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John DeShazier: Mark Ingram proves that he's a factor in Saints passing game

Saints running back had career high eight catches vs. Arizona

Doubters remain, of course, because the NFL is a game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter, play-to-play audition. It only takes one false note for the chorus to gain members and volume.

But New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram muted a good portion of them with the way he ran last season, when he totaled 964 yards and nine touchdowns on 226 carries and became the first New Orleans running back to play in the Pro Bowl since Deuce McAllister in 2003.

And in Sunday's season-opening 31-19 loss to the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., he at least gave pause to a few more that might've believed he was being a tad ambitious when he said he had the ability to be an every-down back, that he equally could be a factor as a receiver.

A career-high eight catches for a career-high 98 yards against Arizona suggests he may have a point.

Granted, every week won't so prosperous. When C.J. Spiller returns from injury, and with continued steady play from Khiry Robinson (who also had career highs with five catches for 51 yards against the Cardinals), Ingram's touches in the passing game could reduce.

But the luxury comes in knowing that when the occasions come, he's capable of rising to them.

"(I was) just trying to get the ball," he said. "They called my number a few pass plays, I was able to get out of the backfield and catch the ball, make a couple of things happen.

"I feel like our screen game is always very efficient and effective, depending on the game plan and what pressures they bring and things like that."

It is an offensive tool that the Saints appear to have refined like few NFL teams over the years, perfected by former running back Pierre Thomas (327 career receptions, 95 percent of them seemingly on screen passes) and now being used by Ingram.

"He's smart and one of the first traits you're looking for is awareness, because there are some moving parts," Coach Sean Payton said of Ingram. "Being able to adjust to a stunt or some line movement, when it's man-to-man how to put the defender on the guard, there are some nuances that take place. Those are some of the traits that Pierre obviously had, and I think Mark does as well.

"I think (the screen pass) applies some weeks. Some weeks, it's more difficult. You put the screen reel on each week and you might look at six games where a defense has defended some type of a screen play, and there are some weeks we don't see that opportunity or they defend them well.

"Arizona creates problems with their rush patterns, for the back to actually get through the line of scrimmage. But both Mark and Khiry had a couple of opportunities and made some plays. But that can vary week to week."

It can vary from opportunity to opportunity.

Five of Ingram's catches Sunday totaled eight yards; each of the five gained four yards or less. But three totaled 90 yards – a 24-yarder in the first quarter, a seven-yarder in the third and a 59-yard pop in the fourth quarter.

In a sense, those gains were boosts to the running game. The Saints were credited with 54 rushing yards on 20 carries, but Ingram and Robinson combined to catch 13 short passes that were converted into 149 yards – nearly half of Drew Brees' 30 completions, and 42 percent of his 355 passing yards.

Still, Ingram said and his teammates agree, the running game has to be more productive.

"We've got to improve, we've got to do better," he said. "We've got to be able to run the ball better, that'll make everything a little easier as far as red zone and moving the ball throughout the course of the game."

Good things for the Saints that Ingram already has proven he can do that, too.

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