New Orleans Saints: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 2 NO at STL

Mark Ingram was outstanding in the New Orleans Saints' preseason opener Friday night, running the ball eight times for 83 yards and a touchdown. And it was no fluke.

Ingram came into this summer healthy, confident and determined to keep improving after finishing strong last season. And that was on display Friday night as he powered his way through several missed tackles against both the Rams' first-string and second-string defenses.

"Mark just seems so hungry, like he's starving to have that break out," offensive tackle Terron Armstead said, according to The Advocate. "It's safe to say he picked up exactly where he left off -- and maybe another step to it."

Furthermore, the Saints' entire run game has looked great this summer after a strong finish across the board in 2013. And Ingram was quick to credit the guys up front, who played well even without Pro Bowl guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans in the lineup Friday.

"We just wanted to give ... the team confidence in the run game, that we could go out there and be physical and be smash-mouthed and pound it on anybody," Ingram said. "It was good to get off to a fast start."

However, Ingram isn't about to run away with all of the Saints' carries this season.

To the benefit of the Saints -- and to the chagrin of fantasy owners -- this remains one of the NFL's deepest backfields.

Second-year pro Khiry Robinson also looked very good in Friday's 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams, with five carries for 23 yards. And it was Robinson who scored the Saints' first touchdown (a 1-yarder in the second quarter) before Ingram broke loose for a 22-yard score later in the second quarter.

And don't forget about veteran Pierre Thomas, who sat out Friday night with an undisclosed injury. Although the Saints haven't defined any specific roles for their running backs, I get the sense that Thomas will take over more of that nickel-back role that Darren Sproles used to play, since Thomas is the best pass-catcher and best pass-protector among the Saints' running backs.

Although the Saints may ride the hot hand from time to time, I expect similar overall production from all three backs this season.

So my fantasy advice would be to not reach too high for any of them expecting a "No. 1" back to emerge. But feel free to pounce on all of them if they fall, since all three could provide good value if the Saints' run game keeps producing at its current level.

Payton breaks down Saints’ win

August, 9, 2014
Highlights from Sean Payton's postgame press conference after the New Orleans Saints' 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams:
  • Not surprisingly, Payton immediately pointed out that there were both highs and lows in the game. His biggest lament was that the Saints committed "far too many penalties" (10 for 104 yards to be exact). He also pointed out that the Saints didn't hit on their opportunities to make big plays on offense and didn't force any turnovers on defense. "A lot of silly mistakes we have to clean up in all areas," Payton said.
  • Payton declined to specify why running back Pierre Thomas was held out Friday, though he did indicate that it was injury-related. The only injury Payton discussed was the left oblique strain that has kept quarterback Drew Brees out for the past week. "I think he's smart enough," Payton said. "We'll be smart with his recovery, and he's certainly smart enough too. He understands, look it's an area that's affected every time you throw. So it's important that it's 100 percent."
  • On running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson: "I was encouraged with our ability to run the ball and their efforts. I thought they played with good pad level. It was good to see from both of them."
  • On receiver Brandin Cooks: "We've been seeing him progress. He's done some good things. He's quick with the ball in his hands. We were trying to monitor snaps for all of our receivers but also give 'em all a chance for touches. But I thought he played hard, he's smart, he lines up very quickly. We'll keep bringing him along. There's a lot of things he needs to work on still."
  • On tight end Josh Hill: "He's someone that demonstrated a year ago when he got in here that, A, he's got good speed. He plays on special teams. When you have a tight end that can play in the kicking game like he can and can give you snaps aside from just on offense, because he's athletic, because he can run, because he can jump ... It was nice to see a couple big plays."
  • Payton didn't seem too happy about kicker Shayne Graham's missed extra point, even though it came on a 33-yard attempt because of the NFL's experiment with longer extra points during the preseason. Payton said the idea of changing the extra point "makes sense" because they have become so automatic. "But I like to think we could hit a field goal when the ball's on the 15-yard line," Payton said.

No Drew Brees? No problem.

The New Orleans Saints found plenty of offensive firepower Friday in their 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams -- most of it provided by running back Mark Ingram and receiver Brandin Cooks.

It wasn't a perfect night by any stretch. Both first-string units had a few hiccups. But the Saints will feel especially good about the way they ran the ball, even without Brees and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs in the lineup.

Here are some other thoughts on the Saints' first preseason game of the year:
  • I couldn't help but think of the way Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief compared the speed of these playmakers Ingram and Cooks the other day. Strief said Ingram has the kind of speed where you know he's running hard, like a freight train once he gets going. Meanwhile, Cooks has smooth, natural speed that barely looks like it requires any effort.

    Well, both methods made the Rams defense miss Friday night. Ingram broke several tackles en route to 83 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. And Cooks torched a pair of defensive backs with a nasty cut in the open field on a 25-yard touchdown. Cooks finished with five catches for 55 yards.

    Fellow Saints running back Khiry Robinson also ran well, with five carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Among the guys who provided standout blocks were linemen Tim Lelito, Jonathan Goodwin, Senio Kelemete, Jason Weaver, Thomas Welch and tight end Benjamin Watson.
  • Ryan Griffin won the first round of the backup-QB battle by a landslide. Veteran Luke McCown started the game and did OK, but his night was marred by an ill-advised interception into the arms of blitzing defensive end Chris Long.

    Griffin, meanwhile, continued to show the poise and maturity he's been displaying all summer while completing 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and no picks. Although Cooks got deserved credit for that touchdown catch, Griffin deserves just as much for absorbing a huge hit as he threw the ball under pressure.
  • Thumbs up: Backup defensive end Tyrunn Walker was outstanding with one sack and at least three other tackles for loss. At one point he made back-to-back run stuffs on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. ... Glenn Foster, Brodrick Bunkley, Akiem Hicks, Ramon Humber, Rufus Johnson Jr. and rookie linebackers Ronald Powell and Khairi Fortt all stood out for at least one sack or tackle for loss. ... Don't sleep on linebacker Kyle Knox as a roster hopeful. He started on all four special teams, along with tight end Josh Hill and linebacker Kevin Reddick. ... Hill had a big night on offense, too, doing his best Jimmy Graham impression with two catches for 67 yards.
  • Thumbs down: Kicker Shayne Graham isn't a fan of the NFL's 33-yard extra point experiment. He missed one, bouncing it off the left upright. Both Graham and Derek Dimke made matching 37-yard field goals, though. ... Rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste got burned for a 24-yard touchdown pass. He's better in bump-and-run, but he never jammed the receiver and never turned to locate the ball. ... The entire Saints defense got burned on a 16-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter when no one covered tight end Cory Harkey. ... Cornerbacks Rod Sweeting and Brian Dixon also got beat for big plays in the fourth quarter. ... Rookie receiver Brandon Coleman dropped two passes, one of which was intercepted. ... The Saints' third-string offensive line struggled, especially rookie tackle Tavon Rooks.
As expected, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was held out of Friday night's preseason opener at the St. Louis Rams.

Brees has been resting a strained oblique for the past week, though he has increased his workload off to the side during practice each day -- including a throwing session with safety Jairus Byrd before Friday's game, according to observers at the Edward Jones Dome.

Saints coach Sean Payton has never specified a timetable for Brees' return, other than to describe him as "day to day." But Payton said he did not believe the injury would jeopardize the start of the regular season.

Running back Pierre Thomas also did not dress for Friday's game, which was more of a surprise since he practiced all week. The reason for his absence is unknown. The Saints haven't offered many injury details during training camp since they aren't required to.

The others who weren't dressed for Friday's game, according to reports from The Times-Picayune and The Advocate, were expected after they missed practice time leading up to the game: guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, receivers Kenny Stills and Andy Tanner, fullback Erik Lorig, tight end Je'Ron Hamm, offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe, Byrd, cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Terrence Frederick, linebacker Victor Butler and defensive tackle John Jenkins.