How New Orleans Saints Can Adjust to Life Without Darren Sproles

Sean ODonnellContributor IIINovember 21, 2013

Sep 30, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles (43) celebrates a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New Orleans defeated Miami 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

New Orleans Saints' versatile running back Darren Sproles was officially ruled out against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night Football, as first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Earlier this season, Sproles missed most of the team's Week 9 contest against the New York Jets—the game resulted in a surprising loss for the Saints.

Obviously, Sproles' versatility is extremely important for the New Orleans offense. Through 10 games this season, he has recorded 38 rushes for 146 yards and two scores. However, what makes him most valuable is his dual-threat ability as a receiver. Sproles has caught 48 passes for 463 yards and two scores thus far this season.

That kind of underneath production for quarterback Drew Brees is not easily replaced.

Going forward, the Saints must plan accordingly if they are to be without Sproles for an extended period of time. The elusive running back missed two days of practice this week with knee and ankle injuries, according to Pro Football Talk.

Currently, there is no timetable for a return; however, these injuries must be concerning for the 8-2 Saints, as they are in a race for home-field advantage over the postseason. New Orleans will face some stingy defenses—where Sproles would be a huge difference maker—in its remaining games:

Saints' Remaining Opponents' Defensive Rankings
WeekOpponentRank vs. RunRank vs. Pass

The absence of Sproles going forward could certainly hurt this team. After the Saints' Thursday night game against the Falcons, they will face the stingy Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers in two incredibly crucial contests.

A committee-style approach will continue in the Saints' backfield. Pierre Thomas will see the bulk of the workload, and Mark Ingram will serve as a change-of-pace back. However, the Saints have done well to keep these players fresh over the course of the season. Having Sproles as a third back has been one major factor.

Rookie Khiry Robinson has shown some flashes this season. Expect him to see some additional touches out of the backfield if Sproles misses a significant amount of time. In fact, Robinson has been one of the most successful backs on this team, rushing for 146 yards on 33 carries for an average of 4.4 yards per carry.

This committee approach will be able to sustain the Saints' 23rd-ranked rushing attack going forward. After all, this offense lives and dies by the pass.

The passing game, however, will be a different story. There is not a running back on the current roster that contains such a dynamic capacity in the passing game as Sproles. His absence will be balanced by creating room for other players in space.

One of the Saints' offensive weapons that will see increased touches in this instance is speedy rookie receiver Kenny Stills.

Stills' speed has allowed him to burn defenses at times, which has resulted in a remarkable average of 22.4 yards per reception. With Sproles missing time, Stills should be given more opportunities underneath, rather than solely being used as a deep threat.

By getting Stills the ball in space—mainly using bubble screens—the Saints will be able to continue to use a short passing game as an extension of their running game—an aspect that has continued to help this offense flourish.

Using Stills in this manner will keep defenses honest. Without this wrinkle in the offensive scheme, it becomes easy for a defense to sit back in coverage and take away the deep ball—another major aspect of Brees' offense.

With Robinson added to the backfield, and Stills gaining more reps at the wide receiver position, the Saints will be able to maintain enough offensive momentum during the Sproles' absence.

This team has a plethora of offensive weapons. If they are used correctly in upcoming games, it will continue to be very difficult for the rest of the NFL to slow down the Saints.