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Fantasy Extra: Choosing the right Saint

Senior Fantasy Writer
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When news of Darren Sproles' hand fracture surfaced before Week 9, Fantasy Football owners flocked to Pierre Thomas as the go-to replacement option.

But last week Thomas had just five carries -- third-highest on the team -- despite leading them in snaps played. Meanwhile, former first-round pick Mark Ingram led the Saints in carries in a close game against the Falcons but didn't have the best stats -- those belonged to Chris Ivory, who broke a long touchdown run for the second consecutive game.

A three-headed backfield is the kind of nightmare Fantasy owners shouldn't want any part of, but it's difficult to resist a running back in the New Orleans offense considering how many points it has the potential to put up from game to game, pretty much regardless of the opponent.

In an effort to try and make sense of what's going on in New Orleans, we broke down the playing time of the three backs from Week 10 against Atlanta.

 
Pierre Thomas
Mark Ingram
Chris Ivory
  Run Pass Run Pass Run Pass
1st & 10 3 6 10 3 3 2
2nd & 5+ 1 6 4 2 4 0
2nd & 4- 1 2 1 1 0 1
3rd & 5+ 0 7 1 0 0 0
3rd & 4- 0 1 0 1 0 0
Red Zone 0 2 2 1 0 0
Hurry up 1 7 0 0 0 0
Snaps 27 23 10

The first point to make is that on every run play listed above, the back received the carry. At no point did any two of these players play together. Fourth-string rusher Travaris Cadet occasionally shared the field with these guys in the game.

The next big-picture thought is that while Thomas had the most snaps, it is clear that he's who the Saints trust the most in pass protection and on passing plays, especially third-and-long and in the hurry-up offense. The one carry Ingram had on third down came at the end of the game when the Saints were trying to grind down the clock. It was one of two snaps Ingram had on third down while Ivory had none. Thomas is the Saints' passing downs back, which means a lot of playing time and some chances (not a ton) to make a play if downfield coverage isn't to Drew Brees' liking.

But when it came to first down, Ingram played and did the most. Ten of his 16 carries came on first downs. Ivory's first-down runs didn't even come until the second half and two of Thomas' three first-down runs came toward the tail end of the second and fourth quarters. In this game, Ingram was the Saints' primary rushing downs back.

Second downs were the wild card. Thomas had 10 snaps, Ingram had eight and Ivory had five. However, Ingram had five carries, Ivory had four (including his touchdown jaunt) and Thomas had two. There might not be much rhyme or reason as to how that broke down. Of Ivory's second-down plays he replaced Thomas once and Ingram twice -- the other two plays he was a part of on first down. It's noticeable that the Saints didn't have a ton of second-and-manageable plays (six total), but when it was second-and-five or more, Ingram and Ivory split eight of nine runs. A rational conclusion might be that Ivory was used when the team wanted to give Ingram a break.

The red-zone stats speak for themselves, though there weren't many red-zone plays for New Orleans in this game.

Fast forward

Just because the Saints leaned on their running backs a certain way against Atlanta doesn't entirely mean they'll do it again when they play at Oakland. Saints coach Joe Vitt dropped a hint in his Monday press conference suggesting that the coaches will re-evaluate Ivory's role. Vitt also said that the amount of carries and workload warranted per running back depended on the opponent and "will change on a weekly basis."

But Vitt didn't hide what he liked about Ivory's game.

"I think he's run over people since he's been here," Vitt said. "I think he is one of those backs that does a great job of running behind his pads. He is one of those backs that, at his size, can make you miss. At the same time, he can lower his pads and run over some people. He's always looking to get extra yards. I think what has been encouraging about Chris, you saw him switch the ball into the proper hand when he finished his touchdown run. Those are the little things that he has really worked on to become a better player. It's fun to watch and we're proud of him."

This is the same coach who referred to Mark Ingram as an "elite" running back a week ago, then gave him the most carries he's had since Week 2. No coach will knowingly tip his hand but if the Saints look back on the Falcons game (and the Eagles game the week prior) they'll see that there's more of a home-run threat with Ivory than there is with Ingram.

Here's what all of this means: It wouldn't be a surprise to see Ivory cut into Ingram's workload against the Raiders with Thomas continuing to work mostly on passing downs. That would mean Ivory would have the most upside of the Saints' running backs against a Raiders run defense that gave up four touchdowns to Doug Martin in their last home game and at least one rushing touchdown to a running back in three of their last four games. Though Ingram could still keep the goal-line role (or split it with Ivory), the reality is that Ivory shouldn't sneak up on anyone in Fantasy this week.

Enjoy it while it lasts -- once Darren Sproles comes back for the Saints, Vitt will reshuffle the deck yet again and re-assign roles to his rushers, and the Fantasy nightmares will start all over.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Half-dozen Seahawks get thumbs-down for Sunday action
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:59 pm ET) The Seahawks have ruled out six players for their Week 9 game against the Raiders. Included are linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe), defensive tackle Jordan Hill (ankle), strong safety Jeron Johnson (concussion), corneback Byron Maxwell (calf), linebacker Malcolm Smith (not injury related) and tight end Zach Miller (ankle).

Raiders rule four players out for Week 9
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:56 pm ET) The Raiders have listed 10 players on it final injury report and have ruled four of them out for Sunday's clash against the Seahawks. David Ausberry (foot), Vincent Brown (hamstring), Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) and Keith McGill were ruled out for Week 9. Carlos Rogers (knee) is the only player deemed doubtful, while the other five were ruled probable.

T.J. Carrie (back), Jamize Olawale (shoulder), Marcel Reece (quad), Kenbrell Thompkins (rest) and Justin Tuck (knee) were all labeled probable.

Three OL among four questionables for Seahawks on Sunday
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(4:54 pm ET) Two Seahawks standouts - safety Kam Chancellor (groin) and tackle Russell Okung (calf) - have been deemed questionable for the Sunday game against visiting Oakland. Both appear destined to be game-time decisions.

Also questionable for Seattle are guard Stephen Schilling (knee) and center Max Unger (foot).


Cowboys injury report for Sunday has mostly probables
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:32 pm ET) The Cowboys have placed three offensive linemen on their Friday injury report as they prepare for their Sunday game against Arizona. Only tackle Doug Free (foot) is out. Guard Ronald Leary (groin) is questionable while tackle Jermey Parnell (chest) is probable.

Also probable are cornerback Brandon Carr (hamstring), linebackers Rolando McClain (shoulder) and Bruce Carter (thigh/finger) and defensive ends Anthony Spencer (knee/foot), Jeremy Mincey (illness) and Jack Crawford (calf).


Dolphins head into Week 9 clash relatively healthy
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(4:19 pm ET) The Dolphins head into Week 9 against the Chargers relatively healthy. Dion Sims (toe) was the only player officially ruled out on the final injury report. Daryn Colledge (illness, back) and Koa Misi (ankle) were deemed questionable.

Meanwhile, the following players were ruled probable for Sunday's home game: Charles Clay (knee), John Denney (knee), Cortland Finnegan (neck), Nate Garner (neck), Chris McCain (foot), Mike Pouncey (hip) and Jimmy Wilson (hamstring).


Surging Allen Robinson faces tough matchup Sunday
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(4:16 pm ET) Jaguars rookie receiver Allen Robinson continues to improve as the season goes along, but he might hit a bump in the road in Week 9, with the Bengals on the schedule.

Robinson has scored in consecutive games, and has at least 60 receiving yards in five of the last seven games, while emerging as the team's top option as a rookie. However, the Bengals might put a stop to his solid play, as they enter Week 9 allowing just 15.6 Fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers, the best mark in the league.

The Bengals halted two of the league's best passing attacks over the last two weeks, allowing just 22 combined Fantasy points to the Colts and Ravens in Weeks 7 and 8. Given quarterback Blake Bortles' inconsistency this season, Fantasy owners might want to look for more reliable options than Robinson for Week 9. 


Buccaneers waive/injured KR Trindon Holliday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:56 pm ET) The Buccaneers have waived/injured kick returner Trindon Holliday, who has been plagued by a hamstring problem.

Tampa Bay signed Holliday on Oct. 20, two weeks after his release from the Giants.


Wait and see with RG3's return
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(3:52 pm ET) Fantasy owners who took a chance and stashed Robert Griffin III might see that move pay dividends down the road. But in his first game back from a dislocated ankle, it might be best to remain patient and see what he does Week 9 against the Vikings.

Griffin can undoubtedly be a solid Fantasy option when healthy, and Washington's offense badly needs the added dimension he can bring. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Redskins try to limit Griffin's running in his first game back, which severely diminishes his Fantasy potential.

Griffin might just show that he is past the injury and worth riding down the stretch, but it makes more sense to take a wait-and-see approach against a Vikings defense that is allowing the fourth-fewest Fantasy points in the league to opposing quarterbacks this season. Unless you are desperate, keep Griffin in reserve for at least one more week. 


Chargers list 11 players on final injury report for Week 9
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(3:51 pm ET) The Chargers listed 11 players on their final injury report for Week 9 against Miami. Ryan Mathews (knee), Manti Te'o (foot) and Jason Verrett (shoulder) were the only players on the list ruled out for Sunday. Jahleel Addae could be out as well because of a concussion. He has not received medical clearance and was officially labeled doubtful.

Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) was ruled questionable. Meanwhile, the following players were deemed probable: Donald Brown (concussion), Brandon Flowers (concussion), Dwight Freeney (knee), Rich Ohrnberger (back), Reggie Walker (ankle) and Steve Williams (groin).


Vikings healthy as they await battle against Redskins
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:43 pm ET) Aside from ruled-out tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin), the Vikings are in fine shape as they await their Sunday game against Washington.

Listed as questionable is cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring). The probables are defensive end Brian Robison (glute), cornerback Josh Robinson (ankle), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (ankle/knee), linebacker Gerald Hodges (hamstring), safety Antone Exum (ankle/shoulder) and tight end Chase Ford (foot).


 
 
 
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