The play comes and goes and then comes again.
Each time the Saints run a wildcat play, it sparks imagination and wonderment. When will Sean Payton use it next? Is a wildcat package coming? How would it co-exist and integrate with how the team uses Taysom Hill? Could Kamara throw a pass? But nothing much ever comes of it, and the wildcat package gets caged until it randomly shows up weeks later.
There is a reason the Saints show these plays, and at some point, you have to think the offense will unveil a handful of wildcat plays and catch a defense by surprise. The hint has been there since 2018, and perhaps it is a bluff to make defenses prepare for something that’s never more than a random play here and there. But this could be the next wrinkle for an offense that already gives most defenses more than they can handle.
So, what has the wildcat package looked like before, and what could it become?
New Orleans has only shown the wildcat concept four times since 2018. Each time, Kamara has kept the ball and run it. But there is room for more, and it is easy to imagine many different things happening off of these looks.
How it has been used
Week 1 vs. Tampa Bay
Second quarter, 13:06 remaining
Gain of 4
The one during Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay was particularly intriguing. Kamara stood under center with Latavius Murray and Ty Montgomery on each side of him. Deonte Harris lined up in the backfield behind Kamara. Brees was lined up wide on one side, and Michael Thomas was on the other. Kamara took the snap, faked the handoff to Montgomery, and ran to the right side for a gain of 4 yards.
A lot of different things could have happened on this play. The linebackers flowed to Montgomery, which opened up a lane for Kamara, but he could have easily handed off if the defense bit on him. Harris, who ran to the left flat as the ball got snapped, was another option. Kamara could have pitched it to him or waited a second longer and threw him a pass, though he would have had no blockers that direction since Brees was the only player on that side.
Thomas didn’t run a route, but with how the defense reacted to the backfield’s action, he easily could have gotten open on a slant.
Week 5 vs. Tampa Bay
Third quarter, 1:21 remaining
Gain of 3
This play was a moment of subtle brilliance by Sean Payton. New Orleans comes out in a standard shotgun look with Taysom Hill under center. Hill shifts right, and Kamara becomes the quarterback. The Saints immediately snap the ball, not giving Tampa Bay time to sort out the confusion, and Hill becomes the lead blocker, and Kamara runs the ball to the right.
The Bucs defended the play well, which isn’t a surprise since Tampa Bay has a very sound run defense. But the quick switch here is hard to defend and gives other teams something to think about whenever Hill and Kamara get lined up in the backfield. This play also allows Hill to immediately become a blocker and lead the way, which is one of his strengths.
Week 11 vs. Philadelphia
Third quarter, 8:26 remaining
Gain of 5
New Orleans went into this game wanting to use a heavy dose of Hill and ran several plays with him under center. Working off of those looks, in the third quarter, New Orleans started a play with Hill under center, but had him motion out to a wide position with Kamara moving up under center. The Saints snapped the ball to Kamara, who took the ball around the right edge of a gain of 5.
This game highlighted the ways some of these plays can work off of one another. Hill took five snaps under center in this game, including one that started out looking like the Week 5 play against Tampa Bay. Hill took the snap and ran it for a yard.
Week 15 vs. Carolina
Fourth quarter, 6:16 remaining
Gain of 18
This play unfolds somewhat similarly to the one against Philadelphia. Hill starts under center and then motions wide. The ball is snapped directly to Kamara, who takes off to the right side of the field for 18 yards. Once again, this play’s design allows Hill to get out in the open field and serve as a blocker.
The Saints did a good job of setting this one up after running several plays with Hill directly under center earlier. The little curveball caught the Panthers by surprise and Kamara capitalized.
Where it could be going
There is one key difference between the play the Saints used on Sunday and the ones in previous seasons. Hill wasn’t on the field.
New Orleans came out with its typical personnel, split Brees out wide and put Kamara at quarterback. The one on Sunday was more of a designed wildcat play than a shift or a motion off of something done by Hill. That makes it new.
There is so much New Orleans could do out of this package. The options from the pistol look on Sunday are endless, with multiple unique weapons in the backfield. Montgomery and Harris are two of the more versatile players on the team, and capable of doing just about anything from anywhere on the field. Murray provides a power option in the running game. The Saints could also insert Hill into one of these positions – whether it is in the pistol formation or split out like Brees — and really go crazy with it.
Kamara could also surprise a team by throwing a pass. He doesn’t have a lot of experience doing this, but he did hit on a 35-yard touchdown pass during his senior year of high school. He also had a 13-yard pass to Josh Hill last season.
The other thing to keep in mind here is that New Orleans has a bunch of offensive lineman and could run some of these looks behind heavy lines. The Saints used six or more offensive linemen on 152 plays last year, which ranked as the third-highest total in the NFL. Dropping one of those guys on the field while Kamara takes a direct snap would create a considerable advantage in the blocking game.
This might all seem crazy. Maybe this is nothing more than the imagination running wild based on one play during the season opener, but the Saints are a creative team that use an absurd amount of personnel packages.
Payton and his staff are always looking for more ways to stress out a defense. Having a handful of plays where the ball gets directly snapped to Kamara isn’t that wacky when you realize this team has a quarterback playing special teams and tight end and drafted another quarterback this year to turn him into a tight end.
Maybe the thought is crazy, or maybe this is the year these plays show up more than once or twice.