Run Game Remains Packers' Offseason Focus

Never mind Bryan Bulaga protecting Aaron Rodgers' blind side. The statistics show the Packers fielded one of the worst left-side running attacks in the league last season. With Bulaga at left tackle and the addition of two talented backs, the Packers have continued their evolution.

Aaron Rodgers will have a new blind-side protector with Bryan Bulaga having replaced Marshall Newhouse at left tackle.

That, however, is not the real story. Say what you want about Newhouse, but the Packers went 23-6 and averaged 27.7 points per game with him in the starting lineup. Rodgers threw 77 touchdown passes and just 13 interceptions in those games. That ratio of 5.92 touchdowns per interceptions is better than Rodgers' 4.44-to-1 mark from 2009 through 2012.

No, just like the draft was about the running game, this move was about the running game, too.

While the passing game was fine with Newhouse at left tackle, the running game was a continued sore spot. Newhouse has the feet for continued growth in pass protection. He went from 57th out of 58 offensive tackles in ProFootballFocus.com's pass blocking efficiency metric in 2011 to 32nd out of 52 tackles in 2012. However, he simply doesn't have the power or the attitude to be a consistent asset in the run game.

Just look at these stats from the NFL's media-only statistics site, which show the night-and-day difference between runs to the left side and right side.

On runs around left end, the Packers averaged 4.49 yards per carry, 26th in the league. On runs around right end, they averaged 5.27 yards, 17th in the league.

On runs off left tackle, the Packers averaged 2.34 yards per carry, worst in the league. On runs off right tackle, the Packers averaged 3.20 yards per carry, 28th in the league.

On runs off left guard, the Packers averaged 3.89 yards per carry, good for 15th. On runs off right guard, the Packers averaged 4.89, good for seventh.

The difference was 0.78 yards on runs around end, 0.86 off right tackle and 1.00 off right guard. That's dramatic, but not quite as dramatic as in 2011. While the run game was more effective around left end by 1.11 yards per attempt in 2011, the Packers gained 1.16 yards more attempt off right tackle vs. left tackle and a whopping 3.08 yards more attempt off right guard vs. left guard.

With the position changes and new running backs, the Packers are poised to have a top-shelf running game for the first time since Ahman Green was setting records almost a decade ago.

According to Pro Football Focus, Newhouse was the worst run-blocking offensive tackle in the league and Jeff Saturday was the worst run-blocking center.

By moving Bulaga, the Packers have a vastly improved run blocker on the left side, and Evan Dietrich-Smith proved to be an enormous upgrade in the run game over the past-his-prime Saturday. That leaves right tackle, where the Packers have to replace Bulaga. Coach Mike McCarthy said Newhouse and Don Barclay would compete for the job, with Derek Sherrod joining them once he's fully recovered from the broken leg that cost him all of his second season in the league. Barclay immediately impressed in the run game when thrust into action last season. Sherrod was more of an athletic blocker at Mississippi State but had a reputation for going to the whistle.

For the past two seasons, McCarthy has been riding the record-setting right arm of Rodgers. It resulted in some ridiculous numbers but it didn't result in a Super Bowl. When the Packers won the championship in 2010, Rodgers was sensational but it was James Starks' emergence that made all the difference.

McCarthy tried to build a run game during the second half of last season. He ran the ball about as much as any team in the league but didn't get much production to show for it. Now, McCarthy has an arsenal of backs to choose from and an offensive line up for the challenge.

For all of Rodgers' statistical brilliance the past two seasons, he hasn't been able to routinely overcome a bad run game and a subpar defense in the biggest of games. In essence, either Rodgers won the game or the Packers lost. Now, the hope is the Packers have one more way to win a game. They potentially can destroy defenses fixated on Rodgers. They can run out the clock. They can keep their defense off the field. A running team, by extension, is a physical team.

With these changes, Green Bay unquestionably is a better team today than it was on Jan. 12 at San Francisco.


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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