Break It Down: Michael Bush torches Chargers
In Break It Down, I will go back and analyze the Xs and Os of a notable play or performance.
Bonus Thursday night football means (at least for this week) a bonus session of “Break it down.”
In the spotlight for this edition is Michael Bush. All he did for the Raiders Thursday was replace the injured Darren McFadden in the starting lineup and turn in a single-game franchise record 242 yards from scrimmage.
It was far from an individual effort, though. Oakland came out from the opening gun trying to punish San Diego physically and that, coupled with a terrific Carson Palmer performance (at least for three quarters), left the Chargers’ defense reeling.
Bush’s first carry, on an Oakland three-and-out to start the game, went for no yards. He broke loose for 44 the next time he touched the ball, though, setting the table for the rest of his night. On the play the Raiders came out in a run-first formation, with two tight ends overloaded to the left.
Oakland showed this formation repeatedly Thursday night.
The Raiders simply manhandled San Diego on this particular play, with guard Cooper Carlisle pulling to his left and fullback Marcel Reece leading Bush through a gaping hole.
Bush sets up his blockers nicely, waiting for Reece to hit the hole first. But for the most part, this is just Oakland executing a play to perfection with a little help from San Diego’s defense, which over-pursued to the wrong spots.
We saw plenty of what Bush can do throughout the night, too. Later in the first quarter, with Oakland down 3-0, the Raiders turned things over to their running back.
On a drive that ended with a Bush 2-yard TD plunge, Oakland handed off to its newest star on nine of 11 plays. One of those runs, a 9-yard pickup on 1st-and-10 from the San Diego 22, gave us a pretty good look at Bush’s skill set.
This is how the scene set up as Bush took the handoff from Palmer:
At first glance that play seems destined to lose yardage. Bush, though, scouts out a narrow opening in the onrushing attack, then manages to keep his balance through a couple of knocks.
Somehow, he squeezes his way through the line for a 9-yard gain.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock mentioned multiple times Thursday night that Bush doesn’t possess the breakaway speed McFadden does. What he brings to the table instead is the thunder to McFadden’s lightning — he’s a sturdy ball carrier who can get up between the tackles, punish defenders and also turn in some big plays as a pass-catcher.
The Raiders took advantage of that final attribute on multiple occasions vs. the Chargers, specifically with a pair of screen passes that helped turn the game in Oakland’s favor.
The first came late in the first half, with the Raiders up 10-3 and trying to get into field-goal range before the break. On 1st-and-10 from its own 44, Oakland called a screen to Bush.
This is what he was looking at when he caught the ball:
Nothing but green grass and blockers. Bush turned upfield and picked up 23 yards without having to do much of anything. Oakland scored a touchdown on the next play, as Palmer found Denarius Moore over the middle.
San Diego rallied back to 17-10 early in the third quarter, then pinned Oakland back in its own territory. Facing 3rd-and-9 from their own 16, the Raiders utilized the screen pass well again, and just like the first time, it worked to perfection.
San Diego brought a blitz and five defenders came after Palmer. Bush found himself all alone for another easy reception.
The blocking and setup on Bush’s second big screen play was even more absurd than on the first.
Oakland ran a tight end and two receivers to Palmer’s left, where they were covered by four San Diego defenders. Add in the five players rushing the passer and that’s nine Chargers either too far upfield to defend the screen or on the opposite side of the field.
Here’s the result:
Are you kidding me?
It’s actually kind of amazing this play did not turn into a touchdown — which harkens back to Mayock’s assessment of Bush’s average speed. Still, the Raiders outguessed and outexecuted San Diego again here.
This could not have happened without one big factor: Palmer throwing the ball well. San Diego had its hands full stopping Bush on the ground, but with Palmer carrying a perfect passer rating into the third quarter, the Chargers had to respect the pass, especially in situations like this 3rd-and-9.
Had Palmer played like he did in his first two Oakland appearances, the Chargers could have turned much more attention to Bush. Instead, San Diego had to throw darts and hope something hit.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, this was Bush’s night. And to close, another example of his potential as a running back.
In the fourth quarter, with Oakland clinging to a 24-17 lead, San Diego pushed the Raiders into a 3rd-and-2 at the Chargers’ 48. Bush got the nod on a handoff. As had been the case over and over again, Oakland slammed San Diego’s front at the point of attack, giving Bush room.
This time, he had multiple lanes to go through — he picked the backside one to his left, between the slanting San Diego defenders.
He didn’t get hit until about 20 yards downfield, and didn’t get tackled until he had gained 30. Palmer threw an interception on the Raiders’ next play, but that did nothing to take away from what Bush showed here.
Bush will be a free agent after the season, and with each impressive carry or catch, he’s driving his price tag up. But he also is proving that he is capable of being a No. 1 back, whether it’s in Oakland or elsewhere.
The Raiders are just happy they had him Thursday.