Matchup To Watch

October 29, 2006

Ravens running back Musa Smith vs. Saints linebackers

George Kokinis, the Ravens' pro personnel director, sizes up a critical matchup against the Saints:

The players

Smith, a third-round pick in 2003, is the healthiest he's been in his Ravens career. After establishing himself as a valuable special teams player two years ago, he quickly developed into the team's third-down back this season. In six games, Smith is fourth on the Ravens with 13 catches for 101 yards. He also ranks third in rushing, gaining 71 yards on 18 carries that have come mostly on draw plays.

New Orleans overhauled its linebacker corps, bringing in three new starters this season. Scott Fujita, the strong-side linebacker, leads the Saints in tackles (49). Scott Shanle, the weak-side linebacker, is second on the team with 46 tackles, and Mark Simoneau, the middle linebacker, is sixth with 29.

What to watch

This is a matchup the Ravens can capitalize on because of Smith's ability to be a run and pass threat. If the vertical passing game isn't available, Smith gives the Ravens somewhere to go where they have a high percentage of success and a chance for a big play.

New Orleans has improved its linebacker play from years past, when it always was a weakness. Fujita is a big, tall and fast linebacker who has matched up with running backs this season. Shanle is a similar type of linebacker who has a little bit of speed and size.

And Simoneau is the tough, plugging-type linebacker. He is not regarded as one of the top at his position but he brings a certain type of mentality. He complements the other two athletic linebackers.

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