As long as a team has Drew Brees as its quarterback, good things are bound to happen.
The future Hall of Famer is looking to pass for over 5,000 yards for the fourth straight season this year.
But there is one reason why opposing defenses are breathing a sigh of relief when they see the Saints — especially on the fast track of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — and that’s Darren Sproles.
He is the one guy that blew up defensive schemes and assignments and reduced a lot of very good defensive players to average with a few quick cuts.
The moment Chip Kelly got his hands on him in Philadelphia, a huge weapon and safety valve was lost from Brees’ arsenal. Brees can longer sense the pocket collapsing, dump it off to Sproles and watch him dart 40 yards.
And the reason it just got easier for the defense is because none of the Saints’ pass catchers present that much of a threat. Tight end Jimmy Graham is easily one of the best receivers in the game when healthy.
But with Graham still dealing with a bad shoulder, there’s no telling how much or what he can do. Last week, he only played 30 of the team’s 75 offensive snaps and had no catches from a pair of targets. Those don’t look like numbers from an All-Pro tight end, they look like numbers from an undrafted rookie trying to make the team.
And with Graham not right, more attention will be placed on 31-year-old Marques Colston. He clearly lacks the separation speed to be a deep threat anymore but will still try to outphysical Packers’ corners in order to move the chains.
Rookie Brandin Cooks does possess the speed to stretch the field for New Orleans, but his production has been so sporadic that Brees cannot count on him consistently.
The Saints have never really had a good running game. Mark Ingram was the fourth running back taken in the first round in the last four years and the former Alabama Heisman Trophy winner has been stuck in neutral.
This Saints offense is missing that essential spice that every NFL team covets: speed. New Orleans had Sproles for three seasons and the 5-foot-6 mighty mite averaged 77 catches a season. That’s a decent season for a starting wideout let alone a running back that has the target radius of a ping-pong ball.
The crew that will be most helped by Sproles’ absence is the outside linebackers. So instead of watching Clay Matthews huff and puff to try to catch the tiny speedster, he can focus more on attacking the pocket and disrupting the passing game. Brees has thrown seven interceptions when under pressure, so expect to see more NASCAR packages from defensive coordinator Dom Capers to put the best pass rushers on the field.
Sproles was such a factor that he opened up the middle more for Graham and gave Brees more time to throw.
But as New Orleans continues to search for its offensive gamebreaker, the rest of the NFL already knows that he’s no longer on the roster.——————
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn