METAIRIE, La. (AP) – No team has done more to limit Saints running back Alvin Kamara’s influence on a game this season than New Orleans itself.
That was by design, and Kamara says he’s OK with it if an increasingly dynamic offense helps the Saints keep winning.
“I’m not worried about touches, whether it’s a lot or a little,” Kamara said after practice Wednesday. “Just take advantage of the plays that come.”
The Saints relied heavily on Kamara and receiver Michael Thomas in the first month of the season, when Kamara had more than 600 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage and Thomas made 42 catches for 445 yards.
In the most recent game before their Week 6 bye, the Saints demonstrated in a lopsided victory over Washington that they no longer need to do that.
Suddenly, quarterback Drew Brees had more options when deciding where to go with the ball. That development could make it considerably harder to defend an offense that twice put up more than 400 yards and at least 40 points before running back Mark Ingram or rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith had touched the ball once this season, and before fellow receiver Cameron Meredith, seen as a key acquisition in free agency, had made as many as two catches.
“Everybody on the offense can make a play at any moment,” said Kamara, whose six carries for 24 yards and three catches for 15 yards against Washington represented by far his lowest production this season. “We’re a good offense and we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team hosts New Orleans on Sunday, said the Saints have “two of the premier backs in the whole game” and an offense that is “back to full strength.”
“It kind of completes the picture that the Saints have for their offense,” Harbaugh said.
Meredith, who missed last season with a knee injury after leading Chicago in receiving in 2016, did not make his first catch with the Saints until Week 3, when his 11-yard touchdown was his only reception of that game. During the two games that followed, he caught eight passes for 103 yards.
“The more time we get together as a unit, it’s only going to progress,” Meredith said. “We’ve got young guys who are learning on the fly. All of that stuff is going to play a part.”
Smith made his first catch in Week 4, then caught three passes in Week 5 for 111 yards, including touchdowns of 62 and 35 yards.
Ingram rushed 16 times for 53 yards and two TDs, and also caught two passes for 20 yards, in his 2018 debut after serving a four-game suspension for use of a banned substance.
Meanwhile, New Orleans has found opportunities to further stress defenses by inserting Taysom Hill into games as a change-of-pace, read-option QB.
Saints coach Sean Payton said he expected his offense to eventually become more diversified as the season wore on and will “continue to look at that and keep finding ways to mix and match who’s in the game and how we can get them the ball.”
That has long been Payton’s strong suit, Brees said.
“Everybody has their package of plays, the things that they’re going to know stone cold so that when they go out there they can play with a ton of confidence and everybody knows that their opportunity can come at any moment,” said Brees, who has completed 78 percent of his passes for 1,658 yards and 11 touchdowns without an interception.
“One game it’s one guy carrying the load in the backfield for 100-plus yards and a couple touchdowns. The next game it might be the tight end position. The next game it might be a young guy like Tre’Quan coming up with two touchdown catches – three catches for over 100 yards. You just never know. And all those guys understand the importance of their role every week.”
Brees said the re-introduction of Ingram, combined with the emergence of Smith and Meredith, should only make it easier for the Saints’ offense to adjust during games to the way they’re being defended.
“We try to paint the picture for each guy that, ‘Hey, we’re not sure what we’re going to get (defensively), but if we start getting this, man, this is your opportunity,” Brees said.