While most fans might not agree that the Saints are a better team with Bush than without the evidence is beginning to suggest they are indeed a better team with him.
Bush fractured his fibula while attempting to field a punt late in the Saints win over the San Francisco 49ers and was expected to miss 4 to 8 weeks.
Optimistically he may be back as early as week 7 though the more likely scenario is a week 8 return when the Saints take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Superdome.
In his absence the Saints have gone 1-2 and by now their struggles have been well chronicled by those who cover the sport — 19.8 PPG, 31st in rushing, 45% third down conversion, 36.8% red zone efficiency — all stats far off their 2009 numbers and all stats Reggie Bush affects.
Bush has been criticized since entering the NFL after being hailed as the next great Hall of Fame running back on the heels of an illustrious collegiate career at USC for not producing the eye popping rushing statistics that everyone expected.
However Bush’s impact on the Saints stretches much farther into the offense than just pure rushing alone as evident by the stats above.
Head coach Sean Payton relies on Bush in red zone and third down situations rather heavily using him in multiple formations in an attempt to find as many mismatches as possible. His athleticism and speed makes him a match up nightmare for opposing defenses.
Just his presence on the field allows the other offensive players more opportunities to make plays as he can freeze linebackers, safeties and defensive ends dead in their tracks because they know if he is left unattended he has the ability to score.
Then there is his contribution on special teams where he has returned 84 punts for 678 yards and four touchdowns in his career. If opposing teams lose isolation on him for even a moment he can and will make people miss on his way to the end-zone.
A prime example of the Saints not being able to move the ball as easily with him nit in the lineup you need look no further than the last weeks loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
In several third down situations the Saints were unable to convert. Tight end Jeremy Shockey lined up wide, where Bush normally would be, but lacked the necessary athleticism to separate himself from the Cardinal defender resulting in a failed conversion and interception.
Ladell Betts was also put in during a third down situation to run a play the Saints are generally high percentage, a swing pass into the flat. Betts made the catch but was unable to beat safety Kerry Rhodes one on one and was dropped for no gain.
One could argue that if that would have been Bush and not Betts that he could have eluded Rhodes, picked up the first down and potentially scored given the play took place inside the twenty yard line.
Bush is a valuable commodity to the Saints offense wearing many hats and is successful in many different situations while on the field. It’s clear the Saints have struggled without him and given their recent play his reinsertion into the lineup cannot come soon enough.
Check out Keith Null’s weekly article about the Saints on NFL.com by clicking here.