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Ravens at Saints: Five things to watch

Teams square off on 'Monday Night Football'

  1. The New Orleans Saints' depth at safety has been stretched beyond any normal, expected boundaries. Likely, next up is Marcus Ballto start alongside Kenny Vaccaro, with Jairus Byrdand Rafael Bushhaving been lost to season-ending injuries. We know that Ball played well in the sub-packages as a third safety, in the box and close to the line of scrimmage. His duties will expand now that Bush is gone. Also, since rookie Vinnie Sunserialso has, been lost for the season due to injury, Jamarca Sanfordand Pierre Warrenmight be called on to handle duties as the third safety, as well as contribute on special teams. Whoever plays likely will have to lean on Vaccaro for alignment and responsibility purposes; the positive is that Sanford has been around for several weeks, and Warren was with the Saints throughout training camp. That should help the learning curve.
  1. We'll see how much cornerback Keenan Lewishas improved from the knee injury he suffered against San Francisco, and that limited him to a cameo against Cincinnati. The Bengals didn't pass for a ton of yardage (220 yards) but they were surgically efficient (only six incompletions in 22 attempts). The Saints weren't credited with a single pass defensed against Cincinnati, so a healthy Lewis should help in that area. His presence especially will be critical against Ravens receivers Steve Smith (49 catches for 728 yards and four touchdowns) and Torrey Smith (27-446-6).
  1. If ever there was a time for receiver Joseph Morganto shine this season, it's now. Brandin Cooks, who'd come on strong during the last four games of his rookie season, is on injured reserve due to his broken thumb. His emergence as a deep threat will be missed, which is where Morgan comes in – especially if Robert Meachemremains hampered by injury. Morgan's season has been a disappointment so far (one catch for 7 yards, reserve/suspended for two games and inactive for five games) but now comes along an opportunity to remind Saints coaches, players and fans why there were such high hopes for him entering this season.
  1. Cooks hadn't given the Saints much in terms of punt return production (10 returns for a 3.5-yard average) but, at least, he'd given them sure-handedness. So we'll have to see who takes over those duties. The candidates include Morgan, receiver Kenny Stills,*running backTravaris Cadet (who returns kickoffs) and newly signed receiverJalen Saunders, a rookie from Oklahoma. CoachSean Payton *hasn't been shy about voicing his disappointment in the production, so returners may be a bit more daring in the final six weeks of the season than was Cooks in the first 10 games.
  1. The run defense that had been so solid for the Saints when they won three of four games against Tampa Bay (21 carries, 66 yards and a touchdown), Detroit (24 carries, 59 yards and a score), Green Bay (19 for 89 and a touchdown) and Carolina (23 rushes, 109 yards, one score) has sprung a serious leak in the last two games. San Francisco ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries, and Cincinnati followed with 186 yards on 36 carries. The Ravens will try their luck with Justin Forsett(133 carries for 721 yards and five touchdowns), who took over this season in the absence of Ray Riceand has given the Ravens the offensive balance they didn't have last season. Saints defenders always preach being gap-sound, setting the edge, maintaining fits, etc. The Ravens will put them to the test.

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