Bush, Run Game Could Be Saints' Key
"I was kind of scared," Bush said Monday. "I didn't know what to expect. This was just after Hurricane Katrina, I didn't know if they were even going to have a home field. There were a lot of things about going to the Saints that really made me worried."
A phone call from Drew Brees on draft night helped ease his mind. A year in Sean Payton's offense made him feel like he might be part of something special. And now, at the end of his fourth NFL season, Bush is a part of a Saints running corps that could be the sneak-attack secret weapon that decides Super Bowl XLIV.
"When you've got a quarterback like Drew Brees back there, when he's feeling it, you've got to put the ball in his hands," Saints guard Jahri Evans said. "But our running game is legitimate, and it's definitely important that we maintain that balance. You don't want to be one-dimensional, especially against a defense like theirs, with all of that speed they have."
It's easy to paint this Super Bowl as Brees vs. Peyton Manning, and it may well be that it turns out to be a shootout between those two brilliant quarterbacks. But if there's one thing the Saints clearly do better than the Colts, it's run the ball. The Saints ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing offense in 2009, while the Colts ranked dead last. Add to that the fact that the Colts ranked 24th in the league in rush defense, and it's not hard to imagine a scenario in which the Saints get to running the ball and keeping Manning on the sidelines.
"That would be a good way to go," Evans said. "But I think the game is going to dictate a lot of what we do. The good thing we know is that we can run the ball if that presents itself. With the backs we have and the schemes our coaching staff comes up with for them, we always know that's going to be something we can do."
The Saints spent this season in something of a running back rotation. There were games in which Pierre Thomas carried the load, games in which Mike Bell seemed to be more the feature back, and games (especially the playoff game against the Cardinals) in which Bush was the star. Late in the season, Lynell Hamilton became more involved. The point of the Saints' running game is the variety of styles -- Bush the speedster, Bell the power back, Thomas the workhorse type -- that allows Payton to deploy them as the scenario and opponent dictate.
"That's a testament to (Payton's) vision," Bush said. "He does a great job of creating mismatches for all of us, all over the field -- the guys in the passing game as well as the guys in the running game."
For much of this season, it's been Brees and the Saints' passing game that have grabbed most of the headlines, and for good reason. The rush offense ranked sixth in the league, but the pass offense ranked fourth. The Saints basically just have gobs and gobs of offense, and each group takes pride in what it brings to the overall package.
"Our running back group as a core, we like to think that we set the tone -- that the running backs always set the tone for the game, or at least for the offense," Bush said. "It's possible that it gets overlooked, and that's okay, because we have a great pass offense. But we know what we can do, and if they want to put it on the running game, we'll know it's because that's the best way for us to win."