When the Saints matched a two-year, $4.5 million contract the Atlanta Falcons offered to Rafael Bush to prevent him from leaving in restricted free agency this offseason, virtually no one foresaw the New Orleans safety playing a paltry five defensive snaps come Week 2. But that’s exactly what happened with Bush in Sunday’s 26-24 Saints loss at Cleveland.
Four days later, as they readied themselves to host the Vikings in Week 3, the Saints insisted Bush was not retained to watch his team’s games from the sideline but rather collaborate on the field with fellow safeties Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro. And he himself expressed optimism that he’d see an increase in action as his 0-2 team tries to recover from the setbacks it suffered in Cleveland as well as Atlanta on Sept. 7.
“We had a game plan. We stuck with it, and it didn’t involve me that much in it,” Bush said after practice Thursday. “We’re sitting here at 0-2, and we’re just trying to find a way to win a game — we’re just going to try to see if ... this three-safety defense ... works for us, and we’ll go from there.”
A couple of reasons beyond the monetary investment in Bush explain the befuddlement at his relative inactivity the second game of the season. Though the Saints had surrendered a staggering 448 passing yards and missed numerous tackles in a 37-34 defeat at Atlanta in Week 1, Bush had been productive in his 29 snaps on defense, tying for second on the team with six solo takedowns. In special teams, he also dragged Falcons returner Devin Hester down at Atlanta’s 15 after a Saints kickoff to set up a lengthy field for the club that coveted him in the spring.
However, Bush then barely lined up on defense against the Browns, even though they faced nine third-and-long situations, which can prompt teams to deploy extra defensive backs. At least three of his five snaps weren’t until the Browns’ final offensive drive, an advance that culminated in a game-winning field goal with three seconds left in regulation. He recorded his lone tackle on another of his snaps at the end of a 13-yard Browns reception in the third quarter.
Bush did author a nice moment for himself when he downed a punt for the Saints at the Browns’ 4 at the beginning of Cleveland’s last drive. But few outsiders envisioned that kind of limited role for Bush when the Saints repeatedly said this summer they intended to utilize numerous packages in the regular season with him; Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowler with 22 career interceptions; and Vaccaro, a sophomore pro who impressed as a rookie while lining up at numerous spots on defense.
That should change soon, if third-year Saints cornerback Corey White is to be believed. Without delving into too many details, White on Thursday said New Orleans’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan stressed in meetings prepping for the Vikings that “he’s going to do a better job of getting Bush on the field to make ... plays.”
“It doesn’t matter where you put him on the field — he is going to make a play,” White said of Bush, who’s accounted for an interception and three fumble recoveries since joining the Saints in 2012. “We didn’t keep him from Atlanta for no reason — of course he’s going to make plays for us.”
Saints coach Sean Payton echoed White’s words in a news conference and remarked that he expects Bush will rotate more onto a passing defense that had given up more yards (647) through two games in 2014 than any other team in the NFL.
“We’ve got to continue to look for ways to get him involved,” Payton said. “He’s an asset for us. ... I think (it’s important) making sure that your packages ... and your reps are set up where a guy like him can factor in.”
Bush didn’t deny it disappointed him to be excluded from all but a few defensive snaps in Week 2. He only said it was more disappointing to not get the victory.
Nonetheless, he added that there was no purpose in dwelling on it and preferred to focus on the opportunities awaiting him starting with the Vikings.
“Whenever my number is called, I just (want to) go out there and do what I have to do to do my job,” he said.