James Lang/USA TODAY

Packers’ Backfield Production on Historic Pace

With the passing game finding a rhythm, the offense is halfway there. But Packers coach Mike McCarthy is still stuck with a mix at running back operating at futile levels. The challenge only gets tougher with the Packers' best runner this season – their quarterback – dealing with a hamstring injury.

With the calendar turning to December and four cold-weather games on the horizon, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy sees the need to get his team’s running game turned up. Or at the least, organized in some fashion.

With starter Eddie Lacy on injured reserve, the Packers have used five other running backs and two wide receivers as featured carriers out of the backfield this season. One of those “receivers,” Ty Montgomery, has been invisible lately, though he leads active carriers at 5.1 yards per carry. New addition Christine Michael has just one carry since being claimed on waivers two weeks ago.

“We need to roll them in there better,” said McCarthy on Thursday. “James (Starks) got a lot of opportunities last week. But Ty Montgomery definitely deserves more opportunities and I definitely want to get Christine Michael more opportunities. So we’ve got to kind of find a healthy flow there and that’s really what the week of practice is for.

“But that really all depends on how we decide to play the game as far as going no-huddle, no no-huddle and this and that. That’s what game planning’s for and really the flow of the game dictates that.”

Take away Aaron Rodgers’ runs and the Packers’ running game sans Lacy has been more of a side note, merely interrupting a short passing game that has essentially taken its place. The passing game as a whole has found a rhythm that it lacked early in the season and Starks’ output, both pre- and post-meniscus tear, mirrors the historical futility that this season has become for Packers running backs.

Last Monday night at Philadelphia to finish off Week 12 in the NFL, fullback Aaron Ripkowski became the first Packers running back to record a rushing touchdown this season. With just five games remaining, the Packers are threatening the lowest team output for rushing touchdowns in a season – just three in 1990.

Starks, the No. 1 running back active, is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry on 57 carries. And as a group, the running backs have just 615 rushing yards (795 with Montgomery and Randall Cobb taking carries out of the backfield) through 11 games. That would put them on pace for just 895 yards by season’s end (1,156 including Montgomery and Cobb).

Packers running backs ran for just 1,008 yards in 1990, the lowest franchise total in a 16-game season. Back in 1951, in a 12-game season, they ran for just 625 yards. Quarterback Tobin Rote led the team that year with 523 rushing yards, 333 more than the next closest player, fullback Fred Cone.

This season’s quarterback, Rodgers, has been the team’s best weapon on the ground, especially of late. After two damaging fumbles on runs earlier in the season at Minnesota and against Dallas, he has barely been touched past the line of scrimmage, making smart and efficient decisions. Over the last five games, he has 189 yards on 24 carries to lead the team.

With 20 rushing first downs, Rodgers has moved the chains on 43.5 percent of his runs, second-best in the league to Colin Kaepernick among quarterbacks. He also has three rushing touchdowns and, without kneel-downs at the end of the first half or game, is averaging 8.2 yards per running attempt.

Rodgers is fifth in the league among quarterbacks in rushing yardage, but more telling is that like Rote three times in the 1950s, he is on pace to catch Lacy (360 yards) for the team lead by season’s end. That could be a challenge, however.

In Monday night’s win, Rodgers tweaked his hamstring in the second half, which could limit his mobility. He finished the game taking snaps out of the pistol formation, like he did for much of the 2014 season after straining his calf. Rodgers was limited in practice Thursday but is expected to start Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Houston Texans.

“We need to run the ball more as a football team,” McCarthy said, “not only for us offensively but for our defense, time of possession – we just hit the 35 (minute) mark with time of possession last week, you’d like to be there every week ideally. But it’s the part of the offense that really we haven’t been able to use as a primary focus. So, it’s important to get that going. We’ll see how it works out this week.”

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