Running game stuck in neutral

Jets' soft run defense may be elixir for Packers' running backs

The Packers' fall from what might have been this season's apex for their running attack actually started before right tackle Mark Tauscher aggravated a pulled groin Nov. 12 at Minnesota.

Green Bay mustered only 39 yards on 19 carries against Minnesota's top-ranked run defense with Tauscher on the field. Then, Tauscher went down in a heap late in the third quarter. He hasn't played in the last two games, will likely be out again Sunday against the New York Jets, and the Packers have been stuck in a quagmire with a once-burgeoning staple of their offense.

Head coach Mike McCarthy wasn't so quick to sidestep the notion that the absence of the seventh-year veteran has had a profound impact.

"He was a big part of what we were doing," McCarthy said. "I thought Mark was playing extremely well when he got hurt. For a couple of weeks there, he had the best performance up front. So, you take that out of the equation, yeah, that part factors (into the running woes).

"Frankly, his leadership and the way he plays the game, he plays the game the right way. He's tough, no-nonsense, does it right. So, that's a part of it."

Without Tauscher, McCarthy has had to make do with three rookies on the offensive line. Their growing pains have brought some aspects of the offensive operation to a standstill, none as prominent as a ground assault that's gone nowhere the last three weeks.

The Packers came into the game against the Vikings ranked 11th in the league with a season-high average of 118.9 rushing yards per game. Today, after amassing a grand total of 142 yards in the past three games, Green Bay is rated 23rd with an average of 99.4 yards.

"We have to give the defense the credit. They're studying our technique; they're learning to adjust," said fullback William Henderson, whose 12 years in the league is only a year less than the combined service of the current five starting linemen -- left tackle Chad Clifton (seven), left guard Daryn Colledge (one), center Scott Wells (three), right guard Jason Spitz (one) and right tackle Tony Moll (one).

"We just have to do a better job of executing in order for us to be more positive in our running yards. We've got to give the defense the credit for doing their job, but for the most part, we've got to blame ourselves for not being more productive," Henderson said.

The sad facts since Tauscher lumbered off the Metrodome turf and promptly ascended a flight of stairs to the locker room are the Packers have rushed for only 103 yards in 42 carries and Ahman Green's output has been but 82 yards in 31 carries.

The blame was placed squarely on a youthful line that has been maddeningly inconsistent in getting down the basics of the zone-blocking scheme, both on the front and the back sides of the play. McCarthy said his developing blockers haven't been overmatched physically as much as they have been technically flawed.

"The interior, we just weren't fundamentally as good as we should have been -- whether it's taking five steps before you cut block as opposed to taking two," he said. "Those are common errors that we've had before and are correctable. We just have to continue to do it."

Getting next to nothing against the top-three run defenses of Minnesota (47 yards) and New England (44) wasn't so earth-shattering. Yet, being held to 51 yards in 19 carries by a middle-of-the-road Seattle unit Monday night didn't speak well for a run-first offense that seemingly was poised to explode after a 203-yard effort against Arizona on Oct. 29.

"With our running game (Monday), it was one guy here or one guy there, which is the same old story. It's kind of getting repetitive," Wells said. "We all have to get on the same page and get everybody blocked, make those holes easy for the running backs to hit."

The Jets statistically appear to be the pushover Green Bay needs to hit the ground running with authority again -- they're giving up a whopping 135 yards a game. However, New York will come at the new-look line with a 3-4 front, which caused the quintet fits against the Patriots two weeks ago.

"By design, they try to force you to get into a man situation (by walking) their linebackers up. The premise of zone (blocking) is to have two-on-one at the first level," a wary McCarthy said.


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