Room For Improvement Part 3: Running Game

We continue our series on the areas the Packers' coaching staff is emphasizing this offseason. Can the Packers improve on a ground attack that got stuffed too often and broke into the clear too rarely? There are reasons for hope, and reasons for pessimism.

What can the Green Bay Packers' offense do for an encore after a record-setting 2011, and how can new offensive coordinator Tom Clements put his stamp on that prolific unit?

"We're going to try to be as good as we can be, and whatever that puts us (statistically), that's where it'll put us. Our goal, we don't have many statistical goals as an offense, but our goal as a team is to win the championship. To do that, we're going to have to be efficient on offense and be productive, be explosive, take care of the ball."

When asked by Packer Report to name a few areas of improvement, Clements pinpointed four areas. We bring them to you in this four-part series. Statistics are from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus.

If you missed Part 1 on limiting sacks CLICK HERE, and if you missed Part 2 on limiting giveaways CLICK HERE.

"Run the ball a little bit better"

The Packers ranked 27th in the league with 97.4 rushing yards per game and tied for 21st with eight carries of 20-plus yards. Those, however, are meaningless numbers. The Giants ranked last in the NFL in both categories and won the Super Bowl. It's a passing league, after all.

What matters most is the Packers' No. 26 ranking of 3.9 yards per carry. That's not a good number considering Aaron Rodgers, even with his kneeldowns, lifted that figure by averaging 4.3 yards per attempt.

The line needs to block better and the backs need to do a better job of gaining more than what's blocked.

As a team, the Packers ranked 21st in the league by converting 61 percent of the time on third- and fourth-and-2 or less, and running plays were stuffed (no gain or negative yardage) 21 percent of the time, a figure that ranked 24th. Of the running backs' 4.08 yards per carry, only 0.63 came in the open field, a No. 24 ranking that shows the line too often couldn't get the runners into the clear and the backs couldn't get run through or past the linebackers.

Individually, not only did James Starks rank 34th in yards after contract and Ryan Grant 36th, but Starks tied for 21st with 2.7 yards after contact per rush and Grant tied for 32nd at 2.5.

Reason for hope: The Packers have a promising right side of the line in tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard Josh Sitton. In terms of run blocking at their position, Sitton ranked fifth among guards and Bulaga third among tackles. However, because of injuries, they only played 10 games together. If those two can stay healthy, they can become a go-to combo.

"You expect them to be better because they're more familiar and they've played a lot of games together," offensive line coach James Campen said. "They've started to stack games on top of each other and that always bodes well when you've got line stunts and getting a feel for a guy."

Left guard T.J. Lang is coming off a solid first year as a starter and should be better, too.

Reason for pessimism: As we mentioned when we wrote about the unsigned Grant, the Packers do not have a "sure thing" in the backfield. Starks hasn't been healthy since his junior year at Buffalo. Alex Green is coming off a torn ACL. Brandon Saine entered the league as an undrafted free agent.

There isn't a dynamic runner in the bunch, which is partially by design because the Packers put a premium on north-south running ability to succeed on late-season playing fields. As much as fans crave a Darren Sproles type of back, shake-and-bake runners don't succeed on December skating rinks. However, Ahman Green and Dorsey Levens weren't dynamic runners, either, but they had the ability to beat a defender — or run him over — and the second gear to break away. Maybe that player emerges, but the Packers certainly can't count on it.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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