Bucs have to control Kamara to win

by Gary Shelton on October 28, 2021

in general

Devin White brings Kamara down./STEVEN MUNCIE

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Here's the thing about the defense of the Tampa Bay Bucs. You never worry about an opposing running back. You always worry about the quarterback.

Until this week.

What's wrong with this picture? Since Todd Bowles arrived as the Bucs' defensive coordinator, the opposing running game has never been a problem. The Bucs traditionally rank near the top of fewest running yards allowed.

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Quarterbacks? That's a different deal. Quarterbacks light up like Christmas trees against the Bucs, especially now that they're limping. Only six teams have given up more yards then the Bucs' pass defense.

But now comes the versatile Alvin Kamara, and all bets are off. So far, Kamara has been in the center of a Saints' offense, rushing for 419 yards and catching passes for 241. After last week, when Khalil Herbert ran for 100 yards against the Bucs, it's a concern.

"He's a handful as a runner and a receiver," said Bucs' coach Bruce Arians. "But more so as a receiver because he is a mismatch on everybody."

On the ground, Kamara has rushed for 385 yards in his eight games against the Bucs. Not bad. But he's caught 52 passes -- more than six a game -- for another 485 yards.

Karama is this week's NFC Offensive Player of the Week after gaining 179 total yards against Seattle.

“Kamara – knowing him the last four years – he is one of the best backs in the league with his balance, his speed [and] how he breaks tackles," said safety Jordan Whitehead. "He doesn’t go down easily, so you’re going to have to bring everything coming against him. You know the Saints are going to run the ball. [They have a] great offensive line – [they are] strong and physical, with Taysom Hill coming in too, so it’s going to be a good matchup.”

Said teammate Jason Pierre-Paul: "He’s one of the best running backs that we’re going to face probably this year. Like I said, I don’t really too much worry about other people’s games. I just worry about my game and when it comes to Sunday, we just want to hunt. That’s basically it.”

Ah, but out of the backfield, Kamara has one game with nine catches against the Bucs and another one with 10. For all the talk about Jameis Winston, his top target has been Kamara.

The retirement of Drew Brees, and the scattergun resume of Jameis Winston, have forced the Saints to go to a more conservative attack. It's one reason that Winston has been good more often than not.

"He's probably throwing it 15 times less a game," Arians points out. "They're playing with a lead, and we didn't have that many leads that [season], so we had to throw it. So, yeah, he's playing very, very well at the position."

A solid defense has led the Saints, too. For instance, they won over Seattle with just 13 points.

"This is by far the best 11 that we've faced this year," Arians said of the defense. "The front seven – Demario Davis is one of the best there is, the same with Cam Jordan. So, this is a big physical defense with a great secondary. Yeah, the defense stands out. Their special teams are outstanding and they're a challenge. Offensively, [Marquez] Callaway…it all starts with 41 (Alvin Kamara). You've got to stop 41. If Alvin's running around, we've got problems."

For the Bucs, it's that simple. Control the run on the early downs, and Winston is trying to make harder throws. If Kamara gets going, however, it will be easier for Winston.

The teams play at the Louisiana Superdome at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday.

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