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IMPROVISE, ADAPT, OVERCOME: Why The Saints Will Still Be “Okay” Without Mark Ingram for the First 4 Games

18-to-1. At this moment (Sunday Morning, May 20th, 2018), those are the current odds to win Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on February 3rd, 2019, for your favorite NFL team the New Orleans Saints.

Those odds for New Orleans are among the very latest Super Bowl odds for all 32 NFL teams; which are put out annually at this very same time every year by the on-line sportsbook Bovada, based in Las Vegas.

If that number seems a little bit low to you, for a team that was only a "missed tackle" away (on the game's final play in their NFC Divisional Playoff loss at Minnesota a few months ago) from getting the chance to play for a shot at the Super Bowl last season; then you're not alone.

Ranked ahead of the Saints — who are tied with the Houston Texans for the 7th highest odds — are the New England Patriots at 6-to-1, the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles at 17-to-2, the Los Angeles Rams at 9-to-1, the Pittsburgh Steelers at 11-to-1, the Minnesota Vikings at 12-to-1, and the Green Bay Packers at 14-to-1.

However, there's a specific reason why the Saints have "fallen" somewhat in the eyes of the so-called experts who make up these sort of things for the gambling public, and it all has to do with the recent events surrounding the pending suspension of Saints starting #1 RB Mark Ingram for the first 4 games of the upcoming 2018 NFL season, for violating the League's policy on PED's (performance-enhancing drugs).

(John Valenzuela/Daily News/SCNG)

Consider this brief "synopsis" given by CBS Sports recently while covering this very same topic (the 2018 Super Bowl odds for every NFL team), on the Saints' outlook for the season ahead:

"The defending NFC South champions come into 2018 equipped with the game’s most efficient quarterback, a backfield that led the league in scoring, and a suddenly rejuvenated defense getting elite play from some young stars. In theory, the Saints are favored to repeat that success, but the NFL dealt them a heavy blow when they suspended starting back Mark Ingram for four games to start the season. Time will tell if his absence proves fatal."


As in: "kill" their entire season?

Maybe if the Saints were losing Drew Brees for the first 4 games, it would be easier to accept.

But with all due respect to Ingram and his obvious talent and capability to run the ball and run it very well in his 7 seasons with the team, losing him for 4 weeks is hardly a "death sentence" for the New Orleans Saints franchise.

Why do I think that? 

The main reason is I personally believe that the Saints have one of the best — if not THE VERY BEST — head coaches / offensive "masterminds" in the sport of Pro Football; who's smart enough and well-equipped to handle such a dilemma as the Saints will face to begin the 2018 season, in Sean Payton.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Back when I served in the military from the mid-to-late 1980's, I had a drill sergeant in Basic Training who used to repeat the same line over and over again, when we as soldiers would face adversity or bad conditions that potentially could jeopardize our very lives and even lead to our death:


It even was famously used in the 1987 film "Heartbreak Ridge" starring legendary actor Clint Eastwood, whose character in the film tries to drive home the very same point that our drill sergeant used to make.

In simpler terms, the expression means that when you find yourself in a difficult situation or if you're experiencing "tough times", the chances are that you will have to find some other method or alternative that you never originally planned on needing to utilize (like using your son's baseball bat to protect your home from a would-be-robber, because your hand gun was locked away and out of the reach of children), to get through it.

Life can be very unpredictable, and expecting things to always stay the same is foolish. But by getting comfortable with discomfort by trying new things and challenging your mind and body in different ways, you can start thinking ahead about how you will react to a bad or adverse situation, before it actually happens.

Or as my late, great Paw Paw used to say: "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade".

Much like the character "Gunny Sergeant Highway" that Eastwood portrayed in that movie clip up above, Sean Payton is a no-nonsense guy who unequivocally seems to BELIEVE in that famous expression; thanks to his own knowledge and capability of how to successfully navigate his way through the exact type of situation that the Saints will find themselves in, to begin the 2018 regular season with the loss of Ingram.

Photo courtesy of WWL-TV New Orleans

The 28-year old Ingram is coming off the best season of his career, having rushed for 1,124 yards with 12 touchdowns. He also caught 58 passes for 416 yards. It also marked the 2nd time that he was chosen for the Pro Bowl; having also earned the honor back in 2014.

Now make no mistake about it: absolutely no way is any one trying to suggest that the Saints won't miss Ingram's contributions to the direct success of the team's offense, in a variety of different ways that includes blocking as well as running and catching the ball out of the backfield.

However, the "good news" is that the Saints now essentially have an entire 4 months to prepare for Ingram's absence, and to hopefully adequately fill his role in the team's offense by sharing the workload between now-starting tailback Alvin Kamara; who will likely see an even further expanded role going forward as the scheme's "lead back"; and back-ups Trey Edmunds, Jonathan Williams, and recently drafted rookie Boston Scott; all of whom potentially could see plenty of more game-action on the field, while Ingram sits out.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Additionally, the Saints could explore the option of bringing in a veteran free agent that's still available on the market such as former Cowboys and Titans RB Demarco Murray.

But that might not happen unless the Saints feel that the triumvirate of Edmunds, Williams, and Scott aren't quite up to the task. As the team inches closer towards Training Camp late next month, we could see the Saints make a move along those lines.

Also, the Saints can obviously choose to compensate for Ingram's absence through the passing game; and the recent additions of Cam Meredith, 3rd Round rookie draft pick Tre'Quan Smith and recently re-signed veteran tight end Ben Watson (although at age 37 and soon-to-be 38, he's no longer a YAC receiving threat) should hopefully help them out in that regard.

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

Ingram is a very big piece to their offense to be sure; but its not like losing Brees, Michael Thomas or Kamara. Payton is extremely creative and a borderline offensive "genius" — and you had better believe that he will explore every single way possible, to find some kind of a way around it.

In fact, former (and now retired) Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer once told ESPN writer Mike Triplett (back when Triplett was the Saints beat writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune), that a part of Payton's genius is the ability to compensate for the unexpected.

Or as previously mentioned: improvise, adapt, overcome.

Photo courtesy of WWL-TV New Orleans

Coyer told Triplett that coaches like Payton and Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden — who both coached together as offensive assistants on the Philadelphia Eagles staff under Andy Reid in the late 1990's — are both "brilliant men" and "football maniacs" who constantly study video and steal wrinkles from everyone from Vince Lombardi to Mike Martz.

"What they both have is the ability to think outside of the box, " said Coyer, who described the Saints as "masters of hiding personnel groups."

"That's where their genius lies. They move them around all the time, " Coyer said. "It's problematic because they do it so quickly and they do it every play".

Triplett noted at that time (and it's essentially still the same way now) that it isn't uncommon to see the Saints line up in 30 formations or personnel groupings before halftime. Although they might even run some of the very same plays, they'll run them from different looks, keeping defenses from identifying what they're looking at.

"The thing that I've always respected about Sean competing against him (when Payton was with) the Giants and the Cowboys is that he forces you to play against every personnel group known to man, " Coyer said. "He forces you to put every personnel group you have on the field. And then if he can figure out, 'Hey, that fourth corner, that third corner, that third linebacker isn't really as good, ' then he forces you to keep that group on the field."

Coyer said part of Payton's "genius" also is that he has surrounded his quarterback with a deep and versatile mix of athletes who all create unique matchup problems.

(Photo: Chuck Cook, USA TODAY Sports)

When the Saints signed Drew Brees, current Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael told Triplett that Brees arrived right about the time that Payton was starting to put together his playbook in New Orleans, mixing in some of the things he had learned from Gruden, ex-Giants coach Jim Fassel and Bill Parcells (Payton's mentor).

And the coach made a point to incorporate some of the plays and concepts that Brees liked in San Diego, when he was the starting QB for the Chargers.

"So it was really a mixture of that, and I think we put together this offense that we feel pretty good about, " said Carmichael, who also worked with Brees as an offensive assistant with the Chargers.

Bottom line: while Payton might not have Ingram to "lean on" for the first 4 games, to get the yardage and do the heavy-duty, dirty work of the power RB role that the former University of Alabama and 2009 Heisman Trophy winner has become known for; it certainly doesn't mean that the Saints are going to compensate by having Brees throw the ball 50 times a game while Ingram's out of the line-up, either.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

That would be the best thing NOT to do, from that perspective.

There's no need to over-compensate, by deviating wildly from the offensive scheme that's been mostly successful for over the past decade.

But what you will likely see is a slight increase in touches for Alvin Kamara in the running game, with a HEAVY DOSE of Edmunds, Williams, and Scott thrown into the mix.

Then of course, you can bet that Brees will use EVERY weapon at his disposal, including the new additions of Meredith and Tre'Quan Smith.

And who knows?

Perhaps he can even utilize the talents of someone not "officially" on the Final-53 man roster yet, such as undrafted rookie free agent tight end Deon Yelder, who flashed a ton of potential at the team's recent Rookie Mini-Camp.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Overall, yes it's certainly a blow for the Saints to lose Mark Ingram; but with Brees, a very talented receiving corps and a young and up-and-coming defense that potentially could become dominant some day in the not-so-distant-future; the Saints will still be "okay" without him.

Also keep in mind: although it's not a "cake walk" by any means, the Saints' schedule is very favorable for the first 4 games, and they'll likely be favored in at least 3 of the 4, with (5-11) Tampa Bay and (0-16) Cleveland at home; and the (3-13) New York Giants on the road in New York City.

The other game is at Atlanta, where the Falcons should be a home favorite.

Sure, none of those games will be "easy" by any stretch, but hosting Tampa and Cleveland in back-to-back weeks in NOLA — in front a of a welcoming Superdome home crowd — should work to their advantage.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

If the Saints don't at the very least come out of the Ingram suspension with a (2-2) record, then chances are it will be because they have much, much deeper team issues, rather than simply missing Ingram.


If Sean Payton and the Saints offense can successfully compensate for the loss of Ingram in the 1st quarter of the 2018 regular season schedule by utilizing a wide variety of different options that will be available to them, then the odds-makers in Las Vegas might want to reconsider that 18-to-1 wager for a Saints Super Bowl win in Atlanta, long before next February gets here........


Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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