AP Photo/Bill Feig/ASC Illustrations
Back in July I wrote an article about the Saints having the most balanced top offensive attack in the league. In it, I highlighted the run/pass yardage split and differential but I also showed the yardage share among each top team’s top three targets. For the Saints, of course, those three targets were Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas. Last season, the three playmakers combined for 4,339 of the Saints 6,259 total yards. That’s a 69.3% share of the total offense, only the Steelers had a larger percentage from their top three with 72.7%. However, Mark Ingram is currently out for two more games serving a suspension. To some, that wasn’t going to be a big deal. I don’t know how anyone could truly believe that, but there are people out there that truly thought the Saints wouldn’t miss Mark Ingram at all. Which is just foolish. Now that we’re two games into the season, you can already see the effects of not having the team’s top offensive option (in terms of scrimmage yards) available.
Remember that 69.2% share from the trio last year? In the first two games of this year, the Saints don’t have much of a third, though Ted Ginn Jr continues to show up. But for the most part, it’s just Kamara and Thomas. Those two, alone, have combined for 509 of the Saints 698 total yards. That’s a 72.9% share taken on by just the two of them. Hell, Michael Thomas has 28 catches already this season, an NFL record for most catches in the first two games of a season. Point being, the Saints need a third option and they need it fact. The next two games are on the road against more than formidable opponents, at rival Atlanta and at the Giants.
I mentioned that Ted Ginn, Jr. is a solid option right now, but his role as a deep threat receiver will inherent make his production hit or miss depending on Brees’ ability to get him the ball. This isn’t a question of regression as much as it is a question of where Brees is and how opposing pressure affects the timing of his deep passing lane. Mark Ingram was able to create plays for himself with the help of the still productive but slightly concerning offensive line. So who could step up and become a solid number three option behind Thomas and Kamara? Well, we’ve yet to see Cam Meredith active this season, perhaps we’ll see him in his first action next week at Atlanta. His intermediate and short game from the slot will be a lot more reliable and more readily available to Brees. We saw a little bit of work from Tre’Quan Smith against the Browns who pulled in his only target for 18 yards but wasn’t a factor the rest of the game through. Austin Carr had a chance at a touchdown early and couldn’t reel it in but still drew an interference penalty. Unfortunately that drive ended in the Saints lone field goal of the first half.
Is it possible that either Mike Gillislee or Jonathan Williams comes to life after combining for only 35 rushing yards in the first two games? Gillislee, the late add to the Saints offense, saw his future with the team begin to slip from his hands immediately in Week 1 when a fumble of his went back the wrong way for a touchdown. He got another shot in Week 2 and had better success on his 8 carries. Maybe he can keep that improvement going. Williams, on the other hand, has seen his 2 carries on the season go for -1 yard. I’d personally love to see the Saints bring up Boston Scott from their practice squad this week. Scott played well in the preseason, and while he may not be able to make an immediate impact in the short two weeks before Ingram’s return, his production can’t be much worse than yielding a negative yardage total over two games. Boston Scott’s skillset is a bit more expansive too. He’s got the ability to run between the tackles, catch out the backfield, and get around the edge. One of the things that the Saints are sorely missing in Ingram right now is the dynamic shift between he and Kamara combined with the commonalities between the two that make it so tough for the defense to predict what’s happening despite personnel. I.e. right now, when Gillislee or Williams are on the field, the defense can rest easy that the Saints aren’t looking to either of them as receivers and if Brees does check down to one of them, it won’t be the same game-breaking potential as Kamara or Ingram.
Regardless of whether or not the Saints are able to find a reliable third option in the offense for these next two weeks, there’s no denying that the offense is going to get a huge boost with the return of Mark Ingram. Ingram’s versatility helps keep the Saints from being one-dimensional and keeps playmakers like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas from taking on too much wear and tear. Even just in week two against the Browns, Kamara hit the sideline for a bit to get his wrist wrapped. This comes with the second game in a row in which he’s taken on 19 touches, his single-game high. The return of Mark Ingram can’t come soon enough and it can’t come in better time with the schedule growing increasingly more challenging as the season progresses.