Consider the team rushing totals in the last five games:
– 70 yards in a loss against Atlanta on Nov. 18;
– 104 yards in a win against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day;
– 37 yards in a win against Jacksonville on Dec. 3;
– 167 yards in a win against Chicago on Dec. 9;
– 29 yards in a loss to Tennessee on Dec. 16
"When our offensive line plays well, we usually win football games," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "I put the pressure on them this morning that they have to deliver for us the rest of the way. When we were successful in '96 and '97 the offensive line took control of football games in that run. We need our guys to step up. They can't be good one week and dominate a dominating front and lesser than that the next week. We need a consistent effort out of those guys. For us to play well, they have to play well this week."
In recent games, the Packers have been forced to prove that they can run the ball against opponents, despite facing eight-man fronts. Defenses this year have been focusing on Green as much, or possibly more, than stopping quarterback Brett Favre and Green Bay's passing game. If the Packers prove that they can establish the run early, the passing game opens up and allows Green more room to roam. If not, Favre has been forced to throw the ball to an average group of receivers.
"I think everyone in the league defends the run first," said offensive coordinator Tom Rossley. "Maybe we see a little bit more, especially when we spread people out. They seem to still want to defend the run, even though we have three receivers or four receivers on the field. They still want to stop the run first."
Tennessee did just that last Sunday, holding Green to two yards on two carries in the first half, and nine yards on nine carries for the game.
Rossley says he expects to see Cleveland and Minnesota try to copy Tennessee's strategy against Green in the coming weeks.
"But you still have to be able to run the ball," Rossley said. "You can't throw it every down. You should be able to throw it better, but we still should be able to throw the ball even when they bring the extra guy down."
The Packers have been rotating players on the right side of the line in the past two games because of guard Marco Rivera's broken left hand. Rivera has been able to play part of games, but when it gets too painful for him to continue, tackle Mark Tauscher has moved to guard and veteran Earl Dotson has come in for Tauscher.
Sherman said that rotation will probably continue against the Browns. But when Rivera is ready to play with a smaller cast (the current one weighs about 10 pounds), he probably will play the entire game.
"Marco did a nice job when he was in there, but he was in pain," Sherman said. "He was in pain. You try to relieve some of that from him. I was concerned that we were relying too much on an injured player. But he played well. He did some good things in there. So, I don't think he particularly hurt us. But when he's hurting, you have to relieve some of that. That's when we moved Tauscher inside and Earl to tackle, I suppose there's a little bit of that."