How Will the Packers Defend Reggie Bush?
By Dan Dahlke
. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports photograph
How do you stop a back that averages 5.3 yards per carry and 16.3 yards per reception over the first four weeks of the season?
That will be the Green Bay Packers‘ challenge when they host Reggie Bush and the Detroit Lions this Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Typically, when you think of Detroit you think of containing one of the most dangerous receivers in the league in Calvin Johnson. There is no doubt “Megatron” will be a handful for the Packers secondary, but the Green Bay defense has been there before. Last year, Johnson posted games of 142 and 118 yards receiving, but the Packers didn’t let the 6-5, 236-pound receiver’s production beat them.
Green Bay still swept Detroit last season, but this year the Lions offense has an additional weapon the Packers will have to account for.
Bush brings a new dynamic to the Detroit backfield they haven’t had in awhile. With 254 yards rushing and 179 yards receiving this season, the shifty 205-pound back can get production as both a runner and a receiver.
Reggie Bush gets past Jared Allen. Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports photograph
In the season opener, Bush tore apart a Vikings defense that was previously considered to be a pretty solid group. The eight-year back did it both on the ground and through the air, posting 191 total yards of offense. Bush’s 77-yard touchdown reception off a screen pass was nothing short of impressive and really showcased his ability to make plays with the ball in the open field.
Bush also demonstrated how effective he can be in the run game last week against another divisional opponent, the Chicago Bears. The Detroit back ran the ball 18 times for 139 yards and a touchdown, recording an impressive 7.7 yards per carry against a good Chicago defensive front. The Bears used their best linebacker, Lance Briggs, to shadow Bush in both the run and pass game, but the former USC Trojan took advantage of this mismatch and made the veteran linebacker look a step slow.
Bush has certainly resurrected his career in Detroit. He fits well with the Lions as their offense is trying to utilize more spread formations this season. Simply put, Bush presents defenses with a challenge, and this week won’t be any different.
What is the best way for the Packers defense to defend a dynamic back like Bush come Sunday?
On the ground, the Packers have already faced talented backs like Bush this season and have held up well. In the season opener, they held San Francisco’s Frank Gore to 44 yards rushing and kept Cincinnati’s 1-2 punch of BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard to 79 combined yards in week three.
The Packers run defense is ranked 8th in league this season and has allowed only 93.3 yards per game on the ground. With Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, and Johnny Jolly on the defensive line, the Packers defense is stout in the middle and should hold up well against Bush and the Detroit running game.
The real concern is when the Lions split Bush out wide or have him coming out of the backfield as a receiver. This is where Bush has done a majority of his damage this season.
Brad Jones. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph
Typically, inside linebackers, Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk, would be given responsibility in defending backs like Bush in the pass game. Although good against the run, Hawk lacks the speed and athleticism to defend effectively in the pass game, and it’s hard to believe Jones will hold up better than Chicago’s Lance Briggs in defending Bush in the open field.
The Packers could use a safety to shadow Bush in the passing game. After all, they’ll get Morgan Burnett back this week. But the Packers will also have to account for Johnson’s ability as a deep threat and will most likely keep a safety over the top of the big receiver.
With a safety already occupied doubling Detroit’s star receiver, can the Packers really afford to occupy their other safety shadowing Bush out of the backfield?
Maybe Green Bay will will decide to play a lot of nickel and dime and designate the extra defensive back, like Micah Hyde or Tramon Williams, in guarding Bush to compensate for his ability in the open field. However, this still leaves the Packers defense susceptible to Detroit’s running game. The Packers would be frequently forced out of their three-defensive linemen base defense, leaving them soft in the middle if Detroit decided to run the ball.
Defending a dual-threat back like Bush feels a little bit like picking your poison as a defense, but if the Packers offense can get out to an early lead and force the Detroit offense to move away from their run game, this will make the Lions more one dimensional and easier to defend. Regardless, the Packers defense will need a player to step up and contain Reggie Bush when the Detroit offense takes the field.
So who will it be this Sunday?
Brad Jones? Morgan Burnett? Micah Hyde? or Will it be a group effort?
Whatever happens, the Packers will need to find a way to not let Bush get the ball in the open field and torch them like he did against Minnesota and Chicago.