Early season injuries are always tough. Just when a team is trying to find its stride, a key player gets injured and it is as if the team has to start over from scratch. Any rhythm the team has offensively is gone. All of the practice, the OTAs, the training camp, is rendered meaningless because the coaching staff and players have to hit reset on the approach to offense.
My colleagues, and others in the sports media, will argue for a variety of players as having the most important injury after three weeks of the regular season. However, most of those players either aren’t important enough to their team for the injury to be meaningful, or the team wasn’t important enough to the division, conference or league – that is, team expectations were low – so the injury just is not that big of a deal.
The first scenario includes players like Ryan Grant, Kevin Kolb, and Dennis Dixon. They are probably decent players, but not irreplaceable. The second scenario includes a player like Matthew Stafford. He may be important to his team, but the expectations for the Lions were so low that his absence doesn’t really impact anything.
Reggie Bush, however, is a different story. The division, conference, and league has high expectations for the returning champions. The Saints, in many ways, are a team defined by offense and big plays. Reggie Bush is the key to making the offense work. He is a versatile player, and one the team built its offense around. He can take a hand off, a direct snap, or split out wide in the slot and catch a slant pattern. He is the type of player a team has to get the ball to in space because he can quickly make a big play.
It is evident that a player is really tough to replace when beat writers start printing stories about how the team is dealing with the aftermath of the injury. Browse any local paper you’d like to, and you’ll see articles about how the Saints are going to struggle moving on from Bush’s broken fibula.
The biggest chance to look for in Bush’s absence is how the Saints will adjust to zone coverage, especially when facing a nickel package where the defense has at least one extra defensive back. Normally this is a situation where Bush would be sent in motion after lining up in the running back position. The idea is to create a mismatch with the opposition where Bush runs pass patterns against lower depth chart defensive backs or even linebackers. Especially on third down – a down the Saints are excellent at converting at 36 percent this season and a whopping 44.7 percent last season – as that is the preferred down for the opposition to mix up the defensive look.
Those who argue that Bush’s absence will not be felt are likely have their head stuck in the stat sheet. Bush isn’t setting records for rushing yards or receiving yards. But to reduce what Bush does for the Saints to stats reflects a poor understanding of Bush and, frankly, of football. Bush can change field position and break any play, and that is the most difficult type of player to replace in the lineup.
The Saints are not going to start playing terribly now. But, the team will have to hit reset and break out of an approach that has worked for several seasons. It is difficult, frustrating, and inconvenient, and there will be an adjustment period for the Saints. Bush isn’t the type of talent that can simply be replaced. The gameplan has to change, and that is why Bush’s injury is the most difficult to recover from at this point in the season.