Meanwhile, the 2005 model of the Green Bay running machine is still not hitting on all cylinders. Ahman Green was only able to muster 58 yards on 19 carries. And the second leading Packer ball carrier? Was it Najeh Davenport? No. How about Tony Fisher? Uh-uh. No, the number two rusher for the Packers Sunday was Antonio Chatman who got 10 yards on one carry, a nicely executed reverse. Number 3? Brett Favre with one carry for 7 yards. William Henderson carried the ball once and it was costly. He lost five yards and fumbled it away to the Bucs.
"We all felt that we needed to go out there and take advantage of the opportunities that were given," said Henderson in a somber Packer locker room. "We needed to make less mistakes than they did and we needed to do something well for our selves in our own house. I'm the first one to admit when we fall short of our goals and I definitely fell short of mine with that first fumble. When the coaches give you the opportunity to carry the ball, you're responsible for it. I feel bad because I let my team down on that play."
True, Tampa Bay has a very stout defense but Green Bay's rushing attack has looked essentially the same for three straight games – uninspired. Remember when Green would set the tone for games early, blasting through gaping holes created by one of the best offensive lines in recent memory? Then, Davenport and Fisher would add a nice change of pace to keep the rushing attack on track. Well, hold onto those memories because it may be quite awhile before we see their likes again.
Three regular season games are in the books and Green has a grand total of 170 yards, an average 3.6 yards per carry. At that rate, he'd finish the regular season with 896 yards and a 3.5-yard average. Compare that to last year when he finished with 1,163 yards (4.5-yard average) and 2003 when he ripped off a record 1,883 yards (5.3-yard average).
For his part, Green felt that the Packer running game did a pretty nice job against the Buccaneers, especially when you consider their talent and the momentum they brought into this contest. "I felt the running game was good today," said Green. "It was very effective. But it's the penalties in certain situations and the turnovers here and there that kind of hurt us. But that was as the whole offense. With the running game we were very effective. I can't be mad at my toolbox (the line). Whatever I've got in my toolbox, I've got to work with them."
Added Henderson, "For the most part, our running game was quite good today. We had some nice runs. Vonta Leach, Najeh Davenport, Ahman Green and Tony Fisher were in for a majority of the running plays and they did a damn good job of moving the ball. The linemen were sustaining blocks, getting off the ball and creating seams. What we didn't do in the latter part of the game when we really needed it, we didn't find those bigger gaps and make those bigger opportunities for ourselves."
The Packers are only three games into the season, but the numbers don't lie. The rushing attack must improve if this team has any serious hopes of turning this season around.
Green Bay needs a balanced offensive attack. So far, the attack is pretty much balanced on Brett Favre's back and, with a depleted receiving corps, the picture on offense does not look very bright. Favre can't be expected to carry the load by himself. A solid running game would do wonders to keep opponents off balance. Favre can obviously still make the big play – like the 37-yard touchdown pass to Robert Ferguson on fourth and four. Gutsy call. Vintage Favre. But the fact remains, he needs more help from his teammates. Everything starts with the offensive line. Exit guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera. Enter veteran Adrian Klemm and rookie Will Whitticker. It's pretty obvious that the line has not completely jelled. The timing is not where it needs to be. Blocking assignments are missed. Silly penalties like false starts and holding have cropped up at an alarming rate. These are problems that take time to fix and time is something in very short supply for the Packers.
For his part, Coach Mike Sherman says he remains committed to the running game. "We will continue to emphasize it," Sherman told reporters. "We're only going to be as good as our running game. We had 25 carries today and we would have liked to have 30. We have to be a good running football team and I thought Ahman Green ran hard today. He got some punishing yardage."
The Packers are going to need even more from their ground game, starting next week against Carolina.
Editor's Note: Tom Andrews began covering the Packers in 1974 as a reporter for Milwaukee radio stations WZUU and WOKY. He has been a contributing writer to Packer Report since 1999 and his articles have also appeared in the Green Bay Packers Yearbook, Packer Profiles, Packer Tracker and Sports Collectors Digest among other publications. Andrews is also president of Andrews Media Ventures, a Milwaukee area media and communications consultancy. Email him at email@example.com.