Saints see ground game thriving at right time

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 8, 2014 at 6:34 pm •  Published: January 8, 2014
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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — When Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman started studying video for this Saturday's rematch with the Saints in the NFC playoffs, he noticed something different about New Orleans' offense.

"They are running the ball extremely well and that is different from the game we played against them previously," Sherman said, alluding to the Seahawks' 34-7 demolition of the Saints on Dec. 2. "They are a confident bunch."

The Saints, whose offense has been defined by Drew Brees' prolific passing the past eight years, rushed for 185 yards in an opening-round playoff victory at Philadelphia last weekend.

Coach Sean Payton's confidence in the ground game was never more obvious than when he called eight runs on New Orleans' 10-play game-winning drive that chewed up the last 4:54 on the clock. The last seven plays consisted of six meaningful runs, followed by Brees' keeper to the middle to set up Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal as time expired.

Mark Ingram, who has largely struggled to live up to the expectations that came with being a Heisman Trophy winner and first round draft choice, led the running game in the absence of Pierre Thomas — the Saints' leading rusher this season but sidelined with a chest injury. Ingram rushed 18 times for 97 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

"He's been running real well," Payton said. "I liked his ball security the other night. Those aren't always easy yards. I am pleased with how he is playing and I think he's had a handful of games now toward the latter part of the season where he's been exceptional."

Indeed, though Ingram's 386 total yards rushing during the regular season did nothing to distinguish him, he overcame early season injuries and appeared to get stronger as the season wore on, finishing with a respectable average of 4.9 yards per carry for the season.

"I've always been confident in myself. I know what I can do. I'm confident in my abilities. It's just having the opportunity to get those touches and show what I could do and it was great to do it in a playoff game on the road," Ingram said. "I just wanted to take complete advantage of the opportunity and it felt good to be able to show what I could do and show my worth to my teammates — and all the hard work that I've been putting in, for it to pay off."

In addition to Ingram, the Saints have been getting run production from pleasant surprise Khiry Robinson, a rookie who made the team as a free agent. He added 45 yards on eight carries in Philadelphia, an average of 5.6 yards. And while Darren Sproles often plays larger roles in the return game and short passing game, he averaged 7.3 yards on four carries against the Eagles.



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