Analysis Notebook: Week 1
One of the marquee signings of free agency was Reggie Bush inking a contract with the Detroit Lions. The team and fans alike were excited by the prospect of finally replacing the production lost when Jahvid Best became hampered with a turf toe injury before concussions struck again and ultimately ended his career in the NFL.
Reggie Bush is something of an enigmatic figure and has been since he came into the league as the surprise second overall selection of the 2006 NFL Draft. I say surprise selection because most people expected him to be the top overall pick given his highlight reel from USC and explosive potential. I heard more than one person bill him as ‘the Next Barry Sanders’, and he has always had a penchant for big plays in the NFL. Despite a relatively modest workload he has 49 career touchdowns coming as a rusher, receiver and return man. He has, however, been the cause of that modest workload with a consistent struggle to run effectively between the tackles.
Bush is the archetype for a player that needs space to operate. This is where the Barry Sanders comparison falls down. Sanders could manufacture his own space in a phonebooth, while Reggie needs space to be created for him before he can exploit it, but when he gets it, he can do damage like few others.
The beauty of his fit within the Lions offense is that Scott Linehan is better than most at finding space for players like Bush to work in. Perhaps learning from his time in Minnesota where the team seemed unable to do exactly that for Michael Bennett, Linehan has shown in one game this season that he can get Bush the ball in the areas he can do the most damage.
Bush Up the Gut – Minnesota @ Detroit | 1st Q, 6:17
Reggie Bush is stopped at the line for a gain of just one yard after failing to read a possible escape route.
On the rare occasions the Vikings actually played the run well up the middle, Bush showed his limitations. It might be that when running in tight confines up the middle, he doesn’t have the same instincts and vision as he does out in space where defenders and blockers move differently. He seems less able to read where the space will open up and more importantly, where it will close down and leave him running up a dead end alley.
On this play the run is designed to go to the left of C Dominic Raiola, but Minnesota DT Fred Evans does a good job of standing up his double team and forcing Raiola back into that gap once it splits. This leaves Bush running into a wall of bodies with nowhere to go if he sticks to the run’s intended point of attack. To his left however a huge lane opens up off left guard and a bounce out to that direction would leave him in the open field with well executed blocks on all of the defenders around him. Bush is usually quicker than most to try and bounce runs outside, but he gets into trouble by seeming slow to see things disintegrating around him on interior runs. As good as his performance was in this game there were still plays where Reggie Bush was Reggie Bush in the negative sense.
Reggie With Space To Work In – Minnesota @ Detroit | 3rd Q, 12:21
Reggie Bush exploits space up the middle to beat his man at the second level and accelerate for a gain of 10 yards.
While he may not be at his best running up the gut he does have the ability to exploit space when it materializes. This play is intended to go outside of LG Rob Sims, with a backside cutback option built in off right guard. Sims is looking to down block on Fred Evans but is beaten by the Viking’s first step to his outside, forcing the cut from Bush in the backfield away from his intended point of attack and towards the cutback option. On that side of the field DT Letroy Guion also attacks the inside shoulder of the RG Larry Warford, and though he has the advantage with his first step, Warford recovers with his initial hand punch and begins to drive Guion inside, widening the gap in the cutback lane between him and the edge.
Chad Greenway is the linebacker to the backside of the play and the Lions have him accounted for in the blocking scheme, with Raoila working through to the second level to take him out. Raiola stumbles through the line a little and is off balance by the time he reaches Greenway, who is able to toss him to the side and look for Bush. He is in a pretty good position to shut this run down for a minimal gain, but the progress of Warford against Guion has given Bush the one thing he needs to render Greenway merely ornamental in this play – space.
Bush executes a beautiful double-jump cut to take him around the block being driven down the line and then to set him off away from Greenway who is simply unable to live with the acceleration and speed. Bush immediately exploits the gap he has been given and drops the Vikings linebacker for pace until he reaches the secondary and is finally warded out of bounds by Harrison Smith ten yards down field.
As much as Bush can struggle to run inside when the confines of the interior blocking scheme restrict him to slivers of daylight and limited room in which to work, when things open up and he sees space he can still destroy linebackers in the open field. Greenway looked at times in this game like he was running in molasses, but it was more a result of simply being unable to match the raw speed and athleticism of Bush.
Space In the Passing Game – Minnesota @ Detroit | 3rd Q, 5:58
Reggie Bush takes a quick pivot route pass 77-yards for a touchdown, outrunning the Vikings secondary to daylight.
Running with the ball is obviously only a small part of Bush’s arsenal, and perhaps the best way of getting him in space is the pass game. The Lions have a built-in space generator in the shape of Calvin Johnson, whose effect on defensive coverages can open up areas that would ordinarily be locked down, which should serve Bush well in the offense.
The Lions line up with three receivers in this formation and Bush flanking Matthew Stafford to the right side. The perimeter receivers simply run up and start blocking their defenders while Johnson from the slot and Brandon Pettigrew from his position in tight to the left of the line try and run off their defenders, making them turn their backs to the pass that is going to Bush on the other side of the field.
The ball gets delivered quickly and the Lions execute the play well, with players out in front to block, but Bush then turns on the afterburners and exploits the space up the middle. The Vikings have both safeties deep and have potentially three defenders with an angle to cut him off before he gets past the entire defense, but his speed and acceleration simply changes the angle of attack they need to take and he is through the gap before they can close it.
Reggie Bush will never be the new Barry Sanders, he’s just not that kind of player, but he is a player that can have continued success within an offense that is prepared to manufacture space for him. The league is now embracing players like Percy Harvin, Tavon Austin and others that may not fit into conventional molds, but exploit space better than most and can change games in one burst of acceleration. Reggie Bush is from that mold, and he has been in the league since 2006, but he has just been trapped in a cycle of people trying to envisage him as a conventional running back and not an Offensive WeaponTM.
The Lions may have found their answer to Harvin, Austin et al, and his name is Reggie Bush.
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