Running game gets hot when weather turns cold

'Tis almost the season to be jolly. 'Tis definitely the season to run the ball.

As the mercury in the thermometer falls, the lush Lambeau Field sod turns to the famed Frozen (and torn up) Tundra and sunshine becomes as rare as a dropkick, this traditionally is the time of the year when the Packers' running game becomes supercharged and the team makes a super charge up the conference standings.

Right now about the only charge the Packers are making is a charge to the trainer's room. With the depth chart at running back a mess, the Packers turned to the waiver wire Tuesday and signed former Cleveland Browns starter James Jackson.

Whether Jackson plays Monday night against St. Louis depends on several things, not the least of which is the health of the Packers' incumbent running backs.

Starter Ahman Green suffered bruised ribs and a cartilage tear in his ribcage while being tackled on the first play from scrimmage Sunday night at Houston.

Primary backup Najeh Davenport hasn't played since Oct. 24 due to an injured hamstring. That injury forced the Packers to promote Walter Williams from the practice squad the day before the Houston game.

Williams was the next to go, suffering a high-ankle sprain in the first half. That's typically a several-weeks injury, so it would seem unlikely he can be counted on for Monday. Same could be said for backup fullback Nick Luchey, who separated a shoulder.

Backup tailback Tony Fisher, meanwhile, finished the Texans game with a stinger and isn't necessarily a sure bet to play Monday, either.

The health of the running backs will be the news of the week, starting when practice begins Wednesday in preparation for the Rams game. With St. Louis' high-flying offense and 29th-ranked run defense — along with a preliminary forecast for about 30 degrees at kickoff — the Packers no doubt would love to ride the running game to victory over the dome- and turf-loving Rams.

The Packers typically ride their powerhouse running game this time of year. With colder temperatures often accompanied by wind and rain or snow, it simply becomes more difficult to throw the football — even with the great Brett Favre at quarterback.

Green Bay's cold-weather running prowess was evident a year ago.

In 16 regular-season and two playoff games last season, the Packers averaged 158.1 yards rushing per game. Once the calendar flipped to November and December, however, the Packers' running game only got hotter. Compared to 139 per game in the first seven contests of the season, all played in September and October, the Packers rushed for 170.1 yards per game in the final 11 contests.

Further breaking that down, in five home games played in November, December and January, the Packers averaged 184.2 yards per game rushing. Throw in the cold-weather playoff game at Philadelphia, and the Packers averaged 188.5 yards on the ground in cold-weather games.

"This is the time we need to have our ground game be strong," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "Last year at this time we really started running the ball well. I still think we can get that done. It's just who's going to be doing the running?"

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