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BETWEEN THE LINES

Saints' Bush finally reverting to hype

October 19, 2008|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Reggie Bush wasn't a bust in his first two NFL seasons, but he certainly was a disappointment.

He made some big plays, yet also disappeared for long stretches. He didn't score a touchdown, rushing or receiving, until the ninth game of his rookie season.

Long gone were his get-it-and-split-it days of USC, when he'd get a handoff and knife untouched right through the middle of a defense.

Last season, he had a few big games but sat out the final four because of a torn knee ligament. It was more of the same. He was a good player who showed flashes of greatness, and a valuable decoy too, but definitely a product of college football's hype machine.

This season, the Saints are starting to really cash in on Bush's remarkable ability to run and catch. There was the Minnesota game, in which he returned two punts for touchdowns and might have run back a third had he not tripped with one man to beat. But now more than ever, defenses are having to abandon what they do best just to compensate for Bush's being on the field.

Instead of spending the off-season in Los Angeles as he did after his first two seasons, Bush stayed in New Orleans and rededicated himself to football. That has paid off in a big way.

The thing that makes him so dangerous is his versatility. Whereas Marshall Faulk -- the quintessential run-catch threat -- caught most of his passes out of the backfield, Bush often lines up at receiver, which presents all sorts of problems for defenses. He has 41 catches, second only to Denver's Brandon Marshall.

It's not uncommon for the Saints to line up their receivers on one side and Bush on the other, looking for a favorable matchup for him. For New Orleans, the best-case scenario is to have a linebacker or safety try to cover Bush, which is usually a glaring mismatch.

When the Saints break their huddle, the opposing defense doesn't know whether Bush is going to line up in the backfield like a running back or at receiver. This often leaves a less-than-ideal defense on the field.

That's why, when they're facing the Saints, teams tend to play a lot of zone defense, allowing players to help teammates who might otherwise be in trouble.

Typically, a zone defense doesn't give up as many big plays but is softer underneath, allowing a quarterback to complete a higher percentage of his passes.

There's a greater likelihood that a man-to-man defense will give up the big play, but the completion percentage often will be lower because a receiver has a defender in his face.

Unlike most teams, the Oakland Raiders steadfastly stuck to their man-to-man philosophy when facing Bush and the Saints last Sunday. And what began a battle of the wills turned into a lopsided beat-down. The Saints won, 34-3, and Bush scored a running touchdown and a receiving one.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Running with it

Since Reggie Bush joined the league in 2006, only one player has more "yards after catch":

Player/Yards

Brian Westbrook, Phi/1,558

Reggie Bush, NO/1,432

Steven Jackson, StL/1,354

LaDainian Tomlinson, SD/1,263

Wes Welker, Mia-NE/1,133

Source: STATS LLC

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