The New Orleans Saints offense has gone through many changes in recent seasons, losing star players such as Drew Brees and Terron Armstead. Still, it’s still a familiar face that’s the catalyst for the offensive unit, and one the Pittsburgh Steelers should be worried about.
Running back Alvin Kamara has been a bright spot for a Saints side that has struggled to win many games so far. To date, the sixth-year pro has rushed for 443 yards, 319 receiving yards and three total touchdowns in seven games played.
It’s no surprise to anyone who’s watched the Saints’ offense over the years, as Kamara has been nothing short of spectacular from the time he was drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. yet to complete a season in which he failed to total at least 1,300 scrimmage yards and despite already having over 1,500 touches in his career, Kamara is still producing at a high level.
Kamara has always been a true three-way tailback, something every NFL team covets but few have on their roster. Kamara is a talented and tough runner who is dangerous in space as a receiver while also being a reliable pass protector. His versatility allows New Orleans to never feel pressured to remove him from the field as he is able to handle every concept, route or take on whatever blocking task he is ultimately tasked with.
The Saints aren’t too reliant on one concept in their running game and that’s largely down to Kamara’s versatility. That said, the area looks like their bread and butter.
Although he weighs only 5-10 and 214 pounds, Kamara is an incredibly tough runner between tackles and doesn’t shy away from contact but rather embraces it. His vision, especially on inside zone games, stands out time and time again. In seven games, Kamara has averaged 4.5 yards per carry this season in inside zone plays.
Against the Arizona Cardinals a few weeks ago, Kamara had an explosive run against a weird front, similar to what he’ll see against the Steelers in Week 10.
They run inside the zone to the left, but the right side of the offensive lines come up with big blocks, especially right tackle Ryan Ramczyk who is able to climb to the second level to reach the back linebacker.
The key to zone run success is for the fullback to be decisive in his cuts while reading the flow from the forward. This play is also a good look at Kamara’s finishing ability as he lowers the arrow on safety to create more yards after contact:
In their game against the Bengals, they hit an explosive run on the outside zone on the weak side of the formation. Right guard, Andrus Peat is able to get a hat on the playside linebacker, allowing Kamara to bounce the run on the outside for a big win. He also gets a nice block downfield from his wide receiver Marquez Calloway before finally going out of bounds.
New Orleans utility Taysom Hill also plays a part in their running game.
Against the Bengals, Hill lined up as a quarterback in shotgun formation with the Saints in a set of ponies featuring their two fullbacks, one on each side. Hill reads the linebacker’s flow on this play and opts to hand the ball to Kamara.
With Mark Ingram as the lead blocker and the tight end sealing the linebacker, he has plenty of room to break up a great run. Contact balance to stay upright after tackle attempts is evident in this game and has been a signature of his game since his time in college.
While it’s not the Saints’ signature running game, there are a few examples of positive results when they run power under center.
Their best power-play run I’ve seen came against the Carolina Panthers on 12 staff. The Saints draw right guard Cesar Ruiz from the strong side of the roster, but due to several effective double teams on that side, he really has no one to block. Kamara still has a gigantic hole to go through, rushing into the daylight for a huge payout on the game.
One downside to the Saints’ running game is counterplay, something they don’t necessarily rely on every week but have in their bag for emergencies.
Once again, the Saints feature Ruiz as a shooter and he’s able to climb to the second tier and seal the linebacker. Kamara chooses to bounce that outside and from there he showcases his sneakiness with a jump cut that leaves the cornerback on the turf. After making several defenders look silly, Kamara falls forward for a ten and a first down.
The Saints relied heavily on blocks against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5 as seven of Kamara’s runs were blocked. Four of those plays were deemed successful, and the last was used to close out the game in the fourth quarter.
With Taysom Hill running through the formation, they get big blocks from both tight ends to create a nice running lane for the ball carrier. Kamara’s determination to hit the crease before falling forward to finish the race seals the win for New Orleans.
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Kamara’s ability as a receiver is probably what he is best known for among fans. It is able to run the full tree of return routes and is incredibly difficult to check on option routes.
With Sean Payton now out of sight, he wasn’t as featured this year in terms of a full route tree, but more of a check-in option. His 2.5 yards per yardage is fourth-best among NFL running backs with at least ten targets so far this season and he’s either broken or forced a missed tackle on a third of those touches, according to Sports. InfoSolutions.
During their Week 5 matchup against the Seahawks, Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael wrote a perfect play call on that halfback screen.
With Seattle bringing a blitz, quarterback Andy Dalton was able to quickly send the ball to Kamara into space where he can work magic in the open field. Even at 27, he still has the juice to go vertical at speed and miss defenders in the open field.
Kamara’s skill allows New Orleans to produce a 54-yard play on a pass that doesn’t even go past the line of scrimmage.
Pass protection is probably the area where he doesn’t get enough credit.
The Atlanta Falcons, under the direction of Dean Pees, design some of the most exotic blitz looks you’ll see from week to week. With a plethora of defenders crowding the line of scrimmage, Kamara knew there was a good chance a blitz was on the horizon. They ended up performing a three-way stunt with Rashaan Evans as the looper. Kamara reads that perfectly and steps into the B gap and executes a cut block, giving his quarterback just enough time to get the ball out of his hands.
New Orleans got a strong rookie season from catcher Chris Olave, but the Saints’ weapon collection leaves a lot to be desired. For this reason, slowing down Kamara and the Saints’ running attack is of paramount importance.
Midway through the season, they rank 12th in EPA/game and they’re tied for third in rushing completion rate, converting 47.2% of their runs into completed plays.
Kamara is still the heartbeat of the Saints’ offense and if you can limit his production, like what Baltimore was able to do last week when they kept him just 30 yards on the ground, then you have a good chance. to win the football game.
It would be shocking to see the Steelers do anything other than pour unlimited resources into the cause and force Dalton to beat them with his arm.
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