Monday, November 11, 2013

Flight night

Card waving instructions

It was a record setting evening for the Saints in the Dome Sunday. Fans in attendance got to see a franchise best 625 total yards*, an NFL record 40 first downs, and Mark Ingram do.. something, anything. They also got to launch what we're unofficially calling a franchise record number (50,000 - 60,000 by our estimate) of paper airplanes from the terrace thanks to the abundance of materials left over from the Veterans Day "card stunt." You can review the Card Stunt procedures by consulting the above photo. The cards were perfect for folding into gliders which hung in the air and floated softly over long distances.  Kenny Stills caught one for a touchdown.

It isn't hard to anticipate the caveats about this one.  Dallas was missing some key people on defense. Dallas is also not very good in general. Uh oh, the kicker sucks.  The Saints are running out of safeties. The Saints are running out of tight ends. Also linebackers.  And so forth.

But it was still a gratifying experience following upon the previous 4 weeks' angst as it did. We'll take it.

Mark Ingram's night, in fact, captures this spirit well. After seeing him booed for dropping a pass early on, and then watching him go through something of a public breakdown; slamming the ball to the ground, beating himself in the head like a frustrated 5 year old; we couldn't help but wish for something good to happen for him.

And then, true to our intentions, we went out and got that touchdown for him.  And a whole bunch of yards and stuff too.  We delivered it all to his doorstep and sang Christmas carols. It was a touching moment. We did that for him, not because we've suddenly reversed our opinion that he's a mediocre player and a disappointing first round pick, but because he's our mediocre and disappointing first round pick and we don't want him to be sad.

I wanted to find a concise summary of Ingram's night from the paper to quote for you here. But instead I found this badly off-the-mark description James O'Byrne wrote for the TP.
Here's a game ball nobody expected this season. After an incredibly frustrating two years, Ingram broke out with the first 100-yard game by a Saints running back since the second game of last season, gaining 145 yards on 14 carries for a 10.4 yards-per-carry average. It was not a fluke, as Ingram, perhaps for the first time as a Saint, ran with passion and anger, hit his holes hard, made good decisions, protected the ball and didn't go down easily. In a game in which it was clear the Saints wanted to establish a running game, Ingram was dominant in racking up the lion's share of the team's 242 yards rushing.
Apart from the statistics, I don't see how that's in any way accurate. Saints fans have complained about Ingram's lack of productivity, sure. But I don't think anyone has had a problem with his attitude. He appears to try very hard when he has the ball.  Our concern is that he's just not very good.

Look again at B&G Review's breakdown of every Ingram carry during the Atlanta game

That week, Bradley was specifically trying to answer the question "Is it the back's fault or the line's fault?" But the analysis captures the essence of what is so disappointing about Ingram.
None of these plays, in isolation, is an indictment of Mark Ingram as a football player. But they are exactly the kinds of plays that Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory have made in the past. Pierre Thomas can–probably did, I’d bet, during this very game–break that kind of ankle tackle. And, rather than taking that William Moore hit, Chris Ivory probably would have delivered one.

These are standout qualities we’re talking about, and a back who lacks them is not necessarily a bad back. Ingram’s game has no obvious weaknesses. The issue is it has no major strengths, either. He doesn’t have Pierre Thomas’s balance or Chris Ivory’s power or Darren Sproles’s speed.

Former Southern Miss football coach Jeff Bower once said that the difference between the uninspiring running backs he had coached for several seasons during the early-00s and 2006 freshman phenom Damion Fletcher4 was that Fletcher took what his blockers gave him but then added more.

There is nothing wrong with taking what the field gives you. Mark Ingram just has trouble taking more.
Ingram seems like a perfectly nice fellow who works very hard at football. He just happens not to be the special player fans hope for when they see "Heisman Trophy Winning First Round Draft Choice."  He runs hard and "angry" when taking on tacklers. He wins a few of those battles but isn't likely to overpower most linebackers one on one.   Even during last night's triumphs, there were moments when he broke into the open field but couldn't come up with the one extra move or stiffarm that might have allowed Pierre Thomas or Chris Ivory to turn a nice gain into a score.

What we did learn last night is that, when the Saints are winning at the line of scrimmage, it's not a bad idea for Mark Ingram to have the football. Not entirely a bad idea anyway.  We learned this because the Saints' offensive line pushed the Cowboys around all night. This could be because they were matched against an injury-depleted (and kinda bad anyway) Dallas defense.  But we prefer to think it's because Jahri Evans's image appeared on this week's ticket.

Jahri Night at the Dome

But whatever the reason, we're glad everything worked out well for Mark Ingram.  Just don't expect to get used to that happening.

Better to focus on the encouraging moments from last night which we do expect to see more of as the year goes on. These things are:

  • Darren Sproles doing great things and basically making the offense work.

    On several Monday mornings this season, I've flipped back through my Twitter feed to find myself drunkenly proclaiming Sproles the MVP of this offense. But then as the week goes on, I and everyone else end up focusing more on the freakish season Jimmy Graham has been having.  During the course of the games, though, it's Sproles who makes things happen.  The miserable experience without him at the Jets is just a one game sample but it still makes a strong case in his favor.

    We should note that Sporles did fumble a punt. But, remember, the ball is actually wider than his waist so fielding those can be a little tricky.

  • Marques Colston playing more than just a bit role in the passing game.

  • A healthy, productive Colston becomes essential during the stretch run.  The Saints can't continue their over-reliance on the one-footed Jimmy Graham.  The offense has been productive all season but Sunday night was the first time this year fans have felt like they were watching a classic Sean Payton juggernaut.  Colston's reemergence probably isn't just coincidental there.

    Colston makes a lot of these kind of grabs because any one of his fingers is bigger than the whole ball

  • An ever brightening Kenny situation.

  • There's a Kenny on this team who is a Rookie of the Year candidate but it's maybe not the Kenny you expected.  It probably won't happen because he's playing the Devery Henderson Memorial Occasional Bomb Dropper role which means he can disappear for a game or two, but here are Kenny Stills' numbers at this point:

    19 receptions 437 yards (5th among all rookies) 23 yards per reception (leads NFL for players over 10 catches) 4 TDs (tied for second among rookies)

    Stills also leads all rookies in receptions for 40 yards or greater. If he ends up getting even marginally more involved each week, he's a viable candidate for Rookie of the Year. Certainly, as it is, he's deserving of a mention.

    No idea how to describe the physics of this but, hey, whatever gets the job done.

  • Saints coaches continuing to drink with fans after hours.

  •  Deadspin today:
    The Wolfman seems to have made a habit out of celebrating home victories with a trip to a New Orleans dive bar. After his Saints beat the Cowboys last night, Ryan was once again spotted in Ms. Mae's, buying rounds for everyone in the house.
    As I type these words right now, I am sitting in a coffee shop located one door adjacent to Ms. Mae's where Coach Ryan has manifested before the faithful on multiple occasions this year. I'm wondering if I order a toasted bagel Ryan's face will appear on its surface.

  • Saints coaches continuing to appear as though they've had a few too many while using Twitter.

  • Shortly after this went out, the price of exclamation points jumped by 50 bucks a share in the markets due to a sudden shortage.

  • Saints fans continuing to masquerade as coaches.

  • Coaches

    That... That's just adorable right there

Meanwhile the most horrifying stretch of football scheduling imaginable hits the Saints in the face beginning this week when the 49ers visit.  As always, I'm tempted to post some footage of the 2011 playoff disaster in order to remind us all of the chip we're carrying into this game on our collective shoulders. But I'm omitting that footage out of deference to Varg who will be with us again in the terrace for this game and has made it plain that he doesn't want to look at that shit anymore. Dude better bring his paper airplane game with him, though.

* Not counting playoff games. There's a chart in Reid's post where we see the 2011 offensive output vs Detroit exceeded this (by one yard).

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