Interchangeable backs

Running attack should continue to ramble, despite Morency's injury

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of Green Bay's zone-blocking offense is the backfield's ability to step in and produce, no matter who is back there. Due to injuries at various times during the first half of this season, the Packers' running backs have proved that as long as they are physically tailored to the system, they will benefit within the system.

In the last four weeks, the Packers' backfield has churned out 99 or more yards per game, including 203 in Green Bay's 31-14 whipping of the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. That's Green Bay's best rushing output in one game in nearly two years.

Attribute the success of Green Bay's rushing attack to offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and running backs coach Edgar Bennett for teaching it, and the running backs, fullbacks, and offensive line buying into the system.

"First off, running the football is an attitude, and I think we're in touch with that attitude right now," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. "We're starting to hit our stride. It has taken a little longer than we would've liked, but we're very happy with where we are at and where we are going with it. It's a combination of all those things.

"I think you are seeing the technique, particularly on the back side. Our cut blocks are way up, 45-plus cut blocking and getting people on the ground. That's what we're looking for. It was an emphasis last week we felt we need to really improve on. The technical part is improving. I think the back is making good decisions, particularly the fullback. He's part of the decision-making process, and he's doing a much better j ob. The backs are taking one cut and going, so it's really the combination of everyone involved."

Ahman Green, obviously, has been catching on to the zone-blocking scheme during the last two weeks. He has had consecutive 100-yard games after missing two games with hamstring injuries. But when Green was watching from the sidelines, Vernand Morency and Noah Herron didn't miss a beat. Morency rushed for 99 yards in a loss at Philadelphia, and Herron came off the bench the following week to rush for 106 yards after Morency fumbled twice early in the game. On Sunday, Morency reclaimed his backup role behind Green and finished with a career-high 101 yards before sustaining a lower back injury that will keep him out for at least the next two weeks.

"It's unfortunate for Vernand, but at the same time, we're all capable," said Herron, who will back up Green on Sunday against the Bills in Buffalo. "You take one piece out and put another piece in. That's a sign of a good running back corp where you can plug a guy in and have the same production. That's a compliment to how hard we've worked as running backs and how hard the O-line has been working."

McCarthy and Jagodzinski have kept the scheme as simple as possible, using just a handful of different running plays in each game. But the execution has improved with each week this season.

Jagodzinski had this in mind when he implemented the system that he learned under Alex Gibbs as an assistant coach the last two seasons in Atlanta.

"Remember when I kept telling you guys in the beginning (of the year), ‘We're so close. We're so close.'" Jagodzinski told reporters after Sunday's game. "Now we're starting to get it. I'm happy for those guys in the locker room and for the coaches that are coaching it."

The Bills enter Sunday's game, ranked 23rd against the run in the NFL. The Packers have the 11th best rushing offense. In order for the Packers to win their first game during the regular season in Buffalo, it will be important that they continue to rush the ball like they have in recent weeks.

"They're solid. They're stout. They've got good linebackers," Herron said of the Bills. "They've got some young safeties. If we establish that running game early, it's really going to open it up and put pressure on those young safeties. That's our game plan."

The way it has been going for the surging Packers, it should work.


Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.


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