Left Side Powers Improved Run Game

Other than the record-setting 2003 ground attack, the Packers haven't run the ball this well in more than three decades. One of the major reasons is the play of the left-side tandem of rookie tackle David Bakhtiari and Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton.

When the Green Bay Packers needed to clinch Sunday's victory at Baltimore, they handed the ball to Eddie Lacy, who ran around left end for 4 yards and a nail-in-the-coffin first down.

Whatever the direction, the Packers are running the ball at levels not seen in years. In fact, outside of 2003, when the Packers rushed for a franchise-record 2,558 yards and averaged 159.9 yards per game, they haven't run the ball like this in three decades. This year's team is on pace for 2,253 rushing yards and 140.8 rushing yards per game. Taking 2003 out of the equation, when was the last time the Packers ran the ball like this? That would be 1971 through 1973, when they averaged 140.1 to 159.2 rushing yards per game as John Brockington was joined by Donny Anderson (1971) and MacArthur Lane (1972, 1973), and the Glory Years, when the Packers averaged between 160.6 (1963) and 195.8 (1961) rushing yards per game from 1960 through 1965.

Those left-side runs have powered the Packers' offensive reinvention.

According to data from the league's media-only Web site, Green Bay leads the league with 10.85 yards per carry around left end, is fourth with 5.24 yards per carry off left tackle and is first with 7.21 yards per carry behind left guard.

The improvement is equal parts personnel and preparation.

While rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari has had his predictable moments of inconsistent play, he's been an enormous upgrade in the run game. Last year, when Marshall Newhouse manned left tackle, Green Bay ranked 26th in runs at left end (4.49 average), 32nd at left tackle (2.34) and 15th at left guard (3.89).

"I don't think you can single out one person," offensive line coach James Campen said recently.

"You have to take into account (that) a play ends up over here doesn't mean that the play was designed to go here," Campen continued. "Certainly, if you're asking me if David does a good job run blocking, yeah, he does. Are we better because of him there? I think we're just better as a unit and we're still growing into becoming a good run-blocking unit and a good running team. It's a combination of everything. It's not just one single guy."

That, of course, is true. During the offseason, coach Mike McCarthy made the unusual decision of sending the right side of his line (tackle Bryan Bulaga and Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton) to the left side (with guard T.J. Lang and tackle Newhouse going to the right). When Bulaga went down with a torn ACL, Bakhtiari stepped in and has played exceedingly well.

On Sunday, with the Packers needing one final first down to put the game away, quarterback Aaron Rodgers changed a right-side run to the left side. The key block had Bakhtiari going up against Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs. Bakhtiari sustained his block long enough for Lacy to get around the corner for the necessary yardage.

"He's played very well," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "He played against a good opponent yesterday, Suggs. Sometimes Suggs won, sometimes David won. You know, he didn't give up any sacks and it was good to see him compete against a guy of his caliber. He's very good fundamentally both in the run and the pass and he gets the job done and so we're happy with where he is."

Green Bay has run the ball well, regardless of direction, though the left-side numbers are markedly better According to the league, it's ranked ninth up the middle (4.90 average), 31st at right guard (0.56), 14th at right tackle (4.00 average) and 26th at right end (3.73). The right guard number should come with an asterisk. That includes, strangely, a loss of 70 yards for Johnathan Franklin's fumble against Cincinnati. Officially, Franklin was given 0 yards. That would bump up the team's average to 3.50 yards per carry and its ranking to 20th, according to the league.

Along with the upgrades at left tackle, right tackle (with Don Barclay beating out Newhouse) and in the backfield, the improved run game is a byproduct of an increased focus during training camp and into the season.

"We've added two talented runners (Lacy and Franklin, and) James Starks had his best training camp," McCarthy said. "The schemes have been adjusted. I just think there's some growth there. You could see it when we got together in the spring. It was exciting once we got in pads in training camp. Frankly, we just gave you honest answers. I think you could see it coming. More importantly, it is part of who we are, especially losing two starting receivers this past week. I'm happy where the run game is, but I'm excited about where it can go. It's just like everything in this game. You're never satisfied. You're always looking to improve, and there's things that we have laid out for the run game that we haven't really tapped into yet. That's exciting also."

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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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