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Secondary depth a primary concern for Saints

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NEW ORLEANS — As they have been for most of the preseason and regular season, the Saints were a bit thin in the defensive backfield for Sunday’s game with the Indianapolis Colts.

Starting cornerback Keenan Lewis, who had sports hernia surgery on Sept. 1 but returned for the past three games, was inactive after seeing a specialist early last week when he experienced more discomfort.

Nickel cornerback Damian Swann was also out for the second game in a row because of a concussion he received in an Oct. 11 game with the Philadelphia Eagles — which meant the Saints were without two of their five starters in the nickel package for their matchup with Andrew Luck.

As he had done earlier in the season, Delvin Breaux started for Lewis, while veteran Kyle Wilson took Swann’s place and had an interception in the end zone to halt a Colts scoring threat in the final seconds of the first half.

The Saints actually held up well. Midway through the third quarter, Luck was only 12 of 25 for 100 yards with two interceptions and four sacks even though he finished with 333 passing yards and three scores.

Saints coach Sean Payton said Swann, who had been getting more and more snaps until being injured in the Week 5 game at Philadelphia, was held out of Sunday’s game as a precautionary measure.

Swann had full participation in practice Wednesday after passing the NFL’s concussion protocol following a Thursday night win over the Atlanta Falcons. But he was limited Thursday, then did not practice Friday and was ruled out of the contest with the Colts.

Payton said the medical staff wanted to make sure Swann, a rookie who has been impressive in the preseason and regular season, had no further issues.

“All of a sudden, Damian, he had cleared the protocol, yet he still had some lingering effects,” Payton said. “We’ve always gone heavy on the conservative side when it comes to a player with that type of injury.

“We just held him out,” he said. “We felt like we wanted to wait another week.”

–Payton had a rough start to Sunday’s game when he lost both of his challenges on the same drive in the first quarter.

The unsuccessful challenges, which were the first of the season for Payton, came just seven plays apart on the same drives when he asked that referee Carl Cheffers take a look at passes that were ruled incomplete.

The first one came on the opening play of the drive when officials ruled that Marques Colston lost control of a pass from Drew Brees when he took a jarring hit and went to the ground. Then, tight end Benjamin Watson couldn’t hang on while falling out of bounds on another pass.

TV replays appeared to show that Cheffers’ crew was correct in calling both passes incomplete; both players failed to keep ball tucked away upon hitting the ground.

“The rule is clear,” Payton said, noting it was tough to coach the final three quarters without a red challenge flag in hand. “It’s just a matter of whether there was a step, two steps. We’ll look closely at that.”

–The Saints went into Sunday’s game looking to run the ball more effectively after ranking 31st in the league going into the contest.

The emphasis paid off in a big way when the Saints piled up 183 rushing yards and averaged 5.1 yards per try on 36 attempts in their 27-21 win — with Mark Ingram leading the way with 143 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run on 14 carries.

It was the third-best rushing game of Ingram’s five-year NFL career as he had 172 yards against the Green Bay Packers last season and 145 yards — also on 14 attempts — against the Dallas Cowboys in 2013.

Khiry Robinson added 28 yards on 14 carries, but he had touchdowns of 1 and 6 yards, while C.J. Spiller contributed 16 yards on four tries.

“We came in with a very diverse run game and it paid off big for us,” said Ingram, who had runs 20, 35 and 44 yards — all of which were longer than the Saints’ previous long run of 17 yards in their first six games.

“We were very close,” Ingram said of breaking out. “It was always just a little bit more on a block, or a little bit more pressure on the hole, and big runs were going to be there. Everything clicked for us. … We’ve got to keep building on this.”

–With the victory over the Colts, the Saints won back-to-back games for the first time in nearly a year.

The Saints, who defeated the previously undefeated Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 15, backed it up by beating the Colts on the road.

The last time the Saints had won two games in a row was on Oct. 26 and Oct. 30 of last season when they topped the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

NOTES: T Andrus Peat (knee) did not play in Sunday’s game with the Indianapolis Colts and likely could miss three more weeks with a sprained MCL. … LCB Keenan Lewis (hip/stomach) was inactive for Sunday’s game and it’s not known when he’ll return. … DB Damian Swann (head) was downgraded late last week and did not play against the Colts after practicing on a limited basis Thursday. … LT Terron Armstead (left knee) was back in the starting lineup Sunday after missing the past two games. … WR Marques Colston (right shoulder) returned to the field against the Colts after missing the last game with the Atlanta Falcons. … LG Tim Lelito (shoulder) was in the starting lineup in the game with the Colts after missing the previous game. … P Thomas Morstead (right quadriceps) missed two games, but played Sunday and had a career-high 10 punts.


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