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Why the Patriots’ defensive game plan against the Saints should center on one player



Why the Patriots’ defensive game plan against the Saints should center on one player

FOXBORO — Before every Patriots’ defensive snap Sunday, flip a coin.

Heads, the ball will go to Alvin Kamara.

Tails, it travels elsewhere.

Through two weeks, a 50/50 split is essentially how the Saints have distributed the ball without All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas. Kamara has touched the ball on 48.6% of New Orleans’ offensive snaps. It’s been the Alvin Kamara Show featuring the Saints, not the other way around.

And for good reason.

“I feel like if you were to try to build the perfect back, he essentially has everything you need,” Pats linebacker Dont’a Hightower said Wednesday. “Vision, balance. He’s strong, he’s tough. However you want to give him the ball, you can give it to him.”

As one of the NFL’s best play designers, Saints coach Sean Payton has fully weaponized Kamara since he entered the league as a third-round pick in 2017. Kamara’s made four straight Pro Bowls, catching at least 80 passes and averaging more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage per year. He leads New Orleans in rushing and receiving this season, surrounded by a bottom-5 group of pass catchers.

Though keying on Kamara — who aligns and sees touches all over the formation — isn’t as easy as it sounds.

“They use so many different formations and personnel groups that it’s really hard to predict who’s going to be in the game, and it’s definitely even harder to predict who’s going to be where,” Pats coach Bill Belichick said. “So you have to have a real awareness of where their guys are and what they do from those spots. Sean’s very, very good at creating those situations with the defense in conflict, and they go fast and they get on you quick, and a lot of times you just recognize it just a split second too late.”

The Patriots have faced Kamara only once before, a 36-20 win at New Orleans in 2017, the second game of his career. The 26-year-old finished with 54 total yards on three catchers and one carry, working then as a backup to Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson. Now, Kamara might need only one play to cover 54 yards — or more.

“You can hand off a ball to him and expect maybe a three or four-yard run, and he’ll turn it into a 75-yard touchdown,” Hightower said. “He’s just that type of player.”

Last week, the Panthers held Kamara to 30 total yards on a dozen touches in a shockingly dominant defensive performance. No surprise, the Saints offense went down with him, managing only a late touchdown and 128 total yards, the fewest ever recorded under Payton.

A defensive similar showing by the Patriots, who are slated as 3-point home favorites Sunday, should turn their next game from a coin flip to a surefire win.

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