Sputtering Running Game Commands Respect

The numbers might not be pretty but, as Chicago's defensive game plan showed, it's a unit to be feared. And that plays right into the hands of Aaron Rodgers, as the stats showed on Sunday. (David Banks/Getty Images)

Relax.

The same proclamation famously made by Aaron Rodgers about the Green Bay Packers’ offense as a whole after last week’s loss to Detroit apparently applies to the dormant running game, as well.

Through four games, the Packers are averaging 73.0 rushing yards per game and 3.52 yards per rushing attempt. Those numbers rank 28th and 26th, respectively.

Compare that to last season. The Packers averaged a seventh-ranked 133.5 rushing yards per game and a fourth-ranked 4.65 yards per attempt.

That’s a difference of 60.5 yards per game and 1.13 yards per carry, and Eddie Lacy’s four-game total of 161 rushing yards is barely more than his 150-yard game against Chicago on Nov. 4, 2013.

Both of those facts should be signaling some alarm bells.

But they’re not.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our run game,” fullback John Kuhn said on Monday. “We’re winning football games. We’re 2-2 right now. Obviously, when you’re throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns and you only have 47 plays in a game, you have to pull stats away from somewhere else. If you want to dig at our offense — we scored 38 points. We’re happy with that production.”

Apparently, the Packers’ running game was so powerful last season that it’s moving the pile, so to speak, this season.

For instance, Green Bay’s run game crushed the Bears last season. In the game in which Aaron Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone on the first series, Green Bay rushed for 199 yards. In the Week 17 rematch, the Packers rushed for 160 yards.

Fearful of a replay of that onslaught, Bears coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker continually played to take away Lacy. That’s evident from watching the game, with the Bears frequently having one more defender in the box than the Packers had blockers. It’s also evident from the personnel tallies. Of Green Bay’s 52 offensive plays, they had three receivers on the field for 37 of them (71 percent). Chicago, however, used nickel personnel (three corners) on only 28 snaps (54 percent).

The strategy worked, in one regard. Lacy was limited to 48 yards and 2.8 yards per attempt on his 17 carries. However, the Bears paid a steep price. Aaron Rodgers’ dissected Chicago’s secondary to the tune of 22-of-28 accuracy for 302 yards and four touchdowns.

“Chicago brought an extra guy down into the box all the time,” receiver Jordy Nelson said on Monday. “There’s no reason to beat our head against the wall and try to run it when we have matchups outside and that’s what the numbers give you. Until the defense goes back to the Tampa-2 stuff that we’ve seen in the past, we’ll continue to adjust to what they’re doing.”

Frequently, it looked unbelievably easy for Rodgers and his receivers to find openings. This wasn’t just a dink-and-dunk attack. Rodgers completed 11-of-13 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns on passes thrown more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Nonetheless, the Bears keyed on Lacy and Rodgers tore the Bears apart for a 151.2 rating that was the second-best of his career. His rating was a perfect 158.3 on those passes of 10-plus yards.

“It did (surprise me) a little bit that they didn’t make any adjustments but that’s what they do. They’re probably sticking with what they know best,” Nelson said.

When asked about the Packers’ running game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s comments spoke volumes. He spoke of Green Bay’s running game as if it were on top of the world rather than near the bottom of the NFL’s statistical pecking order. Clearly, that unit has the defensive-minded Zimmer’s attention – more so, he said, than it did when he was coordinating Cincinnati’s defense in Week 3 of last season.

“I think their offensive line does a really nice job in the running game,” Zimmer said in a conference call. “Obviously, when they run the football, they’re not really as explosive to the perimeter. They’ll pound you inside. The back (Lacy) is extremely hard to tackle. He’s a big, big, physical guy that gets a lot of yards after (contact). We’re going to have to tackle Lacy and actually (James) Starks does a good job, too, getting in and out of the cuts, I think.”

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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