Running back Reggie Bush can be a matchup player in the Detroit Lions offensive scheme. Think speed, lateral movement and the ability to align in multiple positions to create one-on-one situations.
Whether that is removed from the core of the formation as a receiver, or as an underneath option in combination routes, Bush can add a new dimension to the Lions playbook this season because of his skill set.
Plus, the veteran back will get some work in the running game (inside zone, lead draw, stretch, etc.) out of both one- and two-back alignments that utilize his ability to cut back and press the edge of the defense.
This past weekend, the Lions stuck to their base playbook in the preseason opener versus the New York Jets, and Bush saw limited snaps with the No. 1 offense. However, that game did provide us with a small preview of how the Lions will feature—and target—Bush in their core concepts.
Let’s look back at four plays to gain a better understanding of why Bush’s pre-snap alignment and talent will lead to production within the Lions game plan this season.
Scheme: Curl-Flat (Semi-Curl)
Personnel: Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Formation: Pro Split Gun
The “Curl-Flat” route is installed on the first day of minicamp. It's a base scheme that gives quarterback Matthew Stafford a two-level read (Curl and Flat). This is also part of the “Semi-Series” (Seam-Curl, Seam-Hitch, Seam-Out) with the tight end on the straight vertical seam.
Look at the pre-snap alignment of Bush. He is offset to the closed (strong) side of the formation for a reason: to provide Stafford with an immediate flat option. If the underneath defenders take away the curl to wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions quarterback can get this ball out to Bush in the flat.
With the Jets playing Cover 6 (Quarter-Quarter-Half), the defense will rotate the deep half safety and “cloud” cornerback (Cover 2 alignment/technique) to the closed side of the formation (rotate to Johnson).
Look at the depth of cornerback Antonio Cromartie. He is sinking hard to cushion the deep half safety for a possible 9 (fade) or 7 (corner). And with the Sam 'backer playing his “seam-hook” technique (drop between numbers and hash) to take away the curl, this is an easy read for Stafford: target the flat.
This pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage, but I’m looking at a scheme here with Bush. And if teams are going to play Cover 6 (or Cover 2) with the cornerback sinking hard to protect the safety versus Johnson, the flat will be an easy option to get Bush involved.
Scheme: Flat-7 (corner)
Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot/X “Nasty”
Johnson is in a “nasty” split (wide receiver tight to the core of the formation) with Bush in a “chowed” alignment (outside leg of the tackle). What does that tell you as a defensive back? Johnson is creating room to run the 7 (corner) with his reduced split, and Bush is aligned wide in the backfield to release into the route concept.
The Flat-7 is one of the top Cover 2 beaters in the NFL (along with four verticals). And with the Jets again playing Cromartie in a “cloud” technique, the Lions are going to set the bait for the cornerback.
If Cromartie sinks hard under Johnson, then the quarterback takes Bush in the flat. If the veteran defensive back declares early and jumps the flat, Stafford can go to work on the deep half safety and target the wide receiver on the 7 cut. It's another two-level read for Stafford to get the ball out to his playmakers.
Here is the read for Stafford versus Cromartie. The cornerback “squats” (squares up to the quarterback, settles his feet) and starts to work downhill to Bush in the flat. This allows Stafford to come off the flat option and look up Johnson (now in a one-on-one versus the safety) on the 7 cut.
Check out the amount of room Johnson has to work with now that Cromartie has taken the bait on the flat route. The receiver can stem his route to the sideline and beat the top of the defense on the 7. This is an easy throw for Stafford because of the threat Bush provided on the quick burst to the flat.
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
The “Tare” concept is one of the top combinations in the NFL from a 3x1 or empty alignment in third and medium situations. The No. 1 receiver will run the clear out 9 (fade) route with No. 2 on the flat and No. 3 on the quick out/short curl. But you always have to account for the backside slant or option depending on the matchup.
This is the exact matchup the Lions want to get against Cover 1 (man-free) with Bush to the open- (weak-) side slot: the option route versus a linebacker.
Bush will take a quick, straight stem off the line, stutter and work off the defender’s leverage. If the linebacker sits hard to the inside, Bush will break to the sideline. And if the linebacker plays with an outside shade, Bush will cut back to the middle of the field.
Think of the option route from the Lions this season in third-down situations. This allows Bush to win at the top of the route stem (route break) if you put the ball on the up-field shoulder (away from the defender’s leverage).
Scheme: Inside Zone
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Gun Far
This is base zone blocking up front with the center working up to the open- (weak-) side linebacker. This gives Bush options to find a running lane to the play side or cutback versus pursuit. And with Posse personnel on the field, the Lions can get the ball to Bush in the run game against the defensive sub-package.
Because of the inside penetration from the Nose (closed-side guard has to make this reach block), Bush has to give ground and look to get vertical or bounce this run to the edge.
Make a play. That’s the plan.
Bush bounces this run, breaks contain and gets to work on the cornerback in the open field. And if you are going to get Bush on the ground, you can’t duck your head—because he isn’t afraid to leave his feet and go up over the top.
What Should We Expect From Bush This Season?
Bush can put numbers in this offense. There is no question about that when you break down the film. The Lions are going to spread the field and throw the ball. They will see a lot of Cover 2 within the NFC North from both the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings as well as 2-Man when they match up versus the Green Bay Packers because of the deep-ball ability of Johnson.
In the passing game, the Lions can remove Bush in the slot (as we saw above) to run the option, drive (shallow crosser) or seam. Align him as the backside “X” receiver and you get the slant and fade. Out of the backfield, look for the screen, swing, flat and dodge (quick angle route).
And let’s not forget about the running game. The Lions should see plenty of seven-man fronts versus those two-deep looks, and that creates a soft box to work against. Run the inside zone, the stretch, and give Bush options to use his speed and vision.
We only looked at four plays from the first weekend of the preseason. That is a very small sample size of what the Lions can do with Bush's skill set. But even in those core concepts, we can see how the Lions can utilize his abilities to mesh with the playbook and lead to production.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.