When Green Bay Runs the Ball ...

Scout.com team insiders Rob Rang and Bill Huber break down Sunday's NFC Championship Game in a four-part series. In Part 1, it's Green Bay's powerful running game against Seattle's stout run defense. What makes those units tick? (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY)

Green Bay's Running Attack:

The Packers will ride red-hot Eddie Lacy and one of the league's best running games into Seattle in hopes of providing necessary balance to help hobbled quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Lacy rushed for 101 yards (5.3 per carry) against Dallas in the divisional round, with that coming on the heels of 100 yards (3.8) vs. Detroit's top-ranked run defense in Week 17, 99 yards (5.8) vs. Tampa Bay in Week 16 and 97 yards (6.5) against Buffalo in Week 15.

In fact, over the last 13 games, Lacy has rushed for 1,079 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Compare that to the first four games, when he rushed for 161 yards and 3.0 per carry — including 12 carries for 34 yards against the Seahawks in Week 1.

For the season, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch led the league with 3.0 yards after contact per carry; Lacy was third with 2.8, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He is a superb all-around player.

Up front, the same line that has provided superb pass protection for Rodgers has been dominant in the run game, as well. That was especially true against Dallas, when Lacy only forced three missed tackles but got the bulk of his yardage by running free into the secondary. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who had missed the past 23 regular-season games due to injuries before starting at Seattle in the opener, was dominant against the Cowboys. Green Bay averaged 7.0 yards per carry on runs behind him. Left guard Josh Sitton was a second-team All-Pro for the second consecutive season and right guard T.J. Lang is incredibly underrated.

The Packers have had success running out of spread formations — they spent most of the season with three receivers, one tight end and one back on the field — but have leaned on All-Pro fullback John Kuhn down the stretch. Based on ProFootballFocus.com's snap counts, Kuhn has played 111 snaps the past five games compared to 115 the first 12 games.

Seattle's Run Defense:

The return to health of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and strong safety Kam Chancellor spearheaded Seattle's seven-game winning streak, helping the Seahawks allow an average of just 75.42 rushing yards during that span. It isn't like Seattle allowed massive rushing yardage prior to their All-Pro defenders’ return. Seattle ranked third in the NFL with 81.5 rushing yards allowed for the season.

During last week's divisional playoff victory, the combination of Jonathan Stewart (70 rushing yards) and Cam Newton (37) helped the Panthers keep the game close, finding open running lanes as Carolina, frankly, beat Seattle at the line of scrimmage.

Terrific open-field tackling at the second level, however, helped minimize the damage.

Along the defensive line, Seattle is led by lanky run-stuffers Kevin Williams and Tony McDaniel, each of whom are frequently asked to take on multiple blockers to free the Seahawks’ speedy linebackers. Williams, in particular, has exceeded expectations in stepping in at nose guard after Brandon Mebane went down with a torn hamstring Nov. 9. Though the six-time Pro Bowler saw some action in this capacity during his tenure with the Vikings, the 6-foot-5, 311-pounder has a much different build than Mebane (6-1, 311), utilizing his upper-body strength and savvy, rather than leverage, to hold up at the point.

Fellow starters Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are best known for terrorizing quarterbacks, but their quickness has proven every bit as effective against the run. Bennett, in particular, is explosive off the ball, frequently penetrating to wrap up ball-carriers behind the line of scrimmage when blockers have left him free pulling to hit linebackers.

Outside linebackers K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin rely more on their length and athleticism than jaw-dropping power to support the run but they are effective in this regard.

Chancellor is Seattle's most explosive hitter but few close like Earl Thomas. The 4.37-second 40-yard dash that Thomas ran at his Pro Day in Austin, Texas, prior to the 2010 draft frequently shows up as he streaks toward the line of scrimmage to stop ball-carriers in their tracks. Thomas has an extraordinary ability to hit moving targets without slowing down. His unique body control has helped him emerge as one of the NFL's elite open-field tacklers and he's mastered the art of punching the ball out, leading all defensive backs this season with four forced fumbles.

Cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane are reliable open-field tacklers in their own right. Maxwell and Lane are more physical than the lanky Sherman, but he's hardly just a "cover corner," using his terrific length to trip up ball-carriers with great effectiveness.

Of course, the final element to the Seahawks' run defense that can't be ignored is the sheer volume created by the home crowd. The noise generated by the 12s is a legitimate factor that often steals the timing of opposing offensive linemen, negating the advantage they typically have of knowing the snap count before the defense.

Further, unless Rodgers' calf quickly recovers, Seattle will be able to focus on Green Bay's running backs, rather than worrying about quarterback runs as they did last week against Newton and the Panthers.

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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