It’s not the fumbles as much as it is Mark Ingram’s play in general. Hightower is clearly the better option for the Saints at running back in 2016.
Oct 30, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Tim Hightower (34) runs against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
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New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram doesn’t have a history of fumbling unless you look at his last two games with the Saints. Last week against Kansas City he had the ball punched out of his grasp to end a potential scoring drive deep in Chiefs territory.
Against Seattle this Sunday he was stripped and the ball was taken in for a defensive touchdown by the Seahawks. But that’s not really the focus of this piece. What we’re looking at here is Ingram’s overall ability to be an effective running threat for the Black and Gold.
Ingram was effectively benched following this week’s miscue, not seeing the field again for any plays on offense. Before his fumble, his stats were 3 rushes for 5 yards. Granted, the Seahawks had the 7th best defense against the run in the NFL going into this game, allowing a meager 89.7 yards per contest.
But then Tim Hightower entered the fray. The six year running back who missed three seasons due to injury and only came back to the NFL last season with the Saints, gashed Seattle with 26 carries for 102 yards. Though he didn’t see the end zone, he allowed New Orleans to control the clock and set them up for field goals that would allow the Who Dats to come out on top.
That’s 102 yards, and he didn’t even come into the game until halfway through the first quarter. As is, Hightower was the day’s 3rd leading rusher in the NFL behind Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray and San Diego’s Melvin Gordon. When was the last time you saw a Saint, specifically Mark Ingram in that position?
Oct 30, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Tim Hightower (34) is tackled by Seattle Seahawks cornerback DeShawn Shead (35) during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Seahawks 25-20. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Stats aside, it’s the eye test that matters. Hightower seems to have the vision and explosiveness to be something great at this level, and he gives the Saints a legitimate threat at the running back position. He hits the holes with authority and runs with tenacity. It’s a style of running that, frankly, we haven’t seen in New Orleans in quite a while. Hightower showed the same flashes last season when he came in for an injured Ingram late in 2015.
Mark Ingram has always been someone you use to pound the ball, and inevitably, when you run someone enough they eventually make some breaks for longer yardage. That hasn’t been the case in 2016 for Ingram, and it’s caused the Saints to get away from the run too soon in most games.
The case can certainly be made that Ingram is a better pass catching running back. But with Hightower in the game, the pass game opens up in a way that eliminates some of the need for those types of dump off passes.
The case has been made in this writer’s opinion, for the Saints to move on from Ingram. Maybe even seek a trade for him before the Tuesday deadline. There are teams in the NFL that can make better use of his skill set. But it’s obvious that he’s not the first round talent the Saints thought he was.
At least not as far as in the way they use running backs. But Hightower’s skill set gives the Black and Gold an entirely new wrinkle, and if he starts, that will set up more ability to manage the clock, gain yardage on the ground, and keep defenses honest and set up the play action pass.
It’s clear that Tim Hightower should now be the starting running back for the New Orleans Saints.