Production a key for Packers running game
With the reigning NFL MVP at quarterback, the Green Bay Packers
are never going to be a pound-it-out, run-first operation.
Opposing defenses insist on playing their safeties deep in
cover-2 schemes, a tactic meant to take away the Packers’ downfield
passing game while daring them to run. So the party line that the
success of the Green Bay running game is measured more on the
quantity of the runs than the quality is no longer valid.
Says who? Quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
”I think we all have to admit here that it’s about the
production,” Rodgers said on his radio show earlier this week.
”It’s a nice thing to say, that it’s about the quantity not the
quality, but who are we kidding here? It’s about the
Coming off one of their most productive performances on the
ground this season, when Alex Green had 12 carries for 58 yards and
James Starks 15 for 66 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown against
Minnesota, the Packers are looking to keep the momentum going
Sunday night against Detroit.
But they’ve sustained another backfield injury.
Already without workhorse Cedric Benson, now done for the year
after his Oct. 7 foot injury required season-ending surgery last
week, coach Mike McCarthy expects Starks to be out ”multiple
weeks” with the knee he injured last Sunday. The team signed
veteran Ryan Grant, the franchise’s fifth-leading rusher, on
With Grant having spent most of the year out of football, save
for a one-month tour with the Redskins that ended Oct. 23, Green
will again get a chance to be the go-to guy, a role he’s held and
relinquished multiple times this season.
”Whatever role they have for me, I’m ready for it,” Green said
Thursday. ”I’m confident. I have no doubt whatsoever. I’m ready to
”I think early on, it was all new. To be able to sit back the
last couple weeks, split carries with Starks, it was definitely
good for me, to kind of take it slow a little bit. Now, I feel
confident and ready to go.”
While Benson was healthy, Green, whose rookie season ended with
a major knee injury last year, carried just two times in the first
four games. He dressed for two of those games without seeing any
But after Benson’s injury at Indianapolis on Oct. 7, Green
assumed the starting job and had three straight games with 20 or
more attempts. In those three games, he rushed 64 times for just
154 yards, a 2.4-yard average, before Starks emerged as an
Against Jacksonville, Green carried 22 times for 54 yards while
Starks had one carry for 8 yards. The next week, against Arizona,
Starks had 17 carries for 61 yards and Green had 11 for 53. Then at
Detroit, Starks carried 25 times for 74 yards and Green didn’t get
a single carry.
Against the Giants, Green carried 10 times for 30 yards and
Starks had eight attempts for 35 yards.
Because Grant has played so little this season, McCarthy said
Green ”has to” be ready to carry the load. But long term, running
backs coach Alex Van Pelt said the plan is to integrate Grant as
”It would be unfair to him to put him in there and give him a
ton of carries in this game and expect him to do a lot and step in
and not miss a beat,” Van Pelt said of Grant. ”There’s obviously
some rust to knock off after coming off of a break from football.
The best part about it is he’s done it before. He’s been productive
in the past. He’s helped win big games here with the same
”(Green) will obviously carry the majority of the load and
(we’ll) spot him with Ryan. Alex seems to run best when he is mixed
in. You look at statistically when he is sharing reps, his run
average is a lot higher. He’s fresher. As ready as Ryan might be,
we’ve got to monitor where we are with Alex. If we feel like he
needs a (break) for a couple plays, then Ryan will be the next guy
Whoever is in the backfield, the Packers need more
”That’s always the key thing – keep the defense honest, have a
balanced offense,” Green said. ”It’s always great for a team like
ours, that has a great quarterback and everyone knows it, to have a
running game. Running the ball is definitely going to be important
The league’s highest-scoring team a year ago at 35 points per
game with 63 offensive touchdowns isn’t scoring at the same clip.
The Packers enter Sunday night averaging 24.7 points and with 33
offensive touchdowns (three rushing, 30 passing), putting them on
pace for only 44.
According to Van Pelt, much of that drop off can be attributed
to cover-2 defenses waiting for the Packers to run the ball
effectively. When the Packers did so against the Vikings last week,
Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier was forced to bring one of his
safeties down to provide run support.
”If you can run the ball effectively, you change the structure
of the defensive shell. You’ve got to make them fear it and bring
somebody down in the box to stop it, and that’s when you take
advantage with the pass game,” Van Pelt said.
”You can run it as much as you want, but if you’re getting 1
yard per carry, 2 yards per carry, they’re going to stay in a
two-shell and make you continue to run it. You have to be
successful and productive when you do get the opportunities.”
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