Bush, a Heisman winner and second overall pick, has a great knack for making an otherworldly play just when it seems appropriate to question his production in relation to his pedigree.
-Tim Layden, Sports Illustrated
Now that we know the Saints will be facing the Arizona Cardinals in the divisional playoff game, I can predict that all the talk will be focused on the passing attack of both teams and the likelihood of a high-scoring shootout on Saturday. Makes sense given the talent of Kurt Warner and Drew Brees. But a more balanced offensive game plan might be best for the Saints to achieve victory and that means a heavy focus on the running game as well. Normally, that probably wouldn't include too much from Reggie Bush but is the table being set for big things from the controversial running back?
Surely we can all admit that regardless of his past, Bush has looked markedly different in his running style the last quarter of the season. Instead of his usual dancing behind the line, Reggie has been able to put his head down, keep his legs moving and drive through contact. On a more consistent basis, too. That's exactly what everyone has always wanted to see from his between the tackles running and it's also showing up on the stats sheet. Reggie has averaged 29, 8 and 7 yards per rush the final three regular season games. Yet he's barely being used in the offense anymore.
Bush's limited number of carries leave all of us to naturally question his role. Why the hell does Payton refuse to use Bush, particularly in the second half, even now when he's proving he can move the ball well? Conspiracy theorists might point to possible personal issues between player and coach but perhaps it's just the opposite. Maybe Payton has been purposely resting Reggie, keeping him locked away until the playoffs. In fact, during the final game of the season - with nothing to play for, starters getting rest and Pierre Thomas sidelined - I would have expected Bush and Hamilton to get a bulk of the carries that afternoon allowing Mike Bell to relax. So I found it slightly curious when Bell carried the ball seventeen times on the day. Did Sean Payton care more about protecting Bush than Bell for the playoffs in two weeks? Is it possible that Payton has something up his sleeve, including a change in the Saints running back dynamic?
Reggie probably also has the good fortune of being the healthiest of the Saints three main running backs right now. We know Pierre will play this Saturday regardless of his three fractured ribs but that's definitely got to be cause for some concern. As for Bell, something always seems to be nagging him and his declining season stats might indicate that the wear and tear of the long season has taken its toll on a running back with his style.
There's one other point to mention regarding Reggie that was just brought up recently by my favorite Saints blogger, Grandmaster Wang, and that pertains to the future of Bush. Wang seems to think this season could be the end of the line for Kim Kardashian's boy toy and his next stop could very well be Seattle. Honestly, I wouldn't even begin to predict front office moves as they relate to Reggie but the off-season could mean big changes for Bush. With an uncapped year in 2010, the Saints might need to free up some money and get rid of bloated contracts. Reggie's salary may fit into that category and if it did the Saints would much prefer to restructure or trade rather than simply dump him without financial penalty. If the Saints actually were to entertain the idea of shopping Bush around, the current game tape doesn't prove he's worth as much as he's paid. Surely it would be serendipitous but the playoffs make the perfect stage for Bush to showcase his talents; everyone will be watching. On the other side, if Reggie wants some leverage in any contract talks that may arise, he'll want a couple of amazing playoff stats to point to himself. Either way, Bush's future could be another reason we see him more than ever these next few weeks.
Just some food for thought that I'm sure will ruffle some feathers and stir up some good debate. We may see Reggie explode if not for any other reason aside form pure luck. After all, we're at a time when it seems appropriate to question his production in relation to his pedigree, so we're due to see some otherworldly play.