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Few teams had less certainty with their running back situation than the New Orleans Saints going into Week 1, and unfortunately, no one was able to separate themselves from the pack Monday night.
Against a tough Minnesota Vikings defense, the Saints offense struggled to a 29-19 loss that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. A late touchdown closed the gap and ended a 0-of-3 start in the red zone.
Of course, the most disappointing part of the offense was the run game, which combined for just 2.9 yards per carry in the loss.
The Saints employ three very different running backs in Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara, and each had a role in Monday’s loss. Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus broke down the snap counts at the end of the day:
Peterson finished with six carries for 18 yards, while Ingram added 17 yards on his six carries. His five catches for 54 yards look good in the box score, but he had only one 18-yard catch before the final drive in garbage time. Kamara had more work than expected but only managed 18 yards on seven carries and four catches for 20 yards.
New Orleans knows what it has in Ingram, who is in his seventh season with the team. He earned his first 1,000-yard rushing season last year, totaling 1,362 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. However, the team also has to make room for Peterson, a future Hall of Famer who the team signed in the offseason. After a lost 2016 season, he looked healthy when on the field against the Vikings.
His lack of playing time might have been an issue, though, as he appeared to get into a sideline argument with head coach Sean Payton, captured by Bleacher Report:
As Andrew Siciliano of NFL Network noted, there was a play call for Peterson near the goal line later in the game:
Andrew Siciliano @AndrewSiciliano
Sprint-right-option. Payton basically called a play there for Adrian Peterson. Didn’t work.
It was unsuccessful, but the effort was made to get the veteran into the end zone. If the team hadn’t been trailing most of the night, he likely also would have gotten more snaps.
Meanwhile, Kamara was the wild card in this situation as a rookie third-round pick with plenty of upside. While considered an afterthought on the depth chart, he was given nearly equal chances in this game all over the field.
Inside the 10-yard line, Ingram had two carries, Kamara had one carry, and Peterson had one carry and one target.
The problem is none of these players were successful near the goal line or pretty much anywhere else on the field. Aside from Ingram’s 36 receiving yards against prevent defense on the final drive, this was a game to forget from the running backs.
New Orleans has an easier schedule going forward, starting with a New England Patriots defense that was torched by Kareem Hunt in Week 1. However, we don’t know which of the three running backs to trust.
All three should be on fantasy rosters and could even potentially be buy-low trade options, but keeping them on the bench until we know more might be the best strategy.