New Orleans Saints rookie running back Alvin Kamara has made plenty of noise the last two weeks, exploding against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the tune of 152 yards on 16 touches. SB Nation’s Saints site, Canal Street Chronicles has been riding the wave this week. Kamara’s Week 9 performance earned him the FedEx Ground Player of the Week Award. With such a seemingly dangerous addition to the always potent Saints offense, I decided I needed to take a look.
In games against the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kamara was a lethal complement to Mark Ingram. It’s important to note here, that Ingram is their feature back and Bills fans should expect to see him get more touches than Kamara. Kamara is the “2” in their “1-2 punch” but shouldn’t be marginalized.
Kamara brings a skill set Bills fans should mostly recognize. Though not as elusive as LeSean McCoy, Kamara shares similar traits to Shady. A nimble and agile player, he made both the Bears and Bucs pay for mistakes in gap assignment. If there’s even a small crease, expect him to make the most of it. If he manages to reach the edge, look out.
Kamara is listed at 5’10” and 215lbs, also drawing an easy comparison with Shady (and Ingram). He seems to lack some of the strength McCoy brings to the table, however. While neither should be expected to move a pile, Kamara seems to struggle a little more after contact. He has good agility (think Tyrod Taylor putting a hand on the ground to spin away from a sack) and tends to fall in advantageous directions, but point of contact should favor lineman and even linebackers who know how to hit.
Kamara didn’t appear to be well suited to pass protection, despite few snaps in this role to evaluate. He can make it work by cutting the legs, but standing up against rushers is likely to be a win for the defense.
The Saints take advantage of his athleticism and adequate route running to work him in at receiver. Don’t be shocked to see him out wide or even in the slot.
Expect Kamara to be on the field for about 40-50% of the offensive snaps, and perhaps a special teams appearance or two. Furthermore, if he’s on the field expect the ball to come his way. In 25 snaps against the Buccaneers, he touched the ball 16 times with Brees looking his way a couple more. Against the Bears he was in for 31 plays with 11 touches. With infrequent blocking responsibility, he’s either in there to take the ball directly or as a legitimate receiving option.
For rushing attempts, they’ve clearly avoided him as a third down back, with only four carries (7.5% of his attempts). First and second downs are evenly split with 24 carries apiece (45%). Second downs seem to be his bread and butter, seeing about 47% of his receptions there. He’s catching about 29% of his passes on first down and 25% on third.
Buffalo is going to need to make a return to disciplined defense to shut down the Saints. To contain the dual-headed monster of Ingram and Kamara, gap assignments and setting the edge will have to be a priority. Neither back is big enough to shove defenders aside but will exploit any sloppiness.
Kamara in particular will also need to be accounted for in the passing game, as his agility makes him a threat anywhere on the field. They’re not afraid to have him streak down the field and make good use of Drew Brees’ arm either. He’s not necessarily any more dangerous than some of their other passing weapons, but he shouldn’t be treated like a decoy.
If the last two games and situational stats are any indication, there are clear trends that can help the Bills get ready for the rookie. With some extra preparation time this week, and a home crowd to feed off of, I’m not expecting a repeat of what Kamara pulled out against the Bucs, but with the assortment of weapons the Saints are bringing to New Era Field, it wouldn’t hurt to cross your fingers.