RBs less predictable, more successful

METAIRIE, La. -- Both of Mark Ingram's touchdown runs Sunday for the New Orleans Saints came when he was the only back in a shotgun formation, with four receivers/tight ends split wide.

That's a new wrinkle for Ingram, who was often pigeonholed in power running formations in years past. Ingram has made no secret about how he wants to be used more as a versatile, every-down back. And he's been showing why.

It started last year when Ingram had an outstanding playoff performance when Pierre Thomas was injured. It has continued this summer after the Saints traded away runner/receiver Darren Sproles.

Ingram had 13 carries for 60 yards in Sunday's 37-34 overtime loss at the Atlanta Falcons, including the pair of 3-yard TD runs in the fourth quarter. Ingram also caught one pass for 1 yard -- another area where his role is expected to expand this season.

However, none of that means that Ingram will emerge as the No. 1 back for the Saints. As expected, the Saints split the workload pretty evenly between Ingram, Thomas and Khiry Robinson in Week 1.

As hoped, all three thrived in less-predictable roles.

Thomas was exceptional as both a runner (seven carries for 31 yards) and receiver (six receptions for 58 yards). On four different occasions, Thomas made a defender miss in the open field to allow him to convert a first down – twice on third-down plays.

Thomas is expected to take over most of Sproles' old nickelback role on third downs. But he wasn't used exclusively in that role Sunday, as he played by far the most snaps of any running back.

Thomas was in for 34 snaps, Ingram 20 and Robinson 12. Travaris Cadet also played 12 snaps, including his only reception for 5 yards on the first play of the game.

Robinson carried the ball six times for 28 yards, including the first touchdown run of 2 yards. It's worth noting that Robinson was the runner both times the Saints were in their goal-line package (he lost 2 yards on the other run). That may continue going forward, though it's obviously not guaranteed.

The Saints' running back timeshare will probably remain as frustrating as ever to fantasy owners. But the good news is that all three backs should be able to sustain this kind of success in small doses this year -- especially if New Orleans' offensive line keeps playing as well as it did Sunday.