Stats & Info: Darren Sproles

Top stats to know: NFL Free Agency (Day 3)

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
What were the top statistical storylines from Day 3 of NFL Free Agency?

McCoy gets a running (and receiving) mate
The Philadelphia Eagles acquired running back Darren Sproles in a trade with the Saints. Sproles had only 53 rushes last season, but his impact as a receiver could make an offense that already scored the fourth-most points last season even more potent in 2014.
Miguel Cabrera
Sproles has the most receiving yards and touchdown catches of any running back over the last nine seasons.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles averaged 8.6 yards per attempt when targeting running backs last season, the best average in the NFL.

LeSean McCoy will still do the bulk of the rushing for the Eagles, but Sproles can give him a break when needed. McCoy’s 366 touches last season were most in the NFL.

Will Chip Kelly let the two play at the same time?

Last season Kelly paired McCoy and another halfback (Bryce Brown or Chris Polk) together only seven times. The Eagles gained 79 yards on those plays.

However, Sproles has 89 receptions when lining up outside of the backfield the past three seasons, more than double the running back who ranked second (Marcel Reese, 44).

Potentially big loss for Patriots
The New England Patriots added cornerback Darrelle Revis to their defense, but defensive lineman Vince Wilfork requested a trade.

Wilfork missed most of the 2013 season, and his absence hurt the Patriots run defense. Over the last two seasons, when Wilfork was on the field, opponents averaged 3.7 yards per rush. With Wilfork off the field, opponents averaged a yard more, 4.7 yards per rush.

If the Patriots grant Wilfork’s request, his loss could offset the potential improvement to the pass defense.

The Patriots have allowed the most passing yards per game (268.1) and rank 24th in opponents’ Total QBR (57.2) over the last three seasons.

Revis will be needed. The Patriots have several prominent receivers among their opponents in 2014, including Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Demaryius Thomas.

Panthers running out of wide receivers
The Carolina Panthers officially released Steve Smith, Ted Ginn signed with the Cardinals and Domenik Hixon signed with the Bears. Brandon LaFell remains a free agent.

That leaves Marvin McNutt as the only Panthers wide receiver currently under contract that Cam Newton targeted last season. Newton targeted him once (an incomplete pass).

Smith was not only Newton’s favorite target, he was every Panthers quarterback’s favorite target. Smith has 140 more receptions and 2,942 more yards than the next highest Panthers receiver in franchise history.

Matchups to watch: Saints at Eagles

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
The New Orleans Saints travel north to take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night. If Drew Brees and the Saints hope to return to the Super Bowl, they will have to win three consecutive road games.

The Saints were winless in three road games against playoff teams during the regular season.

For the Saints to keep up with the fast-paced Eagles offense, New Orleans will need another elite performance from their top playmaker.

Jimmy Graham vs. Eagles coverage

Jimmy Graham’s dominance this season raises several questions for the Philadelphia defense. Graham led the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions this season, the second-most by a tight end in a season and only the third time a tight end has led the league in touchdown receptions.

The Eagles had been about league-average defending tight ends this season prior to Sunday night, when Jason Witten hauled in 12 catches for 135 yards. Both numbers were easily the most the Eagles allowed to an opposing tight end this season.

Expect the Eagles to rotate linebackers and defensive backs into coverage responsibilities against Graham. Graham’s 26 receptions and 358 yards when split out wide were the most by a tight end in a season since 2008.

Eagles offensive line vs. Saints front seven

Lost among the great performances by LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles and DeSean Jackson has been the dominance of the Eagles offensive line this season. The Eagles averaged a league-best 3.6 yards before contact per rush. No other team finished with an average above 3.2 this season.

The Saints allowed 4.6 yards per rush, the fifth-most in the league this season. New Orleans particularly struggled against the zone read, allowing 5.6 yards per rush on such plays. The Eagles had nearly twice as many zone-read runs (304) as any other team during the regular season.

Saints running backs vs. Eagles linebackers

While the big guys up front help lead the way for the Eagles on offense, the Saints rely on two of their smallest offensive players to run past opposing defenses.

The Saints incorporate their running backs into the passing game as much as any team in the league. Led by Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, New Orleans totaled the most receptions and yards after the catch by a team’s running backs since 2006.

A lot of the credit belongs to Thomas, who filled in for an injured Sproles to post career highs in receptions (77) and receiving yards (513). In fact, Thomas led all running backs in receptions this season.

Either Thomas or Sproles has led the league in running back receptions each of the last three seasons.

The Eagles held opposing running backs to one receiving touchdown this season, tied for the fewest in the league. Over the final five weeks of the regular season, only the Lions allowed fewer receptions to opposing running backs.

Brees rolls over records, Dolphins

October, 1, 2013

Drew Brees had another dominant Monday Night Football game for the New Orleans Saints.

Let’s run through all the accolades of his ninth straight Monday Night win, a rout of the Miami Dolphins.

Brees had his 21st game with at least four touchdown passes, tying Dan Marino for the third-most all-time. Only Peyton Manning (24) and Brett Favre (23) have more.

Brees had his 10th game with at least 400 passing yards. The only quarterback with more is Marino, who has 13. All 10 of those games came since joining the Saints in 2006. No other quarterback has more than five 400-yard games in that span.

It was also Brees’ ninth straight game with at least 300 passing yards. That ties the NFL record for the longest such streak, a mark he set in 2011 and 2012. No other NFL quarterback has had more than six straight.

Brees has five games on Monday Night Football with at least four touchdown passes, tied with Marino for the most all-time.

The 400-yard, four-touchdown combo on Monday Night Football is a special one. It’s been done by five quarterbacks: Marino in 1983, Randall Cunningham in 1998, Manning in 2000, Tom Brady in 2011 and now Brees.

Lastly, the nine-game winning streak on Monday nights is impressive too. It’s tied with Joe Montana for the third-best ever, trailing only Ken Stabler (11 straight) and Steve Young (10).

How he dominated
Brees won this game with long and mid-range throws. He was 8-for-10 for 201 yards and two touchdowns on passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield.

The supporting cast
Darren Sproles had both his first rushing and receiving touchdowns of the season and cleared 100 yards receiving by the end of the first half. He’s the fourth player to have at least 100 receiving yards, a touchdown catch and touchdown run in a Monday Night Football game. The other three are Tony Galbreath (1979), Jerry Rice (1994) and Marshall Faulk (2000).

Jimmy Graham caught two touchdown passes and now has a touchdown catch in five straight games dating back to last season (only Wes Welker, with six straight, has a longer active streak).

Graham joined Antonio Gates (2010) as the only tight ends with six touchdown catches in his first four games of a season.

Brees blows into record book

December, 27, 2011

AP Photo/Rusty Costanza
Drew Brees celebrates after breaking Dan Marino's all-time single-season passing yardage record in the fourth quarter of the Saints 45-16 win over the Falcons
With the NFC South title on the line in New Orleans, all eyes were on Drew Brees and his pursuit of Dan Marino’s 27-year old record for most passing yards in a season.

Brees broke the record with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter. Three minutes later, the New Orleans Saints had clinched the NFC South title and the party was on in the French Quarter.

With one game left to play in the 2011 season, Drew Brees has thrown for 5,087 yards. That’s three yards ahead of Marino and 190 ahead of Tom Brady, who also has a chance to pass the old record this season.

Brees finished with 307 pass yards and four touchdowns through the air. He extended his NFL record for 300-yard pass games in a season with his 12th. It was his sixth straight 300-yard passing game, which pulled him even with Rich Gannon, Kurt Warner and Steve Young for the most in NFL history.

With four touchdown passes, Brees increased his season total to 41. It’s the seventh time in NFL history that a quarterback has thrown for at least 40 touchdowns in a season. With at least one TD pass in 42 straight games, Brees is five behind Johnny Unitas for the all-time NFL record.

Brees success hasn’t been limited to one type of pass this season. He has thrown for at least 1,600 yards on throws of fewer than 5 yards, 6-14 yards and 15 or more yards. He leads the NFL with 21 TD on throws of fewer than 5 yards and 15 TD on throws of 15 or more yards and also tops the league in completion percentage over both distances.

It wasn’t just a record breaking day for Brees.

Sproles ran for 67 yards to become the 2nd player in NFL history with 500 rush yards, 500 receiving yards and 1,000 combined return yards in the same season. The only other player to reach those marks in single season was Dick Christy for the 1962 New York Jets.

Both the Falcons and Saints are streaking in Monday Night Football games. The Saints have the longest active winning streak, with seven straight victories. The Falcons are heading the other way, setting a record with 10 straight road losses on Monday Night Football.

Julio Jones recorded his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the season, tying Anquan Boldin for the most 100-yard receiving games by a rookie since the NFL merger in 1970.

Both teams are heading to the playoffs this season, but each has something to play for in Week 17. The Saints can claim a first-round bye with a win and a loss by the San Francisco 49ers, while the Falcons can pass the Detroit Lions for the fifth seed with a win and Detroit loss.

Saints go short to score big

October, 24, 2011

AP Photo/Bill Feig
Drew Brees leads the highest-scoring offense in the NFL.

The New Orleans Saints have scored a league-high 239 points after their 62-7 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night. Drew Brees led the charge with five touchdowns passes and no interceptions, recording 300-plus passing yards for the fifth straight game.

Big plays have been the highlight of the Saints’ passing game over the years, but Brees and the Saints have used the short pass to help open up the downfield passing game.

The Saints have been very effective when they do go deep. Brees is completing a league-best 62.5 percent of his throws 21 yards or more downfield this season. Since the start of the 2008 season, he leads all quarterbacks in completions, completion percentage and touchdowns on such throws.

Despite the success, only 8.0 percent of Brees’ attempts this season have been over 20 yards. That’s the 25th highest rate among 34 qualified quarterbacks. Only Colt McCoy is averaging fewer air yards per attempt than Brees this season.

Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham have been two keys in the short passing game for the Saints this season. Sproles is tied with Wes Welker for the most targets within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage (54) and Graham is fourth with 43.

Brees has targeted running backs on 90 percent of his league-high 30 screen attempts this season. Across the NFL this year, only 57.1 percent of all screen passes have been to running backs.

Sproles has been an upgrade over Reggie Bush in the screen game. In 2010, Bush’s 36 receiving yards were the fewest on screen passes among running backs with 10 such receptions. Through seven weeks, Sproles has almost doubled Bush’s full-season screen yardage total from last year.

Sproles has also made an impact splitting out wide. Entering Week 7, Sproles was targeted 31 times when lining up as a wide receiver, catching 22 passes for 172 yards. No other running back had more than nine targets or receptions when splitting out wide.

Play-action passing is another key to the offense, with Brees attempting the most such passes this season. While most teams – including the Packers, examined here last week -- use play action to go over the top, the Saints go even shorter.

The average air yards per pass attempt in the NFL this season is 7.3, which jumps to 8.7 on play-action passes. Brees is averaging 6.8 air yards per play-action attempt this season, slightly below his average of 7.0 air yards on all passes.

Brees’ favorite play-action target is his tight end. Graham leads all NFL tight ends in targets (19), receptions (13) and yards (175), and is tied for the lead in touchdowns (3) on play-action passes.
After the 132-day lockout led to the cancelation of all minicamps this spring and seriously compressed training camp schedules this summer, there was widespread concern that the level of play would suffer early in the season.

The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints did their best to put such fears to rest on Thursday.

Unlike last year when the Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings 14-9 in a game that featured more punts (12) than third-down conversions (8), 2011’s Thursday night opener offered plenty of offensive precision.

The Packers rolled up 42 points, their most ever in Week 1 and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was a record for points scored by a defending Super Bowl champ in a season opener. Aaron Rodgers completed 27 of his 35 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with nine different receivers. Going back to last year’s Super Bowl, Rodgers now has 616 pass yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games.

Including the playoffs, Rodgers now has nine games with at least 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions since taking over as the Packers starter in 2008.

That’s three more than anyone else in the league during that span and just three short of the number of such games posted by Brett Favre during his 16 seasons in Green Bay.

The Saints offense was almost as sharp. Their 34 points matched the second-most in a season opener in team history and Drew Brees threw for three scores and no picks, snapping his dubious streak of 12 straight regular-season games with an interception.

Another common worry entering the season was that the league’s new kickoff rule would all but eliminate one of the game’s most thrilling plays. Randall Cobb put that to rest with his NFL record-tying 108-yard kickoff return in the third quarter. Cobb added a receiving TD, becoming the first rookie in the Super Bowl era with kickoff return and receiving scores in a season opener according to Elias. The last to do it? The immortal Bill Bowman in 1954.

In his New Orleans debut, Darren Sproles registered 76 yards on kickoff returns, 75 on receptions and 92 on punt returns, including a 72-yard TD. His 250 all-purpose yards were the eighth-best single-game total ever by a Saints player.

And to top it off, the game ended with a classic second-guess.

The Saints passing game was clicking when they decided to run the ball on the final untimed play of the game. Rookie Mark Ingram came up short from the 1-yard line, barely getting back to the line of scrimmage.

Sean Payton should have known a run was a poor decision. Last season, the Saints finished as the worst rushing team in the NFL against short-yardage defenses, averaging negative 0.3 yards per rush.