When the Saints take the field on Monday Night against the visiting Washington Redskins, all eyes undoubtedly will be on QB Drew Brees as he attempts to break the NFL passing yardage mark.
But one thing that you can also be certain of: the Redskins defense knows exactly who else that their focus needs to be on this key early-season match-up, and he just happens to be the same player who almost single-handedly helped New Orleans defeat Washington last season as well: 2nd year superstar RB Alvin Kamara.
It’s hard to believe, but Kamara might even be BETTER than he was last year — and as a result, he has the R-E-S-P-E-C-T of the entire Redskins defensive unit, all of whom are wary of Kamara’s dynamic athleticism.
It goes without saying that Kamara has been one of the league’s most electric players through the season’s first 4 weeks, and perhaps one stark difference from last season is that now he’s gained even more respect for his ability to run the ball, as he had been at catching it out of the backfield.
According to Pro Football Reference, he currently has the 3rd-most catches in the NFL (35) for 336 yards, but he also has 275 rushing yards, which ranks him in the Top 10 (8th in the league overall).
And perhaps surprisingly: his 6 rushing touchdowns are the most in the NFL this year.
The good folks over at Elias Sports say that Kamara is the first player to have both 1,000 yards rushing and receiving through his career’s first 20 games; a feat that has gained the undivided attention of a Redskins defense that features one of the toughest young and talented defensive Front 7’s in the entire NFL.
But if Washington has shown a weakness so far, it’s in their run defense — where the Redskins have allowed teams to pick up an average of 4.5 yards per carry, 23rd in the NFL.
Meaning that the Saints will likely try to establish the running game early, thanks to the return of #1 RB Mark Ingram in this contest after he missed the first 4 games due to suspension.
While the Redskins certainly will be prepared to face both backs as they did last season, they are well aware that it’s Kamara who could dictate the game’s outcome by making a big play from anywhere on the field.
But what has them most concerned is that they know just how very hard that Kamara can be to tackle.
“With most running backs if you come from the side and hit them you can knock them down,” Redskins safety DJ Swearinger said to Washington Post Redskins beat writer Les Carpenter. “But Kamara has such great balance that when you hit him he just kind of absorbs the blow.”
“You have to have a plan when he comes toward you,” Swearinger said. “You have to know you are either going to hit him higher or lower. If not, you don’t stand a chance.”
Swearinger then shook his head in disbelief as he was thinking about it, and then simply said: “It’s impressive.”
“You just got to swarm to the ball,” Redskins linebacker Mason Foster told Carpenter. “It’s going to take more than one player to tackle him so you’ve got to keep playing hard.”
Added Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky:
“You have to make sure to have as many players around him as humanly possible. That’s what we got to try and do.”
One thing that could prove beneficial to Kamara and the Saints offense in this contest is that the with all of the weapons that the Saints have at their disposal besides him, the Redskins secondary might not be able to pair Kamara with a defensive back on passing downs.
That potentially could leave Kamara at times matched-up one-on-one with Redskins 2nd-year linebacker and 2017 7th-round pick Josh Harvey-Clemons. Clemons has been tabbed by Manusky as the designated “cover man” for quicker and speedier RB’s similar to Kamara, thanks to his notable combination of length and speed.
Clemons most likely will draw the assignment of guarding Kamara on crucial downs and distances, although whatever the particular situation is at the time will ultimately determine just how much and how often.
One thing you can be certain of: Clemons and the Redskins will be trying to avoid what happened to them with trying to stop Kamara last year.
As Saints fans may recall: the Redskins held him to 42 yards on eight carries running the ball during a Week #10 contest at the Superdome.
But he also caught eight passes for 74 yards; including the game-saving TD and subsequent 2-point conversion attempt near the end of regulation that tied the game at 31-31; after the Saints were losing by 15 points (31-16 with a little bit over 5 minutes remaining).
Of course, New Orleans eventually ended up winning in overtime by a score of 34-31. And if the Redskins hope to avoid a similar fate this Monday Night, they obviously know what they have to do.
As far as Kamara goes, his star status only seems to keep growing brighter and brighter with each passing minute.