By Cian Fahey, Pre Snap Reads
Editor’s Note: A game I’ve been playing in my head in recent months is to take an offensive player and find his mirror image on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. For example, Joey Galloway and Darrell Green were stylistically mirror images of each other. Both had amazing speed that sometimes overshadowed their underrated displays of craft at their respective positions over the course of lengthy and productive careers. Now I’m putting it on the blog and having some of my friends play.
Here’s an idea. Take 11 offensive players and 11 defensive players. Whoever you want, there are no limitations to who you want to choose. Set up in whatever formations you want, run whatever plays you want, but every single play must work to the strength of every single player you have on the field. You can’t run a screen with Calvin Johnson and you can’t drop Demarcus Ware into coverage. Easy, right?
Okay, now do the same, but you have to include Darren Sproles and Charles Woodson on the field. Where do you put them? What do you ask them to do?
You can probably rule out running the ball with Sproles, but you still have to figure out where he should line up and what route he should run. Is he best as a slot receiver? Releasing from the backfield? In a receiving position behind an offensive tackle? Behind a receiver in a bunch?
Once he’s lined up, should we run a screen for him? Use that screen as a decoy? Give him an option route in space? A quick pass in the flat so he can turn the corner in space?
What about Woodson? Let’s put him outside on a top receiver, or maybe move him into the slot to cover a quicker possession receiver? If he is in a safety position he can come up in run support or read the quarterback’s intentions though? Should we blitz him off the edge? Spy the quarterback? Put him in a zone or ask him to trail someone in man coverage?
It’s next to impossible to figure out how to best use Charles Woodson and Darren Sproles. Yet, no matter where you put them and what you ask them to do, you’re more than likely going to get something spectacular after a handful of snaps.
Woodson and Sproles have always shared a skill-set in my eyes. They don’t look anything like each other from a physical point of view. Woodson is 6’1″ and has somewhat of a lanky frame with long arms and a stretched core. Sproles on the other hand is a very compact 5’6″ without any real wingspan to speak of. What links the duo is their versatility and ability to create from anywhere on the field in any situation.
Sproles is considered as a receiving back rather than a running-back, and his usage over the years supports this suggestion, but the Saints have had great success with him running the ball since he came over from the San Diego Chargers in 2011. Sproles averaged 6.9 yards per rushing attempt during his first season and 5.1 yards per carry during his second, most recent season in New Orleans.
He’s not Adrian Peterson, but he’s also not LaRod Stephens-Howling. Sproles might not run over people often, but he uses his considerable bulk combined with his low-center of gravity to break tackles and gain forward momentum in space and at times between the tackles.
Having the ability to run between the tackles, run outside, catch passes out of the backfield, and run screens is like being a cornerback who can line up on either side of the field, in the slot, as a seventh piece of the front seven, while being able to blitz, play the run, drop into zone coverage, spy the quarterback, and play man coverage. In other words, it’s like being Charles Woodson.
Woodson has never been Darrelle Revis or Richard Sherman in their prime (that’s presuming each is at their peak now, which may be foolish to presume). He won’t lock down one receiver and allow the defense to forget about that side of the field for the day, but he will scare the life out of any quarterback that has to throw at him. Much like Sproles, it’s not the quantity of positive plays that Woodson accumulates, it’s the quality of the few that he makes that are the difference.
Every single time the Saints draw up a play for Sproles, it has the potential to go the distance to the end zone. Every time the offense falls into the trap of throwing towards Woodson, they risk seeing a defender take it the distance.
Woodson has 11 career touchdowns, 55 interceptions, and 24 forced fumbles. He is a black hole on the field who is returning to the original black hole in Oakland. Big plays find their way to Woodson, just like they do to Sproles.
Of course, the players I’ve described above are not the same versions of Sproles and Woodson we’ll see moving forward. Both players are past their prime. As a running-back, even considering his limited usage, the 30-year-old Sproles will be entering the twilight of his career.
Woodson has already extended his career past the point where most consider him an impact player. The soon-to-be 37-year-old returns to the Oakland Raiders and hope to provide enough big plays to make a difference. Although both players are in decline and those plays are fewer and further between, they still strike fear into their opponents.