Much has been made this week of the New England Patriots‘ matchup against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The topics buzzing around the sports media world are mainly about the tight ends for the two respective teams: Rob Gronkowski for the Patriots and Jimmy Graham for the Saints.
While these players will be major factors in determining the outcome Sunday, perhaps the most important player who has flown very much under the radar this week is Saints’ RB Darren Sproles.
Sproles is a legitimate threat at the running back position who should be feared by the other 31 NFL teams. He is fast, running a 4.48 40 yard dash time in college, he is a very good pass blocker, and he is among the best pass-catchers at the position in the league.
If there is one area that the Patriots are weak in, besides perhaps run defense, it would be in defending receiving running backs. Brandon Spikes has proven to be very inconsistent in pass coverage, Donta’ Hightower still needs work in this area as well, and Jerod Mayo has had his ups and downs in pass coverage throughout his career.
As far as the pure running game is concerned, the Patriots may struggle in that area this week too as Vince Wilfork is no longer in the equation and Tommy Kelly is clearly banged up this week. Considering that their two starting defensive tackles are either out or not at 100 percent, it is likely that you could see a lot of Sproles on Sunday.
Sproles could affect things down field as well. If the Patriots cannot stop him from running, Drew Brees will be able to utilize play action against the Patriots’ secondary, leaving the Patriots utterly confused on defense.
With guys like Graham, Marques Colston and Kenny Stills as legitimate pass catchers for the Saints, the last thing the Patriots will want to be is hesitant on defense. For that reason, the Patriots must focus all their efforts on taking Sproles away if they want to come out of Week 6 with a victory.