Much of Lions' success stems from Bush's receiving ability

Mark Kaboly
| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 9:57 p.m.

Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson must have thought he was covering a punt instead of running a pass route.

At some point during the previous two seasons, Johnson faced what he called “gunner-like” coverage.

“It's two corners or two defensive players on you right on the line of scrimmage,” Johnson said.

Whether it was double-teaming Johnson at the line of scrimmage, employing two high safeties or rolling a safety to his side, teams have tried exotic defenses to try to slow down Johnson.

Teams were willing to risk leaving the middle of the field open.

Not anymore.

Detroit invested $16 million during the offseason on Reggie Bush with the hopes of attacking the middle of the field, and they've done so with the “strong left shotgun 3-wide delay middle screen.”

The play went for a 77-yard touchdown during the first game Bush played for the Lions.

Bush is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has 34 receptions for 334 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, all but one of his catches were less than 10 yards down the field, and 18 have come in between the hash marks.

“This guy is a running back who legitimately operates as a receiver with receiver-like skills,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

The “strong left shotgun 3 wide delay middle screen” is one of the Lions' most successful plays.

They come out in 11 personnel: one tight end, one running back, three wide receivers. The strong side of the formation is to the left, with tight end Brandon Pettigrew at the end of the line, Johnson in the slot and Kris Durham lined up to the far sidelines. Receiver Kevin Ogletree is split wide to the right. Bush is set behind right tackle Jason Fox to the right of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is in the shotgun.

At the snap, the receivers run off their defenders with Johnson usually responsible for taking up two. With Johnson requiring safety help over the top, space is created underneath for Bush to operate, typically against linebackers.

The interior linemen — guards Rob Sims and Larry Warford along with center Dominic Raiola — are the key to the play. They let their blocks go almost immediately after initial contact to block down the field.

Warford picks off the inside linebacker responsible for Bush out of the backfield, while Raiola and Sims head down the middle of the field taking out any remaining defenders.

Bush will take a couple of hops to his right at the snap to get around the rushing defensive end. Stafford makes a quick throw to Bush darting to the middle of the field, where he has blockers and space.

As a variation, the Lions also have run the middle screen with Bush out of the slot.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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