Let's talk about Kamara's injury and the management thereof (1 Viewer)

Loose Cannon

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Something that's been overlooked as we parse through the loss is that AK was not even remotely the same player that was a one-man offense in the first 4-5 weeks of the season. The entire story of Kamara's 2019 season and the way his workload was managed still baffles me. And I don't mean this in a "let's all dogpile Sean Payton" kind of way, as there's a lot of different reasons why it could have possibly been handled the way it was. That's what I'm trying to understand.

To recap Kamara's season:

- Weeks 1-5: Looks like a top 3 RB. 4.6 yards/carry, but more importantly, 9.3 yards/reception. He was practically carrying our offense. He averages 20 touches/game.
- Somewhere between week 5 and 6 he quietly picks up an ankle injury in practice.
- Week 6 he plays hurt, and puts up a terrible performance (11 carries for 31 yards and 7 rec for 35 yards). He fails the eyeball test miserably. It's clear to everyone here that he's more hurt than we originally were made to believe.
- They shut him down until after the bye, which was the right move.

- Week 10 he comes back against Atlanta, is limited to 12 touches, and still plainly looks hurt in a pedestrian performance.

Here's where it gets weird. He is absolutely not the same player. He is one of the most important players on our team. With an ankle sprain, the "correct" move seems to be to shut him down. But, here's what happens:

- Weeks 11 through 16 he gets a full workload, as if he was healthy. 20 touches/game just like before. However - it's obvious to all of us that he's still hurt. His yards/reception drops from 9.3 to 5.2. He is missing speed, lateral quickness, and most importantly his ability to break tackles. He went from a 31.4% broken tackle rate to a 10.6% broken tackle rate (credit https://www.canalstreetchronicles.com/2019/12/20/21030552/is-alvin-kamara-broken-a-film-study-new-orleans-saints-running-back-injury-latavius-murray-playoffs)

So what happened? The conventional wisdom says that after week 6, you shut him down until he's 100% or as close to it as he'll get, even if it means sitting him down until week 17 or the playoffs. Why is Kamara getting 20 touches a game when he's very obviously still hurt and when we have a very capable RB to fill in for him in Murray.

Best I can figure, the truth lies somewhere in here:
- The coaching staff believed that we absolutely had to get a first round bye and a top seed to be a contender, and played him believing we needed him to do that.
- The coaching staff believed that the dropoff between a RB group of injured Kamara and Murray was significantly better than Murray and Washington. So much so that you play a hurt and ineffective player to the detriment of his health come playoff time.
- The injury was one that rest wasn't going to help. This is one that I have a really, really hard time buying, especially since it was an ankle sprain. But I have heard of cases where a player plays through an injury because there's no solution for it except a full offseason of rest. Tim Duncan did it one year with Plantar Fasciitis (sp?), and I've heard of it with turf toe too. Have never heard this for an ankle sprain.
- The coaching staff and doctors mismanaged his injury.
- He wasn't actually hurt, it was something mental.

So - in your opinion, what happened? The whole thing still baffles me. I'm of the mind that I'd have rather had the 6 seed with a healthy, dominant Kamara than the 1 seed with the broken version of Kamara that we saw.

 
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DoubleSaint

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As soon as Drew came back that should have been the time to sit Kamara and let him get back to 100%. Murray was running the ball well, Taysom was back to QB3 so he was back in the offense more.

So I’m half expecting to hear in the next couple of weeks that Kamara has had surgery. It’s the only explanation why they didn’t manage him better.
 
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Loose Cannon

Loose Cannon

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As soon as Drew came back that should have been the time to sit Kamara and let him get back to 100%. Murray was running the ball well, Taysom was back to QB3 so he was back in the offense more.

So I’m half expecting to hear in the next couple of weeks that Kamara has had surgery. It’s the only explanation why they didn’t manage him better.
Yeah, you bring up a great point here. It could be that the injury was never going to get better without surgery, and they just delayed it until the offseason and got what they could out of Kamara.

If that's the case, I'd be really interested to hear the opinion of any medical professionals on the board. It seems to me like playing a player with an injury that needs surgery would be putting his longer-term career in danger. And I believe (and hope) that the Saints are above doing that. But I'm not a rocket doctor.

I guess if we hear that he had a major surgery, it'll lend credence to the theory. However, I've never heard that with an ankle sprain.
 
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blackadder

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It is all baffling.

He was so clearly not the same player. Overall not awful but in a lot of situations did look really poor or make weird decisions that looked like bad effort or lack of smarts.

I do not understand the inability to believe what you saw on the field and lessen the load on him. Even if there is no known injury still something changed and shake-up was needed.
 

RajCaj80

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Hearing Kamara talk in interviews about his drop off sounded like he was chalking it up to defenses keying on him more. Also, having Washington active on the roster does not carry the same game planning burden for opposing defenses as Kamara. Even if he wasn't performing up to par, defenses still have to respect him when he's on the field and maybe SP thought that worked to their favor.

I also get a feel that Kamara wasn't happy with how he was being used...which could indicate that he was forced in to playing when he thought he should be protecting his health. He's got a contract year coming up, and I'm sure wants to make sure that he's in top shape to earn a big contract.
 

RiverRat

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I kind of believe the notion that the injury was healed, but he was just beat up.

this was probably the heaviest workload he’s ever tried to carry - particularly in the first few weeks.

I don’t understand why we didn’t have a more balanced approach between him and Murray. My assumption is that early in the season Murray still didn’t have all of the protections down, but you’d think after the he proved his worth during Kamara’s injury that the second half of the season would’ve featured both.

We’ve seen SP struggle with backfield rotation and personnel predictability before, but none of us know what goes on in the lockers or meeting rooms. Any guess would be pure speculation.
 
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Loose Cannon

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As soon as Drew came back that should have been the time to sit Kamara and let him get back to 100%. Murray was running the ball well, Taysom was back to QB3 so he was back in the offense more.

So I’m half expecting to hear in the next couple of weeks that Kamara has had surgery. It’s the only explanation why they didn’t manage him better.
This post got me thinking. I vaguely remembered Deuce having a high ankle sprain way back when. Did a little digging, and it looks like he picked it up week 2 of the 2004 season.

Looking at game logs, he sat for one week plus the bye, so one week less than AK sat afterJacksonville. Afer that, he played the entire rest of the season, and averaged 4.0 Y/C and 6.5 Y/R, vs 4.7 Y/C and 7.5 Y/R the season prior. So there was a clear dropoff, though not as significant as Kamara's.

Information from back then is limited on the Googles. But I vaguely remember him playing the entire rest of that season in a boot. Am I imagining that, or can anyone confirm that was a real thing? I'm also interested to hear if there was a postseason surgery involved (looked but couldn't find anything).

Something that's also interesting and terrifying is that prior to the injury he averaged 5.7, 4.3, and 4.7 yards per carry in his first three seasons. After the injury, he averaged 4 yards per carry and only broke 4.0 YPC in one season (the incredible 2006 season). Although that's a stat that probably doesn't tell the whole story. He had all kinds of knee and other issues later n his career.
 

AARPSaint

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Good thread. There seems to be an issue of trust between the coaching staff and Murray as well as with Washington. We saw Murray look really good at times, and we saw Washington's fresh legs dominate in mop-up duty. Furthermore, Murray seems like one of those running backs who get better with more work. It's very difficult to understand why Kamara at 75% is a better option than Murray at 100%. :shrug:
 

SaintJ

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Kamara had burst straight ahead, and his YPC ended up basically the same as last year, even though he played a chunk of this year hurt (or so we all believe, I think with good reason.)

What dropped off horribly was the passing game, where he relied on cuts and lateral movement to get open and make tacklers miss.

If you've had knee/ankle injuries, you know that you can still move OK straight ahead -- it's sharp cuts that stress the tendons and ligaments so much that create the strain and pain. How this (along with everything in the OP) doesn't add up to a badly lingering ankle or knee injury, I really don't know. And why he got so many touches down the stretch, my best, gun-to-my-temple guess is that Payton gets a hard head sometimes.
 

Zztop

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I think when they let Ingram go, they decided to make him the feature back. And this stubbornness by coach is what lead to this force feeding him. Compare the previous years where Ingram was the feature. The "solution" should have been to keep that formula with LM. LM was criminally underutilized in my opinion. Should have given him more snaps and Kam less.
 
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Loose Cannon

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Kamara had burst straight ahead, and his YPC ended up basically the same as last year, even though he played a chunk of this year hurt (or so we all believe, I think with good reason.)

What dropped off horribly was the passing game, where he relied on cuts and lateral movement to get open and make tacklers miss.

If you've had knee/ankle injuries, you know that you can still move OK straight ahead -- it's sharp cuts that stress the tendons and ligaments so much that create the strain and pain. How this (along with everything in the OP) doesn't add up to a badly lingering ankle or knee injury, I really don't know. And why he got so many touches down the stretch, my best, gun-to-my-temple guess is that Payton gets a hard head sometimes.
This is all fine and good but are you making the assumption that the injury was one that just wasn't going to get better with rest?

Or you're saying you believe Payton played him through the injury, essentially sacrificing having him healthy in the playoffs for regular season wins?
 

SaintJ

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This is all fine and good but are you making the assumption that the injury was one that just wasn't going to get better with rest?

Or you're saying you believe Payton played him through the injury, essentially sacrificing having him healthy in the playoffs for regular season wins?
A combination of the two in Payton's own mind.

My guess is that Payton rationalized the injury, feeling it was better with rest and/or hoping it would keep getting better over time even with a playing load, and once he had sort of made that decision for the Atlanta game, he was reluctant to revisit it.

He is hesitant to sit his best players who want to play, even when they are hurt/spent. Last season I cannot believe they did not see on film in the last third of the year that Unger was suddenly just done, and yet I am sure zero consideration was given to rolling the dice with Cameron Tom instead, unless.....they convinced themselves that Unger would snap out of it and return to form, combined with a reluctance to bench a proven vet at a key position so late in the season. And perhaps he figured that Murray + hurt Kamara >>> Murray + Washington. Finally, we all know how "package-crazy" and "matchup-crazy" Payton is, and maybe he was also reluctant to limit the playbook.

The crime of it is that we moved the ball so well with Murray as the lead back; he got better the more carries he had, and the OL seemed to like blocking for him. In turn, that would have opened up play action so much better for Brees. We'll never know.
 
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Loose Cannon

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A combination of the two in Payton's own mind.

My guess is that Payton rationalized the injury, feeling it was better with rest and/or hoping it would keep getting better over time even with a playing load, and once he had sort of made that decision for the Atlanta game, he was reluctant to revisit it.

He is hesitant to sit his best players who want to play, even when they are hurt/spent. Last season I cannot believe they did not see on film in the last third of the year that Unger was suddenly just done, and yet I am sure zero consideration was given to rolling the dice with Cameron Tom instead, unless.....they convinced themselves that Unger would snap out of it and return to form, combined with a reluctance to bench a proven vet at a key position so late in the season. And perhaps he figured that Murray + hurt Kamara >>> Murray + Washington. Finally, we all know how "package-crazy" and "matchup-crazy" Payton is, and maybe he was also reluctant to limit the playbook.

The crime of it is that we moved the ball so well with Murray as the lead back; he got better the more carries he had, and the OL seemed to like blocking for him. In turn, that would have opened up play action so much better for Brees. We'll never know.
Yeah, what you're saying is sort of the conclusion I'm hoping not to arrive at.

Because if the above is really how it went down, that would be really, really poor management, wouldn't it?
 

Saint Spud

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I feel like we tried to be half-pregnant.

We wanted the threat of AK in the passing game to open up the middle of the field for Cook and others.

We also didn’t want to pass every time AK was in there, because it would be a “tell.”

So Kamara never fully healed and when he got closer to healthy, it seemed he never quite got back the mindset of plowing through people (whether it was health related or not).
 

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