Offense will have to pass on running

Packers better off moving ball behind Favre to score points

Red flags sprout daily in the Green Bay Packers' backfield. Injuries and inconsistency have been the norm since de facto starter Vernand Morency suffered a knee injury on the first day of training camp.

There isn't a clear-cut No. 1 ball-carrier. Green Bay's rushing game averaged only 3.2 yards per carry through four preseason games and no back had a run longer than 15 yards on 102 attempts.

There isn't a distinguished third down back. Noah Herron, the unit's one constant, was placed on injured reserve.

There isn't a true fullback. The Packers are counting on converted linebacker Korey Hall to spearhead their zone blocking scheme.

A lot of uncertainty. Not a lot of time. Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and the Eagles' aggressive, blitz-happy defense enters Lambeau Field September 9 fully knowing that they aren't facing a Marion Barber-Julius Jones caliber tandem at RB. Troy Hambrick-Aveion Cason is more like it.

Schematically, Johnson is facing an offense he sees every day in practice.

That doesn't mean it's any easier to stop.

A new offense
By design or default, Mike McCarthy will most likely take the Andy Reid-approach this season. Throw. Throw. And throw some more.

Green Bay's passing attack was surprisingly crisp in the final three preseason games. But more importantly, it resembled an effective running game. High percentage passes for short gains is the M.O. McCarthy will adopt, whether he wants to or not.

"I hope it's 50-50," said McCarthy, referring to the team's run-pass ratio. "But it's not going to be. Probably more like 45-55."

The Packers lack a grinder. Brandon Jackson is a poor man's Brian Westbrook. Morency is a wild card at best. Ryan Grant and DeShawn Wynn? Longshots. A raw, hodgepodge backfield automatically puts more responsibility on the passing game. You can't commit to something if it doesn't work. Green Bay may attempt 35-plus passes per game by default.

But it could be design.

Reid led Philadelphia to four straight NFC title game appearances without an every-down back. Duce Staley was the only back to rush for over 1,000 yards in those four seasons. Donovan McNabb just worked overtime and the defense strung together three top ten seasons from 2001-04.

A pass-heavy system can co-exist and flourish with a stingy defense.

Brett Favre's 607 pass attempts last season and 613 in 2005 are career highs. He'll throw a ton again this season and it's not necessarily a recipe for a 29-pick disaster. This season Favre is more of a horizontal passer, playing within Mike McCarthy's version of the West Coast offense.

Big plays have been rare, but so have mistakes. The Packers' passing game will resemble a running game in 2007. Instead of off-tackle, counter runs in running situations this preseason Favre and McCarthy have opted for quick hitches, slants, skinny posts, and drags.

This methodical, timing-sensitive melody of an offense has garnered rhythmic results. Sometimes it's almost better to attack with a barrage of jabs that you know will connect rather than risk knockout punches. Drives are sustained. A high tempo keeps defensive backs on their heels. Receivers are able to do damage after the catch. Defenses can't stack men in the box, thus creating explosive plays on draws and delays in the running game.

New England and Indianapolis do this best.

Proof in the preseason pudding
Brett Favre will never admit a change in attitude on the field.

Still, his performance in limited preseason work suggests that he is willing to settle for completions rather than explosions.

Favre finished with a 63.3 completion percentage, his best ever in an exhibition season. For the first time in seven years, he did not throw an interception in the four-game set. Favre posted a quarterback rating of 93.3, while leading the Packers on six scoring drives.

Favre didn't complete one pass for over 25 yards, but he consistently moved the chains by allowing plays to develop and settling for the jabs.

The Packers '07 personnel group fits this philosophy. Favre's wideouts are YAC-aholics.

Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and James Jones are built to turn six-yard gains into 16 yard gains. Last season Driver and Jennings led an offense that produced the 2nd most yards after catch in the NFL.

This season, the duo is joined by Jones, who has the hands, physique, and humbleness to pay rent between the hash marks at Lambeau. From July 28 to the final preseason game at Tennessee, Jones has been almost flawless.

He finished the preseason 1st in the NFL in catches (21) and 3rd in receiving yards (233).

Granted, Jones' company atop that list- Shaun McDonald, Troy Walters and Lance Moore among others- indicates that the preseason creates pseudo stars. After all, the exhibition means about as much as an Al Gore global warming memo. Reality is rarely revealed. Last summer, Indianapolis was 1-3 and Oakland went 4-1.

Still Jones' production genuinely fits McCarthy's short passing attack. His hands were noticeably superior from day one. Once Favre returned from Rocky Byrd's funeral in Mississippi, Jones' mental adjustment to the offense sped up. Now he is Favre's automatic hot route reflex.

In his first training camp press conference Favre alluded to a lack of trust in Jones and all of the team's inexperienced receivers. Thirty-three days later, his tone has changed.

"James has made more plays than people give him credit for," Favre said today. "I'm not going to play leery (with Jones). I have to make decisions on what I do. If called upon, I'll pull the trigger."

Packers stack up well in the division
Yes, there's a hint of doom in the air at 1265. The running game is the backbone of most offenses in the NFL and right now the Packers desperately need a chiropractor.

But it's not all gloom and doom. The season hasn't begun. The current offensive system needs a chance to succeed. There could be more severe problems.

Would people rather see Green Bay enter the season with uncertainty across the offensive line…at safety…the secondary? The Packers can feel confident at every position outside of running back and tight end this fall. Not many teams can say that, especially in their own division.

The difference between Brandon Jackson and the other three NFC North starting backs (Adrian Peterson, Cedric Benson, and Tatum Bell) isn't as massive as talent gaps at other positions. The Packers stack up well.

Peterson may be a rookie of the year candidate, but will Tarvaris Jackson make teams pay for crowding the line of scrimmage? A Jackson-Holcomb-Bollinger quarterback controversy seems inevitable.

How confident is Chicago in Rex Grossman? Throughout the preseason Grossman continued to pull away from the center too soon. He blamed his three fumbles at Indy two weeks ago on sweaty hands and crowd noise. It's hard to see the Bears offense improving if the quarterback-center exchange is a challenge.

In Detroit, Jon Kitna predicted a 10-6 season but the Lions did virtually nothing to upgrade a defense that finished 28th in the NFL last season.

The preseason hinted that McCarthy's Packers have found their identity. It resembles the team they will face Sunday. Like Philadelphia five years ago, Green Bay is building a defensive-oriented team with a West Coast flair on offense.

The Packers lack the 25-carry back most teams covet above all else.

The offense will bring knifes to gun fights 16 times this season. But the system is in place to use them.

Tyler Dunne is a student a Syracuse University. E-mail him at tydunne07@hotmail.com.


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