That first taste of winter served as a stark reminder that it's December, and the days of benign 50-, 60- and 70-degree days are history. For as good as the Packers are at throwing the ball — and with a roster that has been built to throw the ball — odds are the weather at some point is going to dictate the Packers run the ball, whether it's Sunday against San Francisco or their final three games at New England and home against the Giants and Bears.
The last two games haven't been real encouraging.
"A runner haven't averaged over 3 yards a carry in the last two games. That's an issue. That's not good," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said on Monday.
At Minnesota, the running backs (Brandon Jackson and Dimitri Nance) rushed 26 times for 65 yards. At Atlanta, the backs rushed 11 times for 26 yards. Added together, that's 37 carries for 96 yards — a god-awful 2.46 yards per attempt.
The early forecast for Sunday calls for a high of 28 and partly cloudy skies. So, assuming that forecast holds true, the weather shouldn't be a factor as coach Mike McCarthy schemes against a 49ers defense that ranks sixth against the run and 24th against the pass.
"Wind to me is always the challenge in the game because bad weather, you can easily make the argument that the advantage goes to the passing team because you know where you are going and so forth," McCarthy said on Wednesday. "When you say bad weather, there is different levels as we know playing in Green Bay, Wisconsin. But in the coldest games, you go back to the NFC Championship Game, I didn't think the ability to throw was a factor that day. So, if you can throw the ball on that evening, I think you can throw it at any time outside of the wind games."
That's all well and good, but what if it is windy? What if there are 4 minutes remaining and the Packers need to run for two first downs to end the game? Can a team with championship aspirations run the ball when it needs to run the ball with a playoff berth — or something more — is on the line?
To a man, the feeling is they will be able to run the ball. For all of the naysayers who point out that neither Jackson nor Nance are real electric with the ball, the same was said about Edgar Bennett about 15 years ago. But when the weather was bad, Bennett was at his best. Jackson and Nance are that same kind of runner in terms of build and style. Jackson and Nance have powerful lower bodies and neither rely on shake-and-bake moves to gain yards. That style should pay dividends if and when the surface is slick.
Nowhere to run for Jackson
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
"We're going to start this Sunday," Campen said. "That's exactly where we're going. We're going to improve in our fundamentals and put out a different product against the 49ers. That's our goal and our objective. Most times we've been challenged like that, these players have responded. I fully expect to be better than what we showed."
Whether it was his tackles getting beaten by upfield charges or his interior blockers allowing penetration or failing to get movement — or missed blocks by the tight ends or receivers — Jackson generally had nowhere to run early in the game. Because of that lack of early success, McCarthy couldn't resist throwing it against a Falcons secondary that couldn't match up with his receivers.
As Philbin put it, "It's a little bit of the chicken and the egg. I think you'd feel a little better calling some of those runs if the initial ones were coming out a little cleaner."
Jackson had received between 12 and 15 carries in each of the last five games but was frustrated with only 10 attempts on Sunday. But guard Josh Sitton didn't buy the theory that the run game needs frequent reps to get into a groove.
"I don't think it's that difficult. I think that when a run is called, we've got to be able to execute," he said on Wednesday. "If anything, it should make it easier. We throw the ball so damn much, so I think we should be able to execute whenever a run's called. Everybody knows we're a throw-the-ball first team. Mike's got to be able to trust us to call a run, so we've got to be able to execute whenever he calls it."
Speaking in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday, 49ers coach Mike Singletary sounded like he fully expected the Packers to come out throwing it on Sunday, with McCarthy putting the ball in the hands of his best players.
Still, Packers have to run the ball better. That's the expectation, and fortunately for the Packers, those expectations aren't high.
"I think when it's second-and-4, you'd like to get a first down. Second-and-1, you can't lose 6," Philbin said. "Two explosives a game would be good. (Against Atlanta), we had one, Minnesota we didn't have any. So I think you've got to get a couple explosive runs a game. I think you've got to be able to run it when you have to run it. I thought we had one excellent short-yardage run. We had a 12-yard run, it was blocked well, it was kind of the way you draw it up. And we had some others that weren't quite as good. More consistency, we've got to eliminate the negative-yardage plays and get that production. I haven't sat down and said, ‘We need 22 run plays that average 4.4 yards a carry.' I haven't thought about that detailed. But it's safe to say, we've got to get more."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.