If you're not pulling for Saints running back Deuce McAllister as he attempts to return to the playing field after his second major knee injury in three years, you're either cold-hearted or a fan of one of the opposing teams in the NFC South.
During 2006, the only season in which he has played nearly a full slate of games over the past three seasons, he paired up with then-rookie Reggie Bush and rolled over opponents for 1,057 yards on the ground while scoring ten touchdowns.
The Saints won their division, defeated the Eagles in their first playoff matchup, and then came up just one victory short of earning their first trip to the Super Bowl after losing to the Bears in the Conference Championship game. Despite the loss, McAllister and the rest of the Saints organization headed into 2007 with high hopes and confidence.
Then, during Week 3 action, Deuce McAllister's 2007 season came to an abrupt end. As he rehabbed his damaged knee, the Saints hobbled through the rest of the season and ended up watching the playoffs from their homes after a 7–9 finish.
As a result, one of the questions quietly hanging in the air at the Saints' training camp is whether or not the McAllister-Bush tandem would be the best approach for the Saints offense this year — or whether it may be time to make take the leap and make their top-paid running back the featured back, bringing McAllister in only for spot duty.
Since 2002, his first season as a full-time starter, Deuce McAllister has posted a 4.3 yards-per-carry rushing average (82.2 yards rushing per game), scored 43 touchdowns, has moved the chains 20.3 percent of the time he's run the ball, and has accounted for 20.6 percent of the team's yards from scrimmage. Including his yardage as a receiver, he's rolled up 7,013 yards from scrimmage, averaging 103.1 yards per game and 4.7 yards per touch. The 29-year old veteran has averaged 7.7 touchdowns from scrimmage per season during that stretch.
Saints RB Deuce McAllister scores a touchdown during a playoff game against the Eagles on January 13, 2007.
AP Photo/Rob Carr
Before the Saints made Reggie Bush the second overall selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, McAllister suffered a knee injury that cut short his 2005 campaign. But as the featured back in New Orleans' offense in 2003 and 2004, McAllister averaged 4.4 yards per rush while carrying the ball 620 times for 2,715 yards in 30 regular-season games and caught 103 passes, averaging 7.2 yards per catch.
The versatile back's 3,459 scrimmage yards during the two seasons represented 31.3 percent of the team's total.
However, despite his 4.8 yards- per- touch average, 115.3 scrimmage yards per game and 17 touchdowns (an average of 9.5 per season), McAllister's team ended up with a 15–15 record during that span.
So how did Bush's addition in 2006 impact McAllister? The veteran played in 15 contests in 2006 and just three in 2007 before being sidelined by injury. Over the course of those 18 games, he provided more of the same strong results when it came to running the ball, posting a 4.3 yards-per-carry average while scoring 10 rushing touchdowns (which would equate to nine over a 16-game season). But instead of averaging 115.3 scrimmage yards per game, McAllister only recorded 75.7 yards per game as some of his previous rushing attempts and pass receptions shifted to the team's highly-heralded new rookie.
During the 28 regular-season games that Reggie Bush has played in so far, he's averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and has scored 10 times on the ground. But the former USC Trojan has stood out in the passing game, catching 161 passes, averaging 7.2 yards per catch and scoring four touchdowns.
With both players on the field from Sept 10, 2006 through Sept 24, 2007, they each got practically the same number of opportunities to touch the ball. McAllister had 302 touches from the line of scrimmage and averaged 4.5 yards per touch, powered by 1,149 rushing yards on 268 attempts and 213 yards receiving on 34 catches (6.3 yards per catch). He scored a total of ten touchdowns, all on the ground.
Meanwhile, Bush had 288 touches (just four less than the veteran) and averaged an even better 5.1 yards per touch. But his mix of pass receptions versus rushes was much higher, allowing him to have more touches on the move and in potentially less congested areas. He rushed for 645 yards on 184 attempts -- a lackluster 3.5 yards per carry -- but caught 104 passes for 812 yards (7.8 yards per catch). Like McAllister, he scored ten times, but eight of those scores came as a result of pass receptions. He averaged 76.7 scrimmage yards per game -- just one yard higher than McAllister.
Saints RB Reggie Bush shows off his moves during a 2007 preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
McAllister was responsible for 18.6 percent (1,362 yards) of the team's scrimmage yards, primarily on the ground, while Bush was responsible for 20.1 percent (1,466 yards), primarily as a result of catching passes and tacking on yards after the catch.
The team posted a 10–8 record during the games when both players were on the field.
After McAllister's 2007 knee injury in Week 3, the team had to rely on Bush to be the featured back the rest of the way. But after nine games, he had some nagging knee issues of his own and missed the last four games of the season.
Bush's average yards-per-touch naturally decreased as he took on more of the ground attack duties. Out of 185 touches from the line of scrimmage, 128 were running plays. While the second-year back saw his rushing average increase a bit to 3.9 yards per carry from his previous 3.5 yards, his passing game numbers inexplicably dropped from 7.8 yards to 6.1 yards per catch. Bush finished the nine-game stretch with 4.6 scrimmage yards per touch -- which compares favorably to McAllister's 4.5 average. He averaged a respectable 94.2 yards per game as the leading man, but he scored just four touchdowns. Over a 16-game season, that would have resulted in just seven total touchdowns. During that nine-game stretch, Bush provided 24.9 percent of the team's yards from scrimmage and the team won five games while losing four others.
So what's it all mean?
For 2008, if McAllister can return and be as effective in the ground attack as he was during the tandem's first 18 games together, it certainly appears to help the Saints offense. His presence helps Bush concentrate on doing what he's been best at since crossing over into the pro ranks -- catching the football and making people miss in the open field. But New Orleans has to increase the younger player's rushing workload this season to help him find his groove, or they may never get the full value out of the substantial investment they've made in Bush.
More on Bush
During his first two seasons, Reggie Bush has a higher career rushing average of 3.9 yards per carry as a member of the away team versus just 3.5 yards per carry at home. But he's scored eight of his ten touchdowns at home and has only fumbled twice at home versus seven times on the road ... The former first-round pick has 31 runs of 10-plus yards, but 21 of them have occurred during away games ... Bush has a 4.0 rushing average on artificial turf, but just 3.0 on grass. And he has averaged just 2.4 yards per carry in games when the temperature has been 81 degrees or higher. Go figure. Wasn't it hot out in California? ... He's gotten better results to date during the first half of games, averaging 4.3 yards per rush versus 2.9 in the second half ... Bush has had the best success running left, but especially wide left, outside the tackle with a 4.3-yards per carry average.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.
Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2008 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.