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Bush hopes to break long punt return

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Recent posts by Eric Edholm

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Posted Feb. 04, 2010 @ 10:48 a.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

Fourth in a series

Saints PR Reggie Bush vs. Colts P Pat McAfee and Indy's punt-coverage team

Reggie Bush feels like many do about Sunday's game — if the Saints are to win, they will have a far better chance to do so with some success in the return game.

"All throughout the year, we've preached that we have to play well in all phases — not just offense and defense, but special teams, too," Bush said Tuesday. "If we want to be successful, if we want to have a fighting chance to win this game on Sunday, special teams has to be just as equally important as offense, as defense. Maybe even more than offense and defense, because we feel like with our special teams, that could be an advantage for us.

"If we're able to get our offense field position, whether it's (by) kick returns or punt returns, then that's a win for us. We have to play well, definitely on special teams, and make sure that we give our offense and defense a chance to be successful."

Bush actually had his worst pro season as a punt returner (not counting 2007, when he returned only three punts for a 4.0-yard average), averaging only 4.8 yards a whack, and he had a potentially costly fumble in the NFC championship game against the Vikings. (He was bailed out when the Saints recovered a fumble by the Vikings a few plays later.) But Bush represents perhaps the most dangerous returner in Super Bowl XLIV, perhaps the one guy who can change a game with a single touch.

He has shown more explosive moments in the playoffs and is facing a Colts special-teams unit that was in the middle of the pack during the regular season. If the Saints are lucky and effective defensively, Bush should get three or four real return chances in this game, along with a fair catch or two. The Colts have punted an average of five times in two playoff games, and the Saints have forced an average of five punts against the Cardinals and Vikings.

Rookie P Pat McAfee punted six times against the Ravens for a 45.8-yard gross average with one inside the 20-yard line, one touchback and two returns for zero yards. Against the Jets, McAfee had a 46.3-yard average with two inside the 20 and one returned for 12 yards. Six of those 10 punts were fair-caught. And during the regular season, only one opponent — the Patriots — was able to accumulate more than 37 punt-return yards in a game against him. That's damned good. Attribute it to great hang time and ball placement along the sideline.

Although Bush had three punt-return touchdowns in 2008, he has had only one this season, against the Cardinals in the divisional round of the playoffs. Moreover, he has had plenty of dud returns. Only two of his 27 regular-season returns netted 20-plus yards, and he often is tracked down for zero or negative yards, usually while trying to make something out of nothing.

It might be strange to think this, but Bush might be better-served trying to earn more eight- and 10-yard returns than going for the home run. The Saints' blocking was exceptional on the TD against the Cardinals, with a clear enough hole to drive a truck through. If he's patient in this game, there should be a chance to break one. But he must stick to what's blocked ahead of him and not freelance too much. The Colts might not be spectacular on punt coverage, but they are fairly disciplined.

 

Friday: Colts QB Peyton Manning vs. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams

 

PFW has launched its brand-new NFL Draft Newsletter series, with the second issue now ready for mailing and a third issue focusing on underclassmen to be published in the next few weeks. Produced by PFW's player personnel department under the direction of Nolan Nawrocki, the series consists of four information-packed issues. For more info or to subscribe — click here for PDF e-pub or here for print format. You can also find details about other draft-related publications in the PFW store.

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