NEW ORLEANS -- No, coach Sean Payton wasn’t lying this summer when he said he wanted to keep Alvin Kamara's “pitch count” similar to the past two years even though he’s no longer sharing the New Orleans Saints' backfield with Mark Ingram.
But Payton also knows that Kamara is one of the NFL’s elite game-changers.
So Payton is absolutely going to keep feeding him in games like Monday night’s opener, in which the Saints needed every bit of Kamara’s 169 yards from scrimmage in a thrilling 30-28 win over the Houston Texans.
And Payton might need to do the same in Week 2 if the Saints’ much-anticipated rematch against the Los Angeles Rams turns into a track meet. Especially if Kamara looks as fresh and unstoppable as he did on Monday night.
Kamara played 50 of the Saints’ 66 offensive snaps -- the third-highest total of his career -- while running the ball 13 times for 97 yards and catching seven passes for 72 yards.
“Yeah, he’s a stud,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said of Kamara, who gained 140 of his yards in the second half while New Orleans rallied back from a 14-3 halftime deficit -- including a 41-yard catch and a pair of 28-yard runs.
Those two runs tied for the third longest of Kamara’s three-year career.
Kamara even played a role during new Saints running back Latavius Murray’s 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, drawing some linebacker attention as a slot receiver on the play.
“Man, that one run he made after we got backed up [by a] holding call, was pretty impressive in the fourth quarter,” Brees said of a first-and-20 run where Kamara cut outside, then back inside, making two defenders miss him and making two others lose their grip. “He made some great plays really all game long, both in the run game and the passing game.
“So, yeah, having a guy like him is good for me.”
Kamara is on pace for a preposterous 1,552 rushing yards, 112 catches and 1,152 receiving yards -- which would make him only the third 1,000/1,000 player in NFL history.
And he didn’t hesitate Monday when asked if he feels like there is anybody in the league more “untackleable” or slippery than him right now.
“No,” Kamara replied before the question was finished. “No.”
Because, as Saints coaches explained this summer, they want to keep Kamara fresh for the long haul -- and they think something closer to 60-70% of the offensive snaps is the most efficient way to do that.
Yes, the Saints had a ton of success with Kamara during the first four weeks of last season when they ran him into the ground while Ingram was serving a four-game suspension (Kamara led the NFL with 611 yards from scrimmage through those four games).
But Kamara did get a little banged up by the end of that stretch and wasn’t quite as electrifying as the season wore on. Kamara shockingly had only one run last season that went for more than 18 yards -- a 49-yarder in Week 4 against the New York Giants.
And the Saints need look no further than this week’s opponents, the Rams with Todd Gurley, for a reminder that you need to treat your superstar running back’s body with care.
So expect the Saints to use a little bit more of Murray going forward after the veteran played just 18 offensive snaps Monday night, finishing with six carries for 43 yards and two catches for four yards.
But there is no question who the leading man is in this backfield. So we will also see plenty of Kamara-heavy performances like we did Monday -- and like we did in each of New Orleans’ two meetings with the Rams last year.
In the Saints’ 45-35 thriller over the Rams in Week 9, Kamara ran 19 times for 82 yards, caught four passes for 34 yards and scored three touchdowns. In the NFC Championship Game loss, he ran eight times for 15 yards and caught 11 passes for 96 yards.
The rematch in L.A. on Sunday will be a must-see event. Expect Kamara to play a starring role.