Former Alabama Running Backs Shine in Sunday Night Game
Burton Burns must have been proud last night. The long-time Crimson Tide running backs coach could have seen two of his star pupils putting on a display of strength, speed and skill last night as New Orleans Saints defeated the Green Bay Packers 44-23. Given extra reps due to injuries to other backs, Saints running back Mark Ingram had a career night, continuing a stellar season that was interrupted by a hand injury. On the other sideline, Packers running back Eddie Lacy, last season's Offensive Rookie of the Year, had to contribute in a far different way than normal to help his team. Both turned in great stats in a primetime game.
In the 2011 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints traded back into the 1st round to draft Heisman winner Mark Ingram, hoping to make him their fetured back. However, Ingram has dealt with injuries and split time with backs such as Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Darren Sproles. His numbers haven't been the best during that time. However, near the end of last season, Ingram rushed for 145 yards against the Cowboys and turned in a solid performance in a playoff win against the Eagles. He looked to be finally coming into form, and began 2014 with solid stats, but no 100-yard games. A hand injury would sideline him for a few weeks, and when he came back against the Lions, he was not effective. However, with injuries to Thomas and Khiry Robinson, and star tight end Jimmy Graham limited by a shoulder injury, Ingram was called upon to have a greater role in the offense.
His response? 172 yards on 24 carries, both career highs, capped by a 22-yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter that put the score out of reach, allowing the Saints to defeat the heavily favored Packers. New Orleans has had a tough season, but they are still within striking distance of the NFC South-leading Panthers with a Thursday night game agaisnt Carolina coming up next. Ingram was far from the only reason the Saints won (Drew Brees was brilliant and rookie WR Brandon Cooks had a breakout game), but his hard running helped the Saints run the clock and set up the play-action passes that had the Packers' secondary in fits all night. He was an important cog in the success of the offense, something the front office must consider when deciding whether or not to resign Ingram for next season.
On the other side, Eddie Lacy's Packers had won four straight heading into the Superdome. One of the media favorites to win the NFC North, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had been on fire, and Lacy was beginning to see his rushing number go up. However, after uncharacteristic turnovers put the Pack down a few scores, Lacy had to help his team in ways other than running the ball. His biggest gain of the night came on a screen pass that went for over 60-yards and set up a short field goal. Lacy would only have 59 yards on the ground, but he turned into Rodgers' favorite short pass-catcher and kept many drives alive coming out of the backfield. He even had a sideline catch on 4th down in the 4th quarter that most receivers struggle to make, diving and getting both feet in bounds. He finished the night with a career high 8 catches for 123 yards. He had a total of 222 yards from scrimmage in the game. Lacy is known for his bruising runs, and that was on display when caled for. But when he was called on to be more of a scat back, Lacy responded with his best receving game as a pro.
Ultimately, Ingram's team got the win. But both backs proved themselves last night. Ingram proved can take the reigns and be the featured back the Saints drafted him to be. Lacy proved he can adapt and be a greater threat as part of the Packers' prolific passing attack. Both teams have playoff aspirations, so the time to assert themselves as indispensable contributors was now. Both passed their tests with flying colors. Now, they both need to keep up the production.