Running game a key to offense's Doug Ritchay explains why it will be critical this season for the Packers to establish a solid rushing attack. The Packers were bombarded with injuries last season at the position, which crippled the offense and ultimately affected Brett Favre.

Many people will point to Brett Favre's 29 interceptions as a reason the Packers struggled to a 4-12 season in 2005, and there is some validity to that.

Favre took reckless chances in the passing game, seemingly throwing balls up for grabs at times and it cost the Packers.

But looking deeper into the offense's struggles in 2005, and the running game's production or lack of compared to 2004, it sticks out like Anna Kournikova in a lineup of gorillas.

Last season, the Packers rushed for 1,352 yards and averaged a paltry 3.4 yards rushing per carry. This was due in part to the Packers going through running backs like Grady Jackson goes through Cinnabons, in addition to the offensive line failing to develop a chemistry early on.

The 1,352 yards would've ranked ninth among individual rushing leaders in 2005.

Meanwhile, in 2004, the Packers rushed for 1,908 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Not coincidentally the Packers were 10-6 and won the NFC North.

Also, Ahman Green averaged 4.5 yards per carry, while backup Najeh Davenport was at 5.1. Neither were close to those numbers in 2005 before suffering season-ending injuries (Green: torn thigh tendon; Davenport: broken ankle) during the first half of the season.

As key as Favre has been throughout his career for the Packers, these numbers support the thought you need a running game to be successful. Just look at last year's Super Bowl teams. The Super Bowl champion Steelers set up their offense with the run, and did it well, while Seattle had NFL rushing leader Shaun Alexander.

Favre will be at his best if the running game resurrects, and, as usual, Favre is optimistic.

"I think we'll be fine," Favre said. "As long as we're healthy I think we'll be fine."

Green has not practiced this off-season because of his injury, but Favre believes Green will have enough incentive to put 2005 in the past.

"There's no doubt in my mind that with a one-year contract, he knows what's at stake," Favre said. "When Ahman has been in the lineup he has played as hard and has practiced as hard as any guy that I've ever played with. I don't see that changing. In fact he probably turns it up a notch.

"People questioning this injury, how he'll come back ... I think he'll be fine."

As for Davenport, he's been injury-prone most of his career. The Packers can't rely on him to be a No. 1 running back, but he's good enough to give carries to on a consistent basis. And when healthy he's always been able to manage a better-than-average yards-per-carry-average, giving the Packers punch off the sideline.

Samkon Gado was the lone spark in the running game a year ago, showing a little giddy-up after a slow start. A knee injury stopped him from finishing 2005, but Gado is the wildcard in the running game. If the former Liberty player picks up where he left off before getting injured, he gives the Packers speed and a future at the position. Although nobody would have thought this a year ago, the Packers' running game may be in better shape now than it was nine months ago, when the season started. Of course, nobody knew injuries would decimate the running back position, but looking ahead the Packers have more versatility in the backfield than in recent memory.

Green is the veteran leader, who is waiting to prove everyone wrong that he has lost a step. He's reliable and a hard worker. Davenport is a "short reliever," who can enter games for short periods, rip off a few nice runs and give Green a break.

Gado is a "wet-eared" back with speed and potential. In time, he could occupy the starting spot behind Favre.

Everything lines up for the running game to be much better in 2006. The offensive line improved late in 2005, and the selection of guard Daryn Colledge in the second round will make the unit better.

If injuries stay away, Favre won't have to launch bombs which are headed to no particular player.

"I think we'll be fine," Favre said. "It's a little bit of a different scheme up front (zone blocking) but it's still blocking and it allows the running back to kind of pick the holes and go with it."

And it appears this coming season the back or backs will be there to do just that.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at

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