Photos of Mark Ingram from the 2014 regular season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orleans Saints photos)
Another week, another chance to spotlight Mark Ingram.
Another chance to spotlight Ingram, another chance for Ingram to show that he's uninterested in celebrating his successes, that the first back-to-back 100-yard games of his NFL career aren't enough to blur his focus or push him off theme.
"I'm not satisfied at all," Ingram said. "I just want to keep continuing to improve, continuing to get better.
"You look at the tape and there's lots of things we can improve on. I just want to keep making plays and keep doing the best I can to help us win."
Without question, that's what Ingram has done in the past two games, New Orleans Saints victories in which he twice has set a career high in rushing attempts (24 against Green Bay, 30 against Carolina) and has totaled 272 rushing yards and three touchdowns. New Orleans (4-4) will play San Francisco (4-4) on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
His work in the 44-23 and 28-10 victories, respectively, have been especially impressive considering he has accounted for 54 of the team's 68 rushing attempts (79.4 percent). In the absence of Khiry Robinson (arm) and Pierre Thomas (ribs/shoulder), who each have missed the last two games with injuries, Ingram has bell-cowed the Saints to 298 rushing yards.
And the 30-carry game occurred four days after the 24-carry effort.
"I think it was more significant with the Thursday game, coming off Sunday, the quick turnaround," Coach Sean Payton said. "We'll be smart and we'll see the type of role and the type of game we want to use for this game."
The numbers say it will be difficult for the Saints to run against the 49ers, who only allow 85.6 rushing yards per game, and 3.9 yards per rush.
But they also suggest that the Saints won't be dissuaded. In six of its eight games, New Orleans has had at least 27 rushing attempts.
"It's encouraging just because if you bring a run game with you that's effective and efficient, it's hard to stop the offense," Ingram said. "It makes the whole offense go.
"Especially when you go on the road, I think that's the best equalizer on the road, just to be able to stay on the field, keep the ball in your hands and keep their crowd out of it. I think it's very encouraging to all of us, the persistence to run the football."
More encouraging, though, has been to see Ingram hammer his way through opposing defenses. He has 88 carries for 431 yards and six touchdowns this season, a pace that will top his career high in carries and yards (156 for 602 yards in 2012). He already has a career high in touchdowns.
"I love it," linebacker Curtis Lofton said. "As a defensive guy, any time you see your offense running the ball through another defense, you kind of get some pleasure in that. It's just awesome seeing them do that and hopefully, they'll continue to do it."
"That's a huge help," quarterback Drew Brees said. "They say a quarterback's best friend is a great defense and a great run game. Any time you can run the football effectively, it opens up things in the passing game. If you're getting four or five or more yards a pop, you're going to be running the football a lot and it's going to be a long day for the defense.
"At some point they have to do something to stop that and typically what that does is, it opens up opportunities on the perimeter, with one-on-one coverage with receivers, opportunities to push the ball down the field. And I feel like we have the guys to do that. It's a benefit there and I think that just over time, you wear a defense down.
"You pound them, you pound them, you pound them and it may just be small chunks early on but by the time the fourth quarter rolls around, it takes its toll. I think that's when you can really see the benefits of that."
It helps that Ingram hasn't appeared to tire, perhaps aided by the time he spent sidelined with a broken hand that forced him to miss three games. And that he understands that, simply, this is what currently has been required of him.
"My main thing coming in was just to try and be the best player I could be," he said of his expectations as a rookie. "Of course, as a back, you want to touch the ball, you want to carry it. But the situation that we're in, we share the ball. We have a lot of guys that are effective and deserve the touches, so we spread the ball around.
"Unfortunately we had a couple of guys go down from injury and I just had to step up and do my job. They did it for me when I was down, and it's just time for me to return the favor. It's good to have the carries and good to be productive, but I just want to continue going and continue to be a better player."
The better he is, the better the Saints' offense seems to be and the more adamant Ingram remains to stay grounded.
But his teammates understand the impact, whether it comes in three carries or 30.
"Mark is a stout body, and when he hits you, it's very rare that you see one guy bring him down," left guard Ben Grubbs said. "A lot of times, he's going to make that guy miss.
"He's showing things that a lot of people haven't seen because he hasn't really been healthy or had the opportunity. I have a lot of confidence in Mark. It makes our job a little easier when Mark understands the way that we're going to block for him. We communicate throughout the week and let him know where we think the ball is going to hit, and the coaches do a great job of putting a game plan together."