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Is Alvin Kamara broken? [A film study]

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The running back’s injury has slowed him, but does it matter?

Indianapolis Colts v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

When Alvin Kamara takes the field against the Titans on Sunday afternoon, he’ll be on his way to hitting another milestone in his short but illustrious career so far. With 22 rushing yards and 15 receiving yards, Kamara will hit 700 rushing yards and 500 receiving for the 3rd straight year. It’s been another good year for #41 but something feels off. The ankle injury that forced Kamara out for 2 games has hamstrung him the second half of the season.

Over the course of the whole season the running back’s numbers are not very far from his normal yearly totals. He probably won’t reach the atmospheric 6.1 yards per carry number of his rookie year but at 4.5 this year, it’s still solid. To expect a running back to have a career where he averages over 6 yards per rushing attempt is ludicrous and we can’t expect that from Kamara. Comparing Kamara’s 2018 and 2019 season we actually find that Kamara is averaging almost half a yard less in “yards before contact” so the offensive line so maybe to blame for what we are seeing. The problem is that Latavius Murray averages almost a full yard more before contact than Kamara so that might make the offensive line argument moot. With that said over the course of the season, it takes Kamara 3 less rushing attempts on average to break a tackle. He’s already broken more tackles in the run game than he did in the 15 games he played last season.

And yet we can all see something is off with Alvin. The truth really seems to be with his injury. If you look at his pre and post injury numbers, via Sports Info Solutions, there is a big difference. Kamara had a whopping 31.4% broken tackle rate after Week 6. Since he’s come back from injury, that number drops to 10.6%.

I feel this wide zone run against Atlanta almost perfectly illustrates his lack of explosiveness.

The vision is there. Kamara reads his keys and the winds the ball all the way back but then can’t either explode past the backside defensive end or power through his tackle.

Cherry picking one play is never the best method but given what we know statistically about his broken tackle rate, this run paints a bleak picture. Hopefully the injury heals itself and we’ll see the dynamite running back we are used to.

In the passing game, when we look at his total numbers for the season, he’s still going to end up having a solid year. He should end up with the most catches in his career as he’s only 8 away from matching the 81 he’s had in both pro seasons. Kamara will catch a lot of passes but the problem is where he’s catching them. This season Kamara’s average depth of target is down to 0 from 1.6. That’s pretty big. Less downfield routes. All we’re really seeing are screens and weakside option routes (a 5 yard route).

When is the last time we saw a Kamara wheel route?

As good as Alvin is, if you only throw him screens he’s not going to be racking up the explosive plays. Since his return from injury, Kamara has caught flats, screens, options and checkdowns, that’s it.

The question is whether any of this really matters. With Jared Cook adding a dimension to the Saints offense that they haven’t had since Jimmy Graham or Marques Colston, the Saints offense is ripping up defenses. The Saints offense is 5th in the NFL in DVOA for the whole season but 2nd in weighted DVOA. (“WEIGHTED OFFENSE is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season.”)

That means while Alvin Kamara’s injury has slowed him down, at least the Saints offense has ramped up.