INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Alvin Kamara and Jonathan Taylor seem like football twins.
Both possess breakaway speed and are capable receivers. Both started this season watching their teammates do the heavy lifting. And now, with Sunday's showdown between Kamara's Saints and Taylor's Colts looming, both finally seem to be in midseason form.
Yes, two of the league's most dangerous and versatile running back put defenders on notice with last week's performances.
“Kamara coming back, he's a great threat out of the backfield," Indianapolis linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "He has got gas in his legs and in the run game.”
No, it hasn't yet been quite the season Kamara or Taylor initially envisioned.
While Kamara started this year by serving a three-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, Taylor missed Indy's first four games as he rehabbed from offseason ankle surgery amid an ugly contract dispute. When they returned, both found themselves on snap counts. Now, though, they appear to be back in business.
Kamara had 12 receptions for 91 yards and 17 carries for 62 yards, producing a season-high 153 total yards in a Week 7 loss to Jacksonville. Taylor also had his best game last weekend, carrying 18 times for 75 yards, catching three balls for 45 yards and scoring his first TD in 11 months.
But anyone who has watched film — or faced Kamara or Taylor on the field — didn't need numbers to reveal this week's biggest challenge.
“We’ll have to have a great plan and we have to tackle," said Saints linebacker Pete Werner, who faced Taylor twice in college, including once in his hometown of Indianapolis.
Facing bruising runners is old hat for the Colts, who play two-time rushing champ Derrick Henry twice a year and already have squared off with three of the league's top 10 runners.
Kamara poses a different threat.
Despite playing only four games this season, he leads all NFL backs with 35 receptions with three games of seven or more catches. And Taylor, the 2021 NFL rushing champ, seems to be following suit with new coach Shane Steichen. Taylor's even lining up at receiver and hoping to expanding that role.
“There's a lot of things he wants to do,” Taylor said of Steichen with a smile. “Being the first year, there's definitely a progression, but I can tell he has a lot of things in that toolbox and then you can take that next step and become even more productive.”
Just like Kamara.
In addition to preparing his team for the Colts, Saints coach Dennis Allen also had to address an off-field incident when New Orleans’ top receiver, Chris Olave, was arrested Monday night for speeding and reckless driving. He was clocked around 70 mph in suburban New Orleans, nearly double the listed speed limit.
“We had a chance to sit down and visit with him. He obviously understands he made a mistake and you’ve got to slow down,” Allen said. “We’re not going to make any more of it than that, other than for his sake and for everybody’s sake, we want him to be safe and keep himself and others safe.”
Steichen and Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew are new faces in Indy, but they're both pretty familiar with the Saints.
Minshew's final start in Philadelphia came against New Orleans when Steichen ran the offense. Minshew was 18 of 32 with 274 yards, one TD and one interception in that 20-10 loss.
“Any time you go against an opponent in back-to-back years, you kind of see how they play from a coverage standpoint, a technique standpoint,” Steichen said. “It gives you some things to look at.”
Indy needs Minshew to be better than he was in his first two starts since replacing injured rookie Anthony Richardson. Minshew has thrown four interceptions, lost four fumbles, been sacked seven times and lost both games.
Saints quarterback Derek Carr sounds bemused by the scrutiny of being caught on camera yelling at teammates or coaches after failed plays the last couple weeks. At the same time, he says he’s trying to tone it down to be a more constructive communicator.
“Man, 10 years ago, when I got into the league every quarterback was cussing everybody out,” he said. “I didn’t even cuss nobody out and everyone thinks that everyone is mad at each other. So, times are definitely changing. I can tell by the gray hairs in my beard, and by people getting upset by a quarterback yelling.”
New Orleans has only played one game at Lucas Oil Stadium, winning 27-21 almost exactly eight years ago. But it's hardly an unfamiliar venue for the Saints, who moved practice to the retractable roof dome before the 2008 season opener when Hurricane Gustav threatened the Gulf Coast.
Three years ago, New Orleans also considered moving a Monday night game against the Los Angeles Chargers to the building when another storm, Hurricane Delta, neared the coastline.
The Saints used their mini-bye week to rethink the offense's playing tempo. After going no-huddle in the second half against Jacksonville, New Orleans scored 15 points to tie the score at 24 and nearly tied it again after giving up the go-ahead TD.
"It could be something that we may try to incorporate,” Allen said, though he's not a big proponent of using it for 60 minutes. “You’re not going to live the game in a two-minute offense."
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans also contributed to this report.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl