In the New Orleans Saints 30-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rookie running back Alvin Kamara started his first game ahead of Mark Ingram. Ingram had lost two fumbles in week eight, leading to head coach Sean Payton‘s decision to start Kamara against the Buccaneers. Ingram will likely return to his starting role in the near future, but Kamara made the most of his opportunity to lead the way at running back.
Kamara rushed for 68 yards on ten carries, and caught six passes for 84 yards against Tampa Bay. He averaged 9.5 yards per touch in the best performance of his impressive rookie season. In just eight games, Kamara has already emerged as a key component in the Saints offense. He’s gaining an incredible 6.0 yards per rush, and he’s the Saints second leading receiver with 38 catches for 342 yards. At this point, Kamara has to be considered a top candidate for 2017 offensive rookie of the year.
Here’s a breakdown of Kamara’s biggest plays in week nine.
New Orleans Saints Week Nine Film Analysis: Alvin Kamara
17-Yard Reception, 2:50 Remaining in Second Quarter
The Saints ran a screen pass to the left from their own seven-yard line. It wasn’t an obvious screen at first, as the offensive line stepped back and started to form a pocket for Brees like a normal pass play. Kamara pretended to be an extra blocker on the play, but he kept side-stepping left, and turned around to look for the ball at the exact moment Brees threw the pass.
The only Buccaneers defender who immediately recognized the screen was linebacker Kwon Alexander, but left guard Andrus Peat had his eyes on him from the start and pushed Alexander past Kamara. The play could have gone even further, but offensive linemen Max Unger and Terron Armstead hesitated as Kamara broke a tackle, and had trouble locating more defenders to block.
This was Kamara’s first touch after fumbling early in the quarter; he went on to gain 67 receiving yards and a touchdown on this drive.
33-Yard Touchdown Reception, 1:06 Remaining in Second Quarter
On another screen pass to the left side, Kamara earned his biggest highlight of the season with a phenomenal run after the catch. The Saints changed the formation slightly on this one, lining up with three wide receivers and one tight end rather than four wide receivers. Once again, only one Buccaneers defender was able to recognize the screen quickly, and he was picked up right away and pushed down by Josh LeRibeus. Kamara had about ten yards of open field ahead of him, but he cut back inside and found more space rather than running out of bounds.
Right after Kamara’s cut, safety Justin Evans averted Unger, and seemed to have Kamara fully wrapped up for a tackle. A few players from both teams assumed the play was over and slowed down. Yet, Kamara pushed forward, put his hand on the ground, and escaped the tackle. Simultaneously, he turned back outside and only had defensive tackle Clinton McDonald left to beat. Wide receiver Michael Thomas boldly took on the defender (who outweighs Thomas by 85 pounds), and that was enough to give Kamara a path to the end zone.
Aside from his speed and agility, Kamara has shown remarkable balance and strength for his size. He first displayed this ability on a touchdown run in week three, where he not only broke a tackle, but managed to stay in bounds using the same powerful forward burst seen on this touchdown reception.
When Kamara was drafted by New Orleans, he was immediately compared to former Saints running backs Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles, who were also potent receiving options out of the backfield. However, Kamara’s ability to power through tacklers in the open field arguably makes him more dangerous than those two backs, even if he doesn’t have quite as much lateral quickness as Bush or Sproles did.
Six-Yard Touchdown Run, 10:03 Remaining in Third Quarter
In real-time this appeared to be a wide-open, easy run to the end zone, but only because Kamara made it look so effortless. The Saints lined up with three wide receivers and one tight end, which spread out Tampa Bay’s secondary and linebackers. At first there wasn’t an obvious hole as Kamara took a hand-off, and ran straight ahead. Most of the Saints offensive line and tight end Josh Hill all pushed their defenders to the left, while right tackle Ryan Ramczyk moved up-field and attempted to block Kwon Alexander.
Kamara initially cut to the right of Hill’s block, then turned up-field to avoid Alexander, who had sidestepped Ramczyk. Alexander completely lost his angle on Kamara, and fell as he desperately tried to at least get a hand on the runner. Saints wide receivers Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman did a great job of cutting off the strong safety and strongside linebacker while Kamara leaped into the end zone as he broke a late tackle attempt for good measure.
Kamara seems to get better every week, and it will be exciting to see what other highlights he can produce in the second half of the regular season, and hopefully the postseason.