RENTON - Are the New Orleans Saints really going to rely on Julius Jones to lead their rushing attack against the Seattle Seahawks in Saturday's NFC wild card playoff game at Qwest Field?
The same Julius Jones the Seahawks washed their hands of in October by releasing him after trading for Marshawn Lynch?
Yes, that Julius Jones. But the reason for his use is one of attrition rather than ascension.
On Tuesday, New Orleans put leading rusher Chris Ivory (716 yards, 5 TDs) on the injured reserve list with a foot injury, ending his season. On Wednesday, the Saints also put Pierre Thomas, who led them in rushing last season, on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Suddenly, the Saints’ running back corps consists of Reggie Bush, who serves as more of an all-purpose back rather than a feature tailback; Jones, who was picked up a few weeks after the Seahawks let him go; and DeShawn Wynn and Joique Bell, both signed in the past few days.
“It’s tough,” quarterback Drew Brees said of the missing players in his weekly meeting with the media. “You can’t deny that because of the physical presence that they bring and their productivity.”
So, are the Seattle Seahawks celebrating the absence of those two dangerous runners? After all, Ivory, a one-time Washington State running back, had 99 yards rushing and a touchdown in the Saints’s 34-19 win over the Seahawks this season.
“It’s not like we’re sitting here popping champagne because those two guys are gone,” Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy said. “They still have Drew Brees. They have enough options.”
Following Saints coach Sean Payton’s “next man up” philosophy, Jones might get the bulk of the carries. Payton wouldn’t confirm that.
“I wouldn’t assume that,” Payton said. But he does trust Jones.
“I was in Dallas when we drafted him, so I’m familiar with the player,” Payton said. “He’s filled in in a real good role for us. I think he’s smart. He’s someone that typically does the right thing. And the other thing is he’s healthy.”
Jones has played sparingly for the Saints – 48 carries for 193 yards in 10 games.
“From a repetition standpoint, he’s gotten X number of carries and plays, but not too many,” Payton said. “What’s most important now in a short week for both teams is being rested both physically and mentally and prepared to play in this game. I know he will be.”
Brees also has plenty of confidence in Jones.
“Julius has been here long enough and has played enough football that he is a veteran and a pro,” Brees said. “He knows what he is doing.”
It’s likely that Jones would love nothing more than to return to Seattle and show the Seahawks and their fans that he wasn’t a free-agent bust for them.
“You know Julius is going to come in with a chip on his shoulder,” Milloy said.
But with New Orleans, the offense starts with Brees and the passing attack. The run game seems to be more of a complement to keep defenses honest.
“They set the standard for offense, starting with their quarterback,” Milloy said. “Sean Payton is an offensive guru, and they have all the pieces to make it go.”
Perhaps the most intriguing presence is Bush, who didn’t play in the regular season meeting between the teams. He was recovering from a broken leg and was expected to play, but the Saints chose to hold him out at the last minute.
“He is an unusually gifted football player,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who coached Bush at USC. “No matter who watches film, you are going to say, ‘We gotta do something here because he can do this, this and this.’ ”
Payton likes to use Bush in a variety of ways, particularly on screen passes, to get Bush in the open field.
“He has his own kind of boundaries of things he does that you need to understand or he’ll leave you in the dust,” Carroll said.
Seahawks fans may remember Bush and the Saints coming to Qwest in 2007 for a Sunday night game. In that game, Bush rushed 19 times for 99 yards and caught six passes for 44 yards in a 28-17 New Orleans victory.
“Reggie is as healthy as he’s been pretty much all year now,” Saints receiver Lance Moore said. “I think it’s a good situation for him to be able to get more touches, and the other guys to step up and make some plays.”
And Bush has a knack for doing just that in the playoffs.
“Whenever the lights come on in a big situation, I think he tries to kick it up a notch,” Brees said. “For him, I think it is important to play within himself and not try to do too much. Coming off that injury, I am starting to see him at full go.”
The Saints have dealt with injuries most of the season. So another week isn’t going to put them in a panic.
“Certainly, we are going to miss Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas,” Brees said. “In the end, you just work to the strengths of the guys that you have. You don’t worry about what you don’t have, just what you have. While you would love to have all of the guys and all of the elements that they bring, I feel like Reggie Bush can do some pretty special stuff, and Julius Jones can do some pretty special stuff.”
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org