METAIRIE, La. — Mark Ingram cuts back and forth between optimism and disappointment as he evaluates the Saints' running game.
"I'm definitely confident in what we can do," Inrgam said. "We have great runners, great offensive linemen, great tight ends, so I know we can have success in the run game but we've got to keep getting better. We've been struggling a little bit, trying to get us a win, and we're just working our way through it."
Heading into this Sunday's game at Green Bay, New Orleans ranks 22nd in the NFL with 92.7 yards rushing per game. The Saints have had several explosive plays on the ground, but consistency has been a problem since opening day, when New Orleans rushed the ball only 10 times for 32 yards in a loss to Washington.
"We've just got to show more consistency as players on the field," said Ingram, who has carried 27 times for 79 yards and one touchdown. "We've just got to get into a rhythm and get better to, I guess, give the coaches more confidence in the run game."
The potential is there. Against Carolina, the Saints rushed for 163 yards, highlighted by Pierre Thomas' 48-yard run and Ingram's touchdown. During last week's loss to Kansas City, Darren Sproles broke loose around the left end for a 47-yard carry, but the Saints managed just 36 yards rushing on their other 18 carries, which was not good enough to protect a lead that was as large as 18 points in the third quarter.
"We do have the run the ball better," right guard Jahri Evans said. "The bottom line is we've got to put a hat on a hat as an offense and make sure the backs get the right reads and the backs have to make the right reads and make sure they get to the right holes."
Because of a few long gains, the Saints are averaging nearly 5 yards per carry as a team, which ranks seventh in the league. Consistency has been the bigger problem, and reliably getting some modest gains on early downs to set up more manageable second and third downs, which for the Saints is often the key to sustaining drives.
"We have to know and have confidence that we can gain yards in the running game," Interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. "We just have to keep plugging at it and the yards will come."
With five running backs on the roster, Kromer has the option of shaking up the rotation. So far, Chris Ivory, a hard, tackle-breaking runner who led the Saints in rushing as a rookie in 2010, has been a healthy scratch.
Kromer did not seem inclined to make any changes, however, when discussing the running back rotation on Thursday.
"Running back-wise, we've had Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Ingram and those guys are our best chance of being the most universal and productive running backs right now," Kromer said. "We have two other running backs on the roster and when it's time, we will get them in the game."
Ivory said he is trying to be patient, but is not sure why he has not been given a chance to play.
"I've gotten no feedback," Ivory said. "It does surprise me. I just sit back and take it for what it is.
"In the meantime, I'm just going to be patient and wait for my number to be called," he continued. "You never know. It's a long season, but hopefully though nobody gets seriously injured for that to happen."
For right tackle Zach Strief, the Saints' inconsistency running the ball is "a microcosm of the offense," which has thrived only in spurts, during the Saints' 0-3 start.
"All you can really do is say, 'We have to hold the blocks longer, we have to be more sound in our assignments and you have to kind of look at it from a mentality of how can the offensive line open a hole a foot wider this week than last week," Strief said. "So what we've tried to do is get back into fundamentals, making sure that little things are dead on."
Whether those measures pay off against the Packers remains to be seen.
"Hopefully, it'll be the breakthrough game for us," Ingram said.
Notes: Three Saints were held out of practice on Thursday: DE Turk McBride (left ankle), LB David Hawthorne (right hamstring) and LB Jonathan Casillas (neck).