On the unofficial depth chart used in this year’s training camp, the Saints have Reggie Bush ahead of Pierre Thomas. Sean Payton has already explained that the depth chart at RB should actually read ‘1A’ and ‘1B’ instead of ‘1’ and ‘2’.
This has caused quite a stir among fans of the Black and Gold. Some feel Bush should get his hands on the ball as often as possible due to his homerun ability while others feel P.T. is the obvious choice as a true RB to be the workhorse.
I feel Thomas and Bush should be used similar to how Deuce and Bush were used in the 2006 season. I have thoughts about both players, and I’m using last year’s numbers to back my case.
In the first seven weeks of the season…
Rush/Rec. Yards and TDs
Bush: 633 yards, 5 TDs
Deuce: 231 yards, 1 TD
Thomas: 144 yards, 3 TDs
Payton eased Deuce into the rotation, giving Thomas a chance early. In the first three games, Thomas had 123 yards and 3 TDs while Deuce managed 10 yards and 0 TDs. The next four games, Thomas got 21 yards and 0 TDs while Deuce collected 221 yards and 1 TD.
Reggie was, without a doubt, the big play guy. He added 3 punt return TDs during that 7-game span, and he was leading the league in total TDs (8).
Then he got hurt. Bush would miss the next four games. So let’s imagine a team without Reggie Bush…
We won three of the four games without Bush, averaging 34.5 points a game. In that four game span…
Rush/Rec. yards and TDs vs S.D., ATL, K.C., G.B.
Thomas: 353 yards, 3 TDs
Deuce: 151 yards, 4 TDs
Stecker: 69 yards
Bell: 6 yards
Deuce got several carries in the red zone, but Thomas became the go-to guy. Payton was reluctant to run the ball in that span at first. Brees threw 40 times vs S.D. compared to just 22 runs. The next week vs ATL, we hit a wall, throwing 58 times while rushing the ball just 17 times. Payton may have learned the error of his ways for the next two games, with a 36 pass/28 run effort vs K.C. and a beautiful 27 pass/26 run effort vs G.B. We all know how that turned out… 51 points (without Reggie).
Bush returned and managed to play in three more games. His returning contest (vs the Bucs), the Saints tried to rely on Reggie in the running game, but he failed to gain a single yard. Thomas ran for 34 yards while Deuce got 13 on the ground, but we eventually gave up on the ground game as T.B. pulled ahead 20-10 going into the 4th quarter. We ran 18 times and passed 47 times.
Rush/Rec. yards and TDs vs T.B.
Bush: 32, 0 TDs
Thomas: 54 yards, 1 TD
Deuce: 16 yards,0 TDs
Finally, Payton realized that Thomas could carry the load while spotlighting Bush here and there, and the results were a 2-1 record in the next three games (with a pass/run ratio of 33/30, 43/32, and 40/30). The last game vs Carolina was the Brees-to-5,000 game. Bush would get injured in the Chicago game, but Thomas remained the clear cut starter throughout until he got hurt at the end of the Lions game.
Rush/Rec. yards and TDs vs ATL, CHI, DET, CAR
Bush: 184 yards, 1 TD
Deuce: 148 yards, 1 TD
Thomas: 358 yards, 5 TDs
Bell: 50 yards, 1 TD
My point is this: the Saints are a much-better team with Reggie Bush, but Bush has to be spelled often. As a home-run threat, he is incomparable. However, until Bush learns to get the easy yards through the tackles instead of trying to bounce everything outside BEFORE he even hits the line of scrimmage, he will be a liability in the running game.
Thomas led the entire NFL in fewest rushes for losses among RBs with over 100 carries. He also ranked 6th in yards per carry (4.8) among RBs with 100 or more carries. I think P.T. poses a great threat in the backfield in his own right, but we have to give Reggie a chance to get hot at some point. Still, this team went 4-2 in the six games played without Bush, and the two losses could very well be blamed on Payton’s reluctance to run the ball (run/pass ratio in two losses without Bush: 17/58 and 11/49).
In all-purpose (rush/rec./ret.) yards and TDs, Thomas collected 1,702 yards and 12 TDs, Bush got 1,114 yards and 9 TDs, and Lance Moore had 1,004 yards and 10 TDs.
Hopefully, Payton finds a way to use Thomas and Bush just as Deuce and Bush were used in 2006. It works great (as evident in the second Atlanta game last year).