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Alvin Kamara-led run game for New Orleans Saints seeks to produce against stingy Tampa Bay defense

'We're not going to abandon the run game because they're a good run defense'

See the best moments from the Saints offense in the Week 8 match up against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
See the best moments from the Saints offense in the Week 8 match up against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

Some talk it.

Some walk it.

But currently, no team in the NFL talks it and walks it against the run as well as Tampa Bay, which has the league's stingiest run defense for the second straight season.

The Buccaneers allow a league-low 70.4 rushing yards per game, even less than the 73.8 they gave up in 2019. The New Orleans Saints, 5-2 entering Sunday night's game against the Buccaneers (6-2) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., are in their best run groove this season – 164 against Detroit, 95 against the Chargers, 138 against Carolina and 122 against Chicago, all victories.

But Tampa Bay has been a difficult team to budge.

"There's 32 teams that'll say, 'We want to stop the run,' " Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "And, that's just a fact, everyone's going to say that. And yet, they've been able to back that up year after year."

Sunday night, Tampa Bay will attempt to back it up against a Saints run offense that has averaged 130 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per carry, with six touchdowns, during their four-game winning streak. And in Alvin Kamara, New Orleans has an NFL Offensive Player of the Year candidate.

Kamara has been outstanding this season – 431 rushing yards and four touchdowns on five yards per carry, 556 receiving yards and three scores on 10.3 yards per catch, and enough highlight plays to singularly fill a reel.

Add in the counter punch provided by Latavius Murray – 282 rushing yards and two touchdowns on four yards per carry – and the Saints will offer as formidable a rushing attack as the Buccaneers have seen.

But the versatile Kamara is the star.

"I think we always knew he was a great runner," Tampa Bay Coach Bruce Arians said. "He's got great speed (and) breaks a ton of tackles.

"But, when you start looking at backs catching eight, nine (or) 10 balls a game, that's a very rare guy who can run routes and easily catch footballs out away from the formation. (Hall of Famer) Marshall (Faulk) was one of the best I'd ever seen (and) I thought (Texans running back) David Johnson was going to become one of those guys.

"(Kamara's) ability to not just catch it, but be instant with it in his hands with a burst to take it to the house – he's probably one of the better screen runners in the game. The more he touches it, the more good things happen."

Kamara's receiving skills have been evident since he entered the NFL. He caught 81 passes in each of his first three seasons (he's on pace for 123 receptions this season) and his chemistry with quarterback Drew Brees is at its height.

"I think you have to have the quickness and the understanding of how to beat leverage," Arians said. "When he runs option routes and those type of things, he's so quick, he doesn't take any false steps and he sets people up very well."

Still, Kamara understands the undertaking it will be to be productive against Tampa Bay's run defense. In the season-opener, a 34-23 Saints victory in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Kamara ran for 16 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, and caught five passes for 51 yards and another touchdown. New Orleans totaled 82 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries.

"What makes them a good run defense is their back end," Kamara said, referring to Tampa Bay's secondary. "They've got an active back end that's pretty smart and plays the ball well and is pretty disciplined, so that gives their front the ability to go ahead and kind of cut it loose and be able to play and feel good about rushing and kind of stunting up front and making some moves up front to disrupt the run. Because they know on the back end, they're covered. They do a plethora of things that allow them be able to be good against the run."

Patience will be an asset for the Saints.

"That's with anything," Kamara said. "We stay committed to what we want to do. That's with game planning and scheming and just watching more film and finding what's comfortable for us, and not deviating from that.

"We're not going to abandon the run game because they're a good run defense. We're going to do what we've got to do and just keep chipping away."

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