METAIRIE, La. — No player currently on the Saints roster is more of a lightning rod for criticism than running back Mark Ingram, a former Heisman Trophy winner and someone New Orleans moved up in the draft to take in 2011.
But after two Ingram runs from inside the three-yard line failed to net a touchdown against Tampa Bay on Sunday, the criticism is beginning to seem less fantasy and more reality.
Why, none other than former Saints coach and current Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson even called Ingram out this week for not getting into the end zone.
“I like what (Sean Payton) did on the goal line, taking the points off and going for it,” Johnson said Tuesday during the Green Wave’s weekly news conference. “The reason why is because it was a wet game. I thought the defense was playing outstanding. If you get that one in, and I’m going to say this – that’s on Ingram to get that one in. If you get that in, then the game is over in the first half.”
It would be hard for anyone to disagree.
On second-and-goal from the 1, Ingram had a chance to either sprint past Bucs safety Dashon Goldson or run through him. He chose the latter and failed, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound defensive back standing up the 5-9, 215-pound running back who should have had better leverage with his shorter, bulkier frame.
Then on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Ingram failed to cut cleanly through a hole that could have gotten him into the end zone.
Instead of an additional seven points, the Saints went to the locker room with what they had on the board before the drive even began.
On Monday, Payton was asked about his level of comfort and happiness with Ingram and the coach took the blame for the goal-line sequence.
“The fourth down call, we ended up getting an over front, a different defense than we were expecting,” Payton said. “It was one that, however it was called on the field, if it was called a score or it wasn’t going to be overturned. They spotted it short, and it wasn’t going to be overturned either.”
In spite of a rededication to the run game, the Saints are running in place, ranking 24th in ground yards per game (76.5) and 25th in yards per rush (3.12). And Ingram’s 17 runs for 31 yards, a long run of eight yards, isn’t helping the cause.
“He, like the rest of us, is working to improve in his game,” Payton said. “There’s some looks though that I know we are going to be better at that are going to help him.”