As Saints Celebrate Kamara’s Big Night, Future Concerns Loom Ahead

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Alvin Kamara’s Christmas night performance will go down in history as one of the greatest rushing performances in NFL history.

Kamara scored six touchdowns on the ground, the first player in 91 years to do the same. He also dictated the pace of the game as well with a total of 155 yards on the ground on 22 carries. The Saints defeated the Minnesota Vikings behind Kamara’s big game with a final score of 52-33.

As historic of a night it was for the dynamic running back, Minnesota’s banged up defense struggled to stop much of anything from a New Orleans offense looking to build momentum again. 

“We’re a little under-manned, but they should play better than that,” Minnesota Head Coach Mike Zimmer said in a post game press conference. “It wasn’t so much the six touchdowns. It’s more that they just mashed us up front. We couldn’t slow them down. It would be an 8-yard gain, 7-yard gain. The first touchdown we fitted wrong with the linebackers, I believe. It was one of those kinds of days.”

Overshadowed by Kamara’s entry into the record books was backup running back Latavius Murray who also saw holes open up for him, gaining a total of 72 yards rushing on 12 carries, averaging seven yards a carry. 

Despite two interceptions from quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints improved in the air from last week’s loss to the Chiefs. Brees totaled 311 yards passing, completing 19-for-26. The Saints saw a lift out of the wide receiver corps with Emmanuel Sanders leading the way with four catches for 83 yards. Tight ends Jared Cook and Adam Troutman stepped up to have a greater impact this week. Cook caught three balls for 82 yards and Troutman caught two for 45 yards. Marquez Callaway also returned to provide depth in the position, an area left thin with the absence of Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith due to injury. 

However, as the Saints appeared to recapture some mojo on offense against the struggling Vikings, the injury curse that has persistently posed a problem for the Saints late in recent season struck again. Linebacker Kwon Alexander, acquired midseason in a trade, suffered an achilles injury and has been ruled out for the remainder of the season. 

Losing Alexander

The loss of Alexander at outside linebacker is a huge blow to a team that has Super Bowl hopes and thought they had issues of depth solved. After the acquisition of Alexander, the Saints went from a good defense to an elite one over night. In that position, they will have to turn to Alex Anzalone, a great player with an injury history himself, to play more minutes. Beyond Anzalone there aren’t many options. What Alexander provided the defense was an ability to cover pass routes at linebacker, taking pressure off of a secondary that is targeting for defensive pass interference at the highest rate in the league. The Saints are also losing a fast linebacker that can cover side-to-side and sniff out running backs coming off of the edge. 

Where do the Saints go from here?

The biggest challenge the Saints face from here on out is staying healthy. They need to heal up at several positions and protect their future Hall-of-Fame quarterback at all costs. Unfortunately, they aren’t in a position to take the final game off, which means the Saints need to rely on the ground game as much as possible and receivers need to be ready to catch the ball whenever their number gets called considering they are without the big play-making element of Thomas, their star receiver. 

On a positive note, it looks like backup quarterback Jameis Winston has returned to the active roster after temporary placement on the COVID-19 list. Winston being able to suit up and wait on the sidelines means Sean Payton can more freely use quarterback Taysom Hill in the gadget role we’ve seen him star in this season. Hill is most effective when a defense does not know whether he will run, pass, or catch. Often it creates mismatches all over the field and can bait a safety into moving out of downfield position. 

For the defense, the front has to continue to play lights out. They are a unit that has improved throughout the season but will now have to be perfect to help out the cover guys. It’s not that the secondary isn’t talented. They just can’t be left out to dry now that the linebackers have lost a dynamic cover guy. 

If the offense can reach full strength again and become more consistent, then it is entirely possible that the defense can come together and play well enough without Alexander to win big games.

Here’s to hoping for more Kamara magic and Brees, being the legend that he is, leaving it all out on the field this postseason. 

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