Productive Run Game Left on Back Burner

Why did the Packers throw the ball so often when it was the running game that was producing yardage in big chunks? Coach Mike McCarthy defended the play-calling on Monday. (Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY)

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy defended his play-calling in the aftermath of a 21-13 loss at Buffalo on Sunday.

While quarterback Aaron Rodgers had the worst statistical day of his career, Eddie Lacy averaged 6.5 yards per carry and Green Bay rushed for 158 yards with a season-high 6.3 average.

Still, the final tally showed 46 dropbacks (42 passes, three scrambles and one sack) and 22 rushes. That includes 26 dropbacks (24 passes, two scrambles) and 14 rushes in the first half, so it’s not as if the disparity came with the team in catch-up mode.

“I thought we had good balance running it and throwing it,” McCarthy said on Monday. “I thought we ran it very well. I thought the particular personnel groups that we had success in (running the ball), they obviously overplayed them from that point on and then the passing game was there. At the end of the day, play-calling’s a little different today than it was three years ago. I thought reviewing the game, there’s probably one or two calls that I wish I had back, but I thought we put our guys in position to make plays.”

Even with the Packers’ high-octane passing game misfiring at a shocking rate and Lacy putting up big numbers, Rodgers and Co. kept flinging one pass after another.

Lacy rushed 15 times for 97 yards. On the surface, those are gaudy numbers. However, it was something of an all-or-nothing rushing attack. Five of his carries went for 75 yards, including consecutive runs of 15, 17 and 22 yards on Green Bay’s only touchdown drive. Throw in James Starks’ 12-yard run, the Packers got 87 of their rushing yards on six attempts. The other 13 carries by Lacy and Starks, however, mustered only 29 yards.

“Just the way the game went,” a terse Tom Clements, the Packers’ offensive coordinator, said of the limited carries by Lacy and Starks.

It wasn’t just the inconsistent production. On first down on Green Bay’s opening possession of the second half, Lacy rumbled for 9 yards to set up a play-caller’s dream — second-and-1. Lacy got the ball and ran for 6 yards, but left tackle David Bakhtiari was called for a drive-killing holding penalty. After Buffalo pulled ahead 19-10, Lacy got the ball on first down and gained 6 yards. He got it again on second-and-4 and rumbled untouched into the secondary for 21, but left guard Josh Sitton was flagged for holding. At that point, McCarthy put receiver Randall Cobb at running back, which sparked a drive that resulted in a field goal.

With so much of the game operated through Rodgers at the line of scrimmage, only Rodgers, McCarthy and his offensive assistants know what exactly was called compared to what play was run. Regardless, McCarthy was comfortable with the play selection.

“If you want to go by the stat sheet, go for it,” McCarthy said. “I’m very comfortable with the way the game was called. We don’t just line up sometimes and just do this or do that. I think we have a very flexible game plan each and every week. Aaron’s decisions at the line of scrimmage, I think this is probably his highest grade as far as the adjustments. The utilization of the matchups, particularly Randall Cobb, having him one-on-one with a linebacker pretty much the whole time, I thought we created some very good scenarios, and Aaron deserves a lot of credit for that. ...

“I think it’s important to run the football. I think when we wanted to run it, we ran it very well. Particularly when we had them in a run-pass mode, we ran it extremely well.”

From a big-picture perspective, the running game continues to gather momentum. Lacy has averaged at least 4.7 yards per carry in each of the last five games. The Packers were 6-0 when Lacy averages more than 4.5 per carry this season.

“I feel like we were doing some good things on the ground; obviously, had a couple of nice runs that were called back for holds,” right guard T.J. Lang told reporters after the game. “We didn’t make enough plays through the air, and that’s something that’s rare for us as an offense. It’s tough to swallow. Obviously, it’s tough with the way we’ve been playing the last month-and-a-half. It just goes to show you, just because you’re a good football team like we are doesn’t mean you’re going to go out there and just win by default. You’ve got to make the plays and we didn’t do that.”

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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