Alvin Kamara is a great running back. I think we can acknowledge that and still loathe him for his association with the Saints, and so we shall. The question this week is how the Falcons plan to stop him, and whether that plan will be successful.
The good news is that Kamara has scuffled a bit in back-to-back weeks on the ground, with 21 carries for just 75 yards, though he’s scored twice. The bad news is that he’s doing his usual fine work through the air, with 15 receptions for 165 yards already.
Were this the same crew on defense as a year ago, I’d be pretty confident. The Falcons knocked Kamara out of the first meeting in 2017—I’m not endorsing that, just saying—which meant his numbers were quite low. The second time around, Kamara managed just 2.7 yards per carry and 32 yards on the ground, though he did get seven receptions for 58 yards. That was when Deion Jones and Keanu Neal were roaming the field, however, and much has changed since then.
How should the Falcons stop Kamara?
They need to focus on him. Obviously Michael Thomas and the other Saints receiving options are plenty capable, but this secondary remains very good, and a year ago the team managed to not let Thomas kill them, even if he was quite good. Kamara needs to be priority #1, and whenever possible, he needs to have someone dedicated to keeping an eye on him.
In an ideal world, that’d be Deion Jones, but Jones isn’t in this game. That means it’s probably going to fall to Duke Riley and whoever else Marquand Manuel and Dan Quinn feel can handle such an onerous task, and the Falcons would be wise to switch things up if they’re burned early. As good as Drew Brees is and as good as this New Orleans offense can be, Kamara is still the biggest single threat in this game. If they get away from paying extra attention to him, he’ll likely make them pay.
Will the Falcons be able to stop Kamara?
This is a much trickier question to answer. Based on last week’s performance, if Riley has coverage responsibilities for Kamara it’s going to get hairy. Riley was game but made the wrong decision too many times against the Panthers and wound up either out of plays or making miscues that turned into big plays. The Falcons are asking an awful lot of him at the moment, but they don’t really have an obvious alternative unless they’re ready to move on to Foye Oluokun already.
Don't want to be too critical of Riley here, as he was fulfilling his responsibility in coverage. I got a feeling that Jones would have been in better position to prevent McCaffrey from picking up 18 yards. Sometimes, you just have to let instincts take over. pic.twitter.com/SahKfU9iVG— Allen Strk (@Allen_Strk) September 20, 2018
Riley will still probably get first crack at Kamara, but chances are good he’s going to wind up surrendering some significant yardage unless he’s made a drastic leap in a single week. The Falcons could then try putting Damontae Kazee or Foye Oluokun on him, or they could really go for it and put him up against one of the team’s cornerbacks who are equipped to deal with him. That’ll likely only become an option if he’s killing the Falcons, though, which unfortunately does seem like a legitimate possibility.
I think ultimately the Falcons will find a way to keep Kamara from being the primary reason they lose this game. I also think he’s going to have a strong effort overall, and this week might determine whether Duke Riley stays in Deion Jones’ job going forward or not.