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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Against the Bengals, Mark Ingram could have his best game yet

Posted By on Thu, Nov 13, 2014 at 3:46 PM

click to enlarge 6150600844_fccb735c80_z.jpg
Mark Ingram takes a handoff in 2012. via Asim Bharwani.

The emergence of Mark Ingram during the Saints' 2013 playoff run (and continuing this season) has been one of the New Orleans Saints' primary storylines. Against the San Francisco 49ers last week, Ingram had his third consecutive 100-yard rushing day — the first time any Saint has had three straight century mark games since Deuce McAllister had nine in a row in 2003.

Against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, he should have his fourth. But in terms of big-number production, the Cincinnati game might be Ingram's last shot. 

The Bengals have a weak run defense. Cincinnati allows 4.5 yards per rush (San Francisco allows just 3.9, by comparison) and 143 yards per game. Those numbers are about the same as the ones produced by the Green Bay Packers' run defense — and we know how that game worked out.

In the six games since their bye week, the Bengals have allowed, in order, 220 yards; 147 yards; 171 yards; 107 yards; 132 yards; and 170 yards. They suck at stopping the run. They don't even slow it down. 

The only team to hold the Saints below 100 yards rushing this year was the Detroit Lions, whose league-best defense is a far cry from what the Saints will face this weekend. Expect Ingram to get the ball early and to get the ball often, and expect his success to make Drew Brees' job pretty easy.

Ingram should end the weekend having posted his fourth 100 yard game — but he may have trouble getting back to that mark down the season stretch.

The first reason is the Saints' next opponent, Baltimore. The Ravens have the second-best run defense of any Saints 2014 opponent, after Detroit, and so even if Ingram is still the Saints' only healthy true running back, he'll have trouble replicating his recent numbers against them.

The remainder of the Saints' schedule features a slew of run defenses that range in quality from middling to terrible, but surely by then either Khiry Robinson or Pierre Thomas, if not both, will be healthy enough to return to action.

That'll mean, in all likelihood, another timeshare for Ingram, who won't so easily be able to collect 20 or 30 carries, even if Robinson and Thomas only get a handful each. 

The result won't hurt the Saints' overall running game, which was just as good with Robinson, Thomas, and Ingram as it's been with only Ingram, but it will hurt Ingram's chance to reach the 1000 yard barrier that no Saints running back has touched since McAllister in 2006.

And that'd be kind of a shame.

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