Saints at Panthers: Payton forced to get creative as all running backs are out

Credit: Derick E. Hingle

Sunday for the Saints is about to get pretty weird. 

The quest for the 11-4 New Orleans Saints to possibly reach the No. 1 seed in the NFC got more difficult with Friday’s news that running back Alvin Kamara tested positive for COVID-19 and on Saturday everyone from the running backs room, including their coach Joe Thomas, was ruled out for Sunday due to close contact with Kamara. 

In addition to Kamara, the Saints will be without Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, and Michael Burton.

Ty Montgomery, who was signed to the active roster for kick return duties in the absence of Deonte Harris, will be promoted to starting running back and other backs will be called up from the practice squad. 

While Kamara is reportedly feeling healthy and is asymptomatic, he’ll be out of action for a mandatory 10-day quarantine period. If the Saints fail to qualify for the first-round bye, they’ll have to be scheduled for either Saturday or Sunday’s Wild Card game. If the Saints are scheduled for Saturday’s Wild Card game, Kamara will not be available for the Saints in the first round of the playoffs. 

The latest developments make Saturday’s road regular season finale with the 5-10 Carolina Panthers nearly a “must win” game. Coach Sean Payton will have to dive deep into his bag of tricks and get creative with his play calling. Though the situation is not ideal, there are still ways the Saints can survive Sunday and regroup for a postseason run. 


The depth issues for the Saints are piling up but the positive take here is that the squad still has playmakers available. Their offense has always been about creating mismatches. While Kamara accounts for most of the mismatches for the defense on the field as a ground running and pass catching threat, Payton has other weapons that bring along the element of surprise as well. 

This is likely an important game for the Swiss Army knife skill set of Taysom Hill. To keep Carolina’s defense guessing, Hill may have to do a little bit of everything. He is his most dangerous creating coverage problems when the defense does not know if he will run, pass, or peel off for a route and catch the ball. 

Payton has also described Montgomery as an underrated player with a skill set in the mold of hybrid backs used by Payton for years. Like Hill, Montgomery may be seen in several places on the field. 

Receiver Emmanuel Sanders also has shown an ability to carry the ball out of the backfield, mostly on end arounds, counters, and reverses. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see Sanders involved in the run game on Sunday. 


While starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has performed well for Carolina, along with receiver Robby Anderson, the Panthers are also struggling with depth. Running back Christian McCaffery is out for the Panthers on Sunday and it could lead to them struggling against a Saints defensive front that is still playing lights out. 

The Saints secondary could struggle with C.J. Gardner-Johnson on the COVID-19 list and Patrick Robinson, and Marcus Williams are out with injury. The linebackers also lost Kwon Alexander for the remainder of the season. 

The defensive front that includes Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Trey Henderickson, Sheldon Rankins, and others have to be as active as they were against Kansas City a week ago. Bridgewater is a less mobile quarterback than Mahomes and they need to pressure him all day to take pressure off of cover guys deep.

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