Running Mentality Has Big Picture in Mind

Last year's record-setting passing attack didn't mean a darned thing in the playoffs and spurred a different mind-set on offense. That's been especially apparent during the last five games, when the Packers are running the ball as much as any team in the league.

In the span of a season, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has gone from Air Coryell to Ground Chuck.

If you're not an old-school football fan, Don Coryell was the architect of the high-flying Chargers offenses of 30 years ago. Coaching in the same era, Chuck Knox's offenses were defined by their reliance on the running game.

McCarthy's offense has made an astounding transition this season, in general, and over the last five weeks, in particular.

Even with MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers pulling the strings on offense, the Packers are relying on the run more than ever under McCarthy and about as much as any team in the league.

Get a load of these numbers:

— The Packers are running the ball 42.0 percent of the time this season, the 16th-highest rate in the league. During McCarthy's seven years, the Packers ranked 17th in run percentage in 2008, 19th in 2010 and 22nd or lower every other season.

— During the first eight games, the Packers ran the ball 37.4 percent of the time.

— During the last five games, the Packers have run the ball a jaw-dropping 49.7 percent of the time. Had that been the team's run percentage for a full season, Green Bay would rank fourth.

Asked after the Minnesota game last week about the team's presumed change of offensive philosophy, McCarthy chided this reporter to "get more sleep."

Nonetheless, it's worth wondering if McCarthy and his offensive coaching staff concluded during the offseason that they'd have to run the ball better to give themselves the best chance of success in the playoffs, when Mother Nature and a strong pass defense could combine to handcuff Rodgers and his receivers.

"I wouldn't say we changed the philosophy," McCarthy said on Monday after the Packers almost got as many rushing yards (140) as passing yards (148) in beating Detroit. "Trust me, we would love to be scoring as many points, especially with the abilities of Aaron Rodgers. The dynamics of our football team changed. The way our season ended, it changes the way you think, whether you want to agree with it or not. The most important part of our offseason study was how we're going to be a better, well-rounded team."

To that end, the Packers' offense isn't nearly as good this year as last year, with their scoring averages going from a top-ranked 35.0 in 2011 to a 10th-ranked 24.8 this season.

But, maybe the offense will be better suited for the playoffs, with McCarthy having a more diversified arsenal at his disposal to attack a defense's weaknesses or survive should the weather be too cold, too windy or too wet to throw the ball effectively.

"That's kind of the thought every year," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said when asked about the staff's mind-set during the offseason. "When the weather gets bad, you can't always throw the ball the way you'd like. You have to be able to run the ball. We thought about that last year and we're thinking about it again this year."

The Packers' emphasis on the run game might have had a big-picture focus, starting with the signing of Cedric Benson in training camp, but it's also a practical matter. Defenses have employed a heavy dose of Cover-2 to take away the Packers' big-play passing attack. The best way to beat Cover-2 is to run the ball and get one of the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage.

Of course, there's no guarantee the defense will bring up a safety. The Lions didn't bite, even with the Packers running it on seven consecutive plays on the way to the winning touchdown. If the Packers are going to win when it counts, they're going to have to run the ball against defenses that are focusing on the passing game.

"It shows we have the ability to move the ball running," Clements said of Sunday night's winning drive. "The more a team has to defend against, the better it is for the offensive team, so if they have to defend against different types of runs and different types of play-actions off of those runs, and dropback passes and all the things we do, it's helpful."

For Rodgers, the only thing that matters is winning. The Packers went 15-1 last season while setting a bunch of offensive records. Then the Giants came to town and the season was over in a flash.

"We have put up a ton of numbers here, individually and as a team, and those are all fine and great," Rodgers told Jason Wilde on the quarterback's weekly radio show for ESPN Milwaukee. "The most important thing is wins and championships and it doesn't matter how you're doing it.

"We want to put ourselves in a position to be in the playoffs and make a run and however we get the job down. If you look at the run from 2010, we had a big running game against Philly, we exploded in the passing game against Atlanta, the defense played great against Chicago — it was kind of one of those ugly wins — (and) in the Super Bowl, we moved the ball pretty effectively through the air. So, it's not always going to be throwing 350 yards a game or being super flashy and throwing the ball all over the place. It's whatever it takes to win."

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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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