When Cedric Benson made his regular-season Packers debut against San Francisco last week, he carried nine times for 18 yards. His longest run went for 4 yards, which he accomplished just once. Contrast that to Thursday night against Chicago, the team that drafted him fourth overall in 2005. Benson carried 20 times for 81 yards and added four receptions for 35 yards. Of his 24 touches, he gained at least 4 yards on 17 occasions — including 10 plays of at least 6 yards.
"The most important thing, for me, that was going through my mind this week was getting off to a good start and getting the run game going," Benson said after the game. "Most of the week, all week, running through my mind was getting this thing rolling on the ground and establishing the run game and just being successful on offense."
Benson provided an immediate spark, even though it wasn't evident on the scoreboard. By halftime, Benson had 45 rushing yards and 30 receiving yards. That gave him 75 yards from scrimmage compared to 47 for the entire Chicago offense.
"I think it was helpful for him to play in the game and to see it on film as to how the plays unfolded," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said on Friday. "We ran some similar plays in this game and his approach to running those plays was a little different and a little more in line with how it needs to be. He's still learning our offense and getting used to the blocking scheme. He made great improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 and hopefully he just continues to do that and is able to be as productive as he was last night."
Benson was signed midway through training camp so is still getting acclimated to the Packers' offense and the running style that's demanded in their scheme. In two preseason games, Benson carried 10 times. Combined with his nine carries against the 49ers, Benson got more carries against the Bears than his other three games combined.
As you'd expect, Benson's production started with the offensive line, which gouged the Bears' front seven after getting pushed around by San Francisco last week.
"All of them are prideful guys that want to do well," Clements said of the offensive line. "The line wants to do well, Cedric wants to run the ball well, and they made improvements from the week before, obviously."
Benson did his part, too, sometimes making something out of nothing and other times turning a good gain into a better gain by dragging defenders along for the ride. That's exactly what the Packers were looking for when they chose to bring in Benson rather than re-sign Ryan Grant.
"I thought Cedric is starting to look a lot more comfortable in our offense," coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. "I thought it was important to get him back with his toes at 7 (yards in the backfield) and play where he's played his whole life. Cedric Benson's one of those men that was put on this Earth to run the football. We've been doing some things with him out of the shotgun he doesn't have a ton of experience with and we'll continue to get better. But I definitely thought we made a step forward tonight."
The Bears' defensive plan is genius in its simplicity. In the secondary, they play their famed Tampa-2 scheme with two safeties playing deep to take away the long ball. With the safeties playing so deep, that invites the opponent to run the ball. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers recalled seeing the same two-deep scheme on 48 consecutive snaps in a game in 2007. On Thursday, Clements said the Bears played two-deep on about 95 percent of the snaps.
If defenses are going to put such an extreme focus on stopping the Rodgers, the Packers will need an effective counterpunch.
"We brought Cedric Benson in here because he's a very good football player that was available," McCarthy said on Friday. "I understand what the statistics were in the past, but it's important to run the ball, and he's getting better, he's getting more comfortable. I thought our line did a good job. We can do a better job up front, too, but our line's had two big challenges two weeks in a row. We'll get better. Cedric will be better."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.