only reflects the commitment to re-develop a strong rushing attack, it also, more importantly, adds a potentially elite-level offensive talent with the ability to transform the Saints' offense into a nightmarish torrent of weaponry and diversity.  

The Saints' rushing attack has been, at best, mediocre under Payton. This can be attributed to several factors—most notably Payton's pass-centric offensive philosophy coupled with the coach's seeming lack of commitment to a consistent ground game. Specifically, the Saints' league rank in rushing under Payton is as follows:

* 2006: 19th

* 2007: 28th

* 2008: 28th

* 2009: 6th

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* 2010: 28th

To this point, the Sean Payton era in New Orleans spans 86 games (regular and postseason) over the course of five seasons (2006-2010). The Saints are 53-33 under Payton. In the 53 wins, the Saints have averaged 29.8 rush attempts per game and 124 yards per game. In the 33 losses, the Saints have averaged 20.5 attempts per game and 75.8 yards per game.

In the two seasons that the Saints ranked the highest in rushing (2006, 2009), they made the NFC championship game and won the Super Bowl, respectively. In the three seasons they finished 28th (2007, 2008, 2010), they won no playoff games.

And though this single statistic isn't the lone indicator of the Saints' overall performance under Payton, it is a telling gauge of final results. While Saints fans who have watched the team during the Payton era may understand this correlation intuitively—namely, the correlation between an effective running game and a Super Bowl-caliber team—examining the numbers definitively drives home the point and underscores the need for a viable rushing attack if the Saints intend on winning another Super Bowl in the coming years. 

In games under Payton where the Saints...

... log 20 rushing attempts or fewer, the team is 1-17.
... log 21-26 rushing attempts, the team is 18-14.
... log 27 rushing attempts or more, the team is 34-4.

It's plainly obvious to see (assuming that you believe the sample size of five seasons is worthy) that the more the Saints attempt to run, the more they in fact win.

What's even more glaring is the correlation between rushing efficacy and winning, not just attempts and winning.

Simply put, when the Saints under Payton...

... rush for 125 yards or more, they are a staggering 23-0.
... rush for fewer than 100 yards, they are an underwhelming 17-24.

Continuing this trend is the fact that in the games where the Saints score 30-plus points, they average 29.3 attempts for 118.9 yards per game. And in games where they score 40-plus points, they average 31.3 attempts for 140.4 yards per game.

Conversely, in the Saints' 29 lowest-scoring games under Payton, they average 22.8 attempts for a paltry 83.2 yards per game. The Saints' record under Payton when they score 30-plus points? 35-4.

In short, the Saints are very likely to win when they score 30-plus points—and they're most likely to score those 30-plus points when they run the ball more frequently and effectively. 

Lastly, during the Saints' 13-game winning streak in their 2009 Super Bowl-winning campaign, they averaged 30.7 attempts for 138.9 yards per game. Enough?

Ingram will be an immediate factor on the NFL's best offense

Which finally brings us to Mark Ingram.

Ingram stands to make an immediate impact on the Saints' offense due to several factors:

(a) He possesses high-level, well-rounded talent and will fill a specific niche within the Saints system; he won't be forced to carry the load, nor will he be put into situations that don't fit his skill-set. His role as a between-the-tackles, goal-line, downhill, clock-killing back fits perhaps the Saints' biggest area of need, and Ingram is the optimal fit for this role. His talents potentially transform the Saints offense from up-tempo and high-scoring to fearsomely diverse and downright historically unstoppable.

(b) He has played in a pro system under Nick Saban in college against elite SEC talent. The overall skill level and professional requirements in the NFL won't overwhelm him in the short term.

(c) He is relatively "fresh," as he shared the workload for two seasons with Trent Richardson at the University of Alabama. His overall RB mileage has not been over-extended at the NCAA level, which should extend his NFL career by a year or two.

The need for depth at the RB position is less directly important in relation to Ingram (many players can fill the depth need), but it is important nonetheless.

See the science behind Ingram's skills

In the Saints' 2010 playoff game vs. Seattle, the Saints were literally playing their eighth-string RB for the season, a fact that doomed their chances in the postseason. At that point, the Saints were without Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Reggie Bush, Lynell Hamilton, Ladell Betts, Julius Jones and Deshawn Wynn. If this fact doesn't underscore the vital need for depth at the RB position, then I don't know what does.

In summary, it's important to note that the Saints will remain a pass-first team, as they should. 

With that said, if the Saints want another Super Bowl victory, it's imperative that they possess an effective rushing attack. Drafting Mark Ingram not only contributes mightily to the improvement of the rushing attack, but it also fortifies the RB position long term and adds a potentially elite player to the league's best offense that already boasts several elite talents.

If it's Super Bowl victories that matter, if the time to win is now—and it most certainly is—then drafting Mark Ingram was a master stroke. 

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