When the Detroit Lions signed Reggie Bush, most analysts figured they'd use him in a dual role. In today's NFL, though, defenses always have designs of stopping big contributors and often find success doing so, making balance important.
Bush's across the board impact started to be felt during the Lions' preseason loss to the Cleveland Browns last Thursday night. Rushing wise, Bush saw eight carries, gaining 15 yards. The Lions then passed the ball five times to Bush for 44 yards. Overall, he was targeted a total of 12 times in the passing game.
The Lions were trailing big and ended up losing that game, however, which helps those statistics make sense considering similarities from last year. Without Bush in the fold, Detroit used Joique Bell in much the same mold last season. Bush's Thursday output was the most Matthew Stafford had targeted a running back in the passing game since last season's blowout loss against the Atlanta Falcons, when Joique Bell was targeted an astounding 21 times for 73 yards.
When Detroit was using their running backs most in the passing game last year, the results often were crooked on the scoreboard for the opposition. Bell was the target of choice then, collecting 14 targets for 72 yards, 15 for 44 and 12 for 47 in three lopsided Lions' losses in 2012. Mikel Leshoure was used less frequently, with his high mark being a 13 target, 20 yard performance in defeat. Stafford, obviously, was forced to pass when coming from behind, choosing to use his check downs to running backs for easier yardage.
In Detroit's four lone wins last fall, much better balance showed from the running back position with regards to receiving statistics. Not once did a Lion running back go over 10 targets or 40 yards in victories, with that high water mark coming in the season's opening game against the St. Louis Rams from Kevin Smith. In the second win against Philadelphia, Leshoure had seven targets for 24 yards. During the Lions' only two game winning streak of the year, Bell collected seven and eight targets for 36 and 33 yards, doing better work on the ground and allowing the receivers to get the job done deep.
That's why seeing Bush receive elevated targets in the passing game might not be such a good thing in 2013. Certainly, he's a play maker capable of doing big things, but the statistics don't lie. If Detroit is over-using Bush in the passing game, they will likely be trailing or fighting injury (ala Calvin Johnson being gone last Thursday night). The bigger stat to watch from Bush, Bell and Leshoure will be rushing attempts, as those will help show success or failure in the important issue of balance within Detroit's pass happy offense.
As much as Bush will do for the Lions offense in multiple roles, Detroit should be careful not to use him too much, especially in the passing game.
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