What to watch for tonight: Ivory, Cadet finally get their chance

The news that Darren Sproles had broken his hand and will be out for at least a month rendered the already-bleak prospects on the rest of the Saints’ season even bleaker.  But there could be a silver lining behind this injury, and that is that beginning tonight, two other running backs on the Saints’ roster should finally get their chance to contribute.

For most of the last month, I’ve argued in favor of benching Mark Ingram and giving Chris Ivory a chance in the regular running back rotation.  Ingram, for all the hype around him as a first-round pick and a Heisman winner and everything else, has been little more than a disappointment in his pro career thus far.  The Saints have stubbornly continued to give him regular carries, and he has continued to pay them back more often than not with no more than 2-3 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, you have Chris Ivory, who came out of nowhere (undrafted out of D-II Tiffin College) in 2010 to lead the Saints in rushing as a rookie, and has posted a career 5.0 yards-per-carry average (1090 yards on 216 carries).  Ivory’s also shown a consistent ability to grind out short-yardage situations more reliably than Ingram, with more potential for breaking bigger runs.  Yet for some reason, the coaching staff has refused to give Ivory a chance to perform this season.  Ivory’s only been active for two games, and has yet to actually get on the field at all.

Mark Ingram will certainly still be involved in the offense, perhaps even more so with Sproles down.  But still, we should expect to see Ivory make his regular season debut tonight, and with a strong performance, perhaps he can convince the coaching staff to give him a regular role in the offense going forward, even after Sproles returns.

There’s another running back likely to make his debut tonight, and I’ll be just as interested to see what sort of role he’s given, and what he does with that opportunity; that man is Travaris Cadet.  Another undrafted rookie (from Appalachian St.), Cadet is already penciled in to handle Sproles’ kickoff and punt return duties tonight, and could very well also be used in an offensive role.

In the preseason, Cadet played a Sproles-like role with the second-team offense, and showed impressive versatility as a runner, receiver and return man.  And with Ivory and Ingram not being much of pass-catchers themselves, it's entirely possible that Cadet could be called on to fill that role.

Hope is not yet completely lost on this season, but the margin for error has just gone from slim to none.  Losing perhaps the most valuable player on the offense not named Drew Brees isn't going to make things any easier, but with any luck, the combo of Ivory and Cadet will fill that void, and keep the team rolling.  I think they have it in them.

So as for the team's overall RB picture tonight: look for Pierre Thomas to get the bulk of the load, with Ingram and Ivory splitting the remainder of the carries, mostly on short-yardage situations.  Cadet, as noted, will be returning kicks, and probably also active on some passing downs.

As for the game itself?  Well, for all their struggles, the Saints have a few things going for them: the longest current win streak on Monday Night Football (seven in a row--perhaps meaningless for tonight, but it shows that they've tended to perform well under big spotlights, last week notwithstanding), they're playing at home (always a tough place to play for opponents), and the opposing team is starting a quarterback with a $100 million contract who's struggled so much this year (even against teams like Cleveland and Arizona) that he could well be benched if he doesn't put up a strong performance tonight.

Let's call it 30-24, New Orleans.  The season stays alive for at least one more week.

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