This past Sunday, the New Orleans Saints were playing a game in inclement weather as continuous rain poured down on Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay. Most teams would have mixed in some running plays to help setup short passes, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton decided yet again not to establish a running game.
It should have been apparent that this would happen. The tell tale sign was on the 4th-and-short play on the first drive of the game, Payton called a sweep play with Devery Henderson that resulted in a three yard loss. If you have a healthy Pierre Thomas and a useable Deuce McAllister on the sidelines, why not use them? Why not use a running back instead of a wide receiver to get you short yards?
For some reason, Payton seems to hate running the ball unless Reggie Bush is back there.
So what was the result in that situation with the supposed genius calling the offensive plays? A total of three carries for zero yards. That's right; Bush finished with no yards whatsoever running the ball. His longest of the day was an eight yard scamper, but lost yards on the other carries.
The reason Bush lost yards on his other two carries is the same reason he will never be a featured back, he constantly bounces to the outside and does not (if ever) follow his lead blocker. It is year three for Bush in the NFL and he still has not grasped the concept of running forward with the designed play instead of improving once he has the ball.
Pierre Thomas has been the most consistent runner throughout the season. Thomas is a better running back than Bush has ever been for the team. He is willing to take the hits and burst through the line, to fight for every yard he can get. But the main thing about Thomas is, he actually follows his blockers and executes the designed play.
So why hasn’t Thomas been the featured back in the running scheme throughout the season? The answer is simple, Payton’s love affair with Bush in his offense.
The proof of this lies in the statistics, which Bush leads the team in rushing attempts and is second on the team in receptions despite missing four games this season. Thomas, who started the season with a terrific effort in the first game of the season, was practically exiled to only special teams work after a sub-par second game. This includes a five game stretch in which he never touched the ball more than three times in a game, especially the Minnesota Vikings game where he never entered the field of play.
The team is 5-3 without Bush and 3-1 this season when he does not play. The Saints, rather than running the whole offense through Bush, spread the ball around more when he is not a factor.
Now don’t get me wrong, he is a talented athlete with exception skills, but the offense has a better and constant flow to it when not featuring Bush as the primary target.
Coach Payton must learn that there are other players on the field besides Bush when on offense; otherwise this is going to be a very long month to end the season.