The Dome Patrol: Four men who revived the New Orleans Saints

This game could not have gone much worse for the Lions. Stafford was only able to take snaps out of the shotgun because of his injured ankle, then took a beating throughout. The Lions lost safety Glover Quin (concussion), receiver Golden Tate (shoulder) and tackle Greg Robinson to injury. Now 3-3 after a fast start, the team was steamrolled on the ground early and lacks its old explosion on offense.

This is the first time since 2013 the Saints are above .500. They have their running game largely to thank. On the week they traded Adrian Peterson, New Orleans went with a run-heavy approach to put up 31 points in the first half, calling 20 runs to only 14 Drew Brees passes. They wound up with 193 yards rushing, showcasing one of the best duos in the league Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara. The return of left tackle Terron Armstead made a big difference.

With an average of 14.5 rush attempts per game over the last three years, he added some pass-catching prowess to his arsenal of abilities recently. Ingram has averaged 59 targets and 48 receptions over the last two seasons. He’s a three-down back and has a goal-line role too.

Just one of 19 running backs to receive 200-plus rush attempts in 2016, he’s simply not getting the respect he deserves among fantasy circles ahead of the 2017 season. I understand why folks are skeptical after the offseason moves the Saints made to improve the backfield. But Ingram has been a consistently productive presence in the Saints backfield the last few seasons and has spent his entire six-year career in New Orleans with Sean Peyton as his coach and Drew Brees as his signal-caller.

Two straight runs at the heart of New Orleans’ vaunted front seven net Pittsburgh just 3 yards, with key tackles by middle linebacker Vaughan Johnson and Pro Bowl outside linebacker Rickey Jackson. Precious seconds erode from the game clock.

“Like throwing popcorn at a battle ship, trying to run inside like that,” former Chiefs head coach Hank Stram quips alongside Tim Brant from the CBS Sports booth. He’s been barking for the Steelers to try something to the outside. And on third-and-goal, Stram gets his wish.

The injuries were just too much for Lewis to overcome. The Saints telegraphed this move earlier this week when they signed Cortland Finnegan. They have decent cornerback depth with Delvin Breaux and second-year pro P.J. Williams, who has enjoyed a nice training camp.

Lewis was a sensible signing at the time, but he’s an example of the struggles the Saints have been plagued with when signing defensive backs in free agency. Safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Brandon Browner and cornerback Champ Bailey also were misfires.

Such was the case in New Orleans. The Saints released wide receiver Hakeem Nicks on Monday, according to the club. The team also signed long snapper Chris Highland and announced that star left tackle Terron Armstead was coming off the physically unable to perform list.

Nicks’ career hit a speedbump after a 76-catch, 1,192-yard season in 2011. At that time, the tandem of Nicks and Victor Cruz was looked at as one of the NFL’s most feared receiving tandems. Nicks, at one point, was supposed to receive a similar mega-deal, but a series of injuries led to a sharp decline in production.

The Saints will host Mixon for an upcoming visit, coach Sean Payton told The Advocate on Wednesday at the Annual League Meeting. The Saints were also among four clubs to meet with Mixon, the 2017 NFL Draft’s most controversial prospect, the night before his pro-day workout earlier this month.

Mixon punched a female OU student in 2014 as a freshman, resulting in his suspension from the team for a season, and a misdemeanor criminal charge of acts resulting in gross injury. The case was settled on a plea agreement, but more than two years later, the incident remains of significant importance to NFL clubs trying to evaluate Mixon’s character. Mixon is one of the most talented rushers available in the draft, but the incident precluded him from being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine due to a conduct policy. That’s made it more difficult for clubs to evaluate the former Sooners star, which Detroit Lions GM Bob Quinn lamented at the combine. The New England Patriots will not consider drafting Mixon, per the Boston Herald, and according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, the Patriots aren’t alone.

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