Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
New Orleans Saints fans and America in general don't love Darren Sproles enough.
Even though he was named Player of the Game after the Saints win against Atlanta it feels like barely two years since acquiring him fans have started taking his awesomeness for granted.
Sproles' six catches for 88 yards versus the Falcons were a thing of beauty including one that almost defies description. Sproles caught the ball from Drew Brees then did a 360, tip toed the sideline, and picked up a critical first down. It didn't get replayed on Sports Center or make a Top 10 play list but it should have.
While I love fantasy football it really does sort of cloud our opinion of offensive skill position players. Sproles is part of the three-headed monster Sean Payton uses at running back so his fantasy value can sometimes feel like an Internet stock on Wall Street. One week he is leading your team to victory and the next he is quiet as a mouse. This, of course, has nothing to do with his actual value to the Saints, as I doubt Payton worries about how our fantasy teams are doing.
(Sean, you totally should though! For everyone's sanity don't let Mark Ingram touch the ball EVER AGAIN!)
I would argue besides Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles is the biggest matchup nightmare Saints opponents face. If you don't believe me go to any Atlanta Falcon fan blog and read the horrible things they say about the Falcons defense inability to cover Sproles. Darren was about two more catches away from having the entire Atlanta fan base lose their minds Sunday. Good times.
Sproles is the Ritz Carlton of safety valve and check down options and Drew Brees is entering year three of five-star luxury.
All Sproles has done since he helped get LSU in the National Championship Game by single-handedly destroying Oklahoma while at Kansas State in 2003 is carve out an NFL career as a running back who basically can't be covered by linebackers while being the smallest player on the field every week. Besides Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham, Darren Sproles is the third most valuable piece in the offense even if we sometimes fail to realize it.
Rob Ryan's Big Chart of Fun Update: All year long I'll be charting how the Saints defense does under Rob Ryan in certain situations. For a full explanation of how it works read this.
Against Atlanta the Saints defense gave up 367 yards and by NFL rankings is 18th. Pretty good compared to 2012 right? The way we grade with 'Rob Ryan's Big Chart of Fun' the Saints were a lot better than just ok against the Falcons.
Rob Ryan's boys held Atlanta to just 2.28 yards per carry on first down and in passing situations (2nd and 3rd downs of more than 7 yards) only allowed only two plays of more than 10 yards in 12 attempts. In fact the defense hit their goals in 8 of 9 categories.
Rob Ryan reportedly celebrated in the most Rob Ryan way possible by going to Ms. Mae's and having a Heineken. You deserve it this week big guy.
Last Week: 3-2
Tampa Bay (+3.5) vs. New Orleans Saints: This game will be a really good barometer on if the Saints improved run defense is real. Tampa is going to pound Doug Martin at the Saints and holding up in the heat without Brodrick Bunkley and Tyrunn Walker could prove difficult.
Bucs coach Greg Schiano is looking more and more like USC's 2014 head coach every week. My wife's cats have more discipline and focus than the Bucs did against the Jets. If we created a dumb football checklist Tampa would have marked every box last week in New York. It was a cornucopia of stupid.
So why am I taking them against the Saints? Desperation. If Tampa loses to the Saints, they face a trip to New England and are staring 0-3 in the face. The Bucs are already having player only meetings and it's only Week 2. This means most likely the players HATE GREG SCHIANO. Have the Saints ever had a player's only meeting in eight years under Payton?
Josh Freeman has quietly become a complete mess of a quarterback. When he faces even the slightest bit of pressure he turns into southern version of Mark Sanchez. Did I mention Tampa's training facility still might be infected with MRSA? MRSA isn't the sticker price of your new car, it is basically the black plague and it may or may not still be in the players' locker room in Tampa.
Yet I'm picking Tampa to win. It makes no sense except to say I'm not a believer in the Saints run defense. By 6 p.m. Sunday the Saints will look dog tired in their black jerseys in the Florida heat and Rob Ryan might need an IV just like the players.
St. Louis (+6.5) at Atlanta: The Falcons did not look nearly as good as they did in 2012. The Saints were clearly the better team and I expect Atlanta will need a late game miracle they didn't receive against the Saints. Stephen Jackson is old and won't be a top 15 fantasy running back.
Buffalo (+3) vs. Carolina: How does Mike Shula keep getting hired to run NFL offenses into the ground? Seriously. The man loves the 7-yard completion on 3rd and 10 more than I love Bud's Broiler. I expect Cam Newton to punch him in the face on the sideline by Week 4. If I had remembered Mike Shula was running the offense in Carolina I wouldn't have drafted Cam Newton as my fantasy quarterback. That's what I get for not preparing for my draft. Remember kids; failing to prepare is preparing to fail. GUH.
Philadelphia (+7.5) vs. San Diego: Did you see the Eagles on Monday? Seeing Chip Kelly's offense was like the first time someone showed me an I-phone. I was like, 'Oh my God a cell phone can do this?' I don't know if a team can keep up that insane pace with only a 53-man roster or if Michael Vick can stay healthy but it is awesome to watch.
I won't lie, if Sean Payton wasn't coach of the Saints I'd want Chip Kelly to be. That offense would be fantastic to root for every week.
Tennessee (+8) at Houston: My sister, an alleged Saints fan, dressed her two-year-old in a Texans jersey last weekend. First he is wearing a Texans jersey, then he is wearing clogs, and then he is reading Marx and IS A COMMUNIST. It is a slippery slope my friends. Am I using an Internet column to shame my sister? Yes.
Did you know the Texans are having Vanilla Ice perform at the team's home opener Sunday? And I thought the Saints shouldn't play the Ying Yang Twins anymore because they were out of date. 'Ice Ice Baby' was released in 1989 in case you were wondering. In Texas it will always be 1989 and J.R. Ewing still rules us all. Sometimes the jokes write themselves.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.