RB and LT By Committee

The Packers officially began life after Ryan Grant (at least for this season) on Sunday. Though the performance of their running game left a little to be desired, they went back to an old formula that might have to work should their current personnel remain the same.

The Packers offered up a glimpse on Sunday of what their running game might look like this season without Ryan Grant.

Running backs splitting carries.

A fullback playing halfback.

Tight ends playing fullback.

Rotating left tackles.

Mediocre production.

This was vintage Mike McCarthy 2006 and 2007, not 2010. But like they did back then, the Packers made it work, pulling away in the second half with an easy 34-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Lambeau Field.

Without seeing any film, McCarthy only offered up this immediate assessment of his rushing attack minus its No. 1 weapon: "I thought it was OK."

While Brandon Jackson (11 carries, 29 yards) made the start in place of the injured Grant, fullback John Kuhn split carries at running back, a position he practiced in the preseason as a backup plan. Kuhn finished with 36 yards on nine carries, both career highs. He had just 18 career carries in four NFL seasons prior to this one.

"I didn't have any expectations at all," said the 250-pound Kuhn. "I just wanted to be ready when my number was called."

Kuhn's team-leading 36 rushing yards was the lowest total in a Packers win in nearly three years. DeShawn Wynn led the team with 20 rushing yards in a win Sept. 30, 2007, at Minnesota. But that was before Grant broke onto the scene in his first season with the Packers, and now to move forward, the Packers are looking back.

"It's a little difficult when you use running back by committee," continued McCarthy on the assessment of his team's running game. "It's a little harder for those guys to get into the flow and I understand that. So, we'll continue to go that way and try to spread that ball around with the rush attempts."


Brandon Jackson does a Lambeau Leap after his first-quarter touchdown.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Clearly, the Packers' intent on Sunday was to test a Buffalo front seven that is much weaker than its back-line defenders. It started with second-year fullback Quinn Johnson getting his first start (Korey Hall was inactive). It continued with the Packers rolling out multiple tight end and run-blocking heavy formations. And it ended with atypical balance (29 pass attempts vs. 27 rush attempts) for an offense built for the pass.

Part of that game plan was to use multiple runners only days after Grant was lost for the season in Philadelphia. Three running backs and quarterback Aaron Rodgers combined for 91 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns.

"I don't think we're going to be jumping up and down when we watch the film tomorrow about our running game," said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. "I think there were some solid things that we did, but certainly we lacked the explosiveness that we had the other day in Philadelphia. And I don't think we had the consistency that we were looking for. So, I'm certainly not excited about what I saw. But maybe it's better than I think."

Rookie Dimitri Nance, signed by the Packers just five days ago off the Falcons' practice squad, got into the act, too, with a couple carries. But maybe the day's biggest surprise was the debut of rookie first-round pick Bryan Bulaga at left tackle.

"I couldn't really tell you specifically how he played," said McCarthy. "I know we had the one false start that I saw was a negative. We were able to stay with our game plan. We wanted to be a little more run heavy and play-action pass heavy not just with him in there. That was the course that we had set out there coming out in the tunnel there in the second half. From the production that we accomplished in the second half, I'd say he played pretty well."

That starting left tackle Chad Clifton departed late in the second quarter was partly for medical reasons, according to Philbin, but he did not appear to be hurting badly enough not to play. Though he experienced some swelling in his knee during the week, Clifton spent most of the second half standing with his helmet off watching from the sideline.

Bulaga, on the other hand, said he was given no indication during the week that he would play from scrimmage, yet found himself getting plenty of work, finishing off a game in which the Packers pulled away in the second half.

"I felt I had a good week of practice," said Bulaga. "I felt good with the game plan and everything. It was just a matter of getting the call. When I got it, I was ready to go."

Though the Packers' rushing totals varied little from half to half, by all indications, Bulaga made a solid debut. As for Jackson, making his first start since 2007, there remains room for improvement.

"Just attacking the hole more, just being more aggressive," he said. "It felt like I was just trying to read it out and just pace myself. I've got to come out with a better start.

"Being the starter, you have to move the ball down the field. It's very important that the running game gets off to a good start. The passing game, it was good all game, but as a running back, you want to move the ball and you have to move the ball down the field to get off to a great start."

Sunday was a new starting point for the Packers' running game. Bigger challenges lie ahead, with or without a collective effort.

"It was definitely part of the game plan," said Kuhn of the team's running back-by-committee approach. "Where it goes from here is anybody's guess. I don't want to speculate. But if they call on it again next week, we'll be ready."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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