We truly have four very good running backs that can all contribute substantially to this team. But are we at our strongest using all 4 in a particular game? Should all 4 be active?
I would think it's undeniable that Darren Sproles has to be active and get touches every game he is healthy which hopefully will be every game. He's explosive, does things no other back on the team does, and surprisingly he can run between the tackles, although I wouldn't make a steady diet of it. Additonally, he will always be in the lineup because he returns kicks.
It's hard to say who would be the second priority as a running back, but I am partial to PT because he can do it all. He is an excellent runner between the tackles, great pass catcher, his screen pass performances are a thing of beauty, and he hardly ever loses yardage. He has one fumble this year, but his track record on that is pretty good. He has the most history with Brees and he is a trustworthy blocker adept at picking up blitzes.
Mark Ingram looks to be the future of the franchise as far as running the ball. He runs hard, he looks to be improving quickly and picking up the pro game well, and although he doesn't have a lot of pass receptions, it would seem that aspect of the game will be an asset as time goes by. His average rush is the lowest but only by a fraction. He will be a Saint and a productive Saint for many years.
Chris Ivory is just getting back in the groove, and although he isn't known for his pass receiving, he has an attribute none of the other backs has. He is a bruiser and runs over people with reckless abandon. His style and ability can embarrass linebackers and safeties and can incite a crowd. His career average (small sample) is 5 yards per carry, which is tied with Sproles for the best average. He is our largest back but may have a tendency to fumble although he may have corrected that.
So, why not go with all 4? It's just my opinion, but I think it's hard enough for a RB who shares the carries with 2 other RBs ( and maybe a FB occasionally) to get any rhythm and get in a groove; it's even harder when sharing the ball with 3 other RBs. Additionally, teams can gear up for the tendencies that each of the 4 RBs have because either Payton will call the plays that the particular RB is comfortable and productive with or he will be asking that RB to do something that dosen't really suit him optimally.
Although I know a lot of Who Dats will disagree, I think the carries should be shared between Sproles. PT, and Ivory, at least for the next few games and see how it shakes out. Ivory has been a beast and I really want to see if he is as good as I think he is. I thought PRob was going to be excellent when everyone doubted him. I see something in Ivory that I like. He also is the only RB that, with a good, healthy 2011 performance, could be trade bait. However, I think this will be PTs last year as a Saint as much as I like him so this should not be an issue next year.
For the record, I like Ingram a real lot. He is the future. From my perspective, I think the only options are:
1) divide touches 4 ways
2) Inactivate Ivory or give him a very minimal role
3) Inactivate Ingram or give him a very minimal role.
My perference is the third option, at least for a few games and then re-evaluate. Overall, it's a lot better to have this dilemma as opposed to last year's dilemma.