Holding the keys

Improved Packers rushing attack starts with McCarthy

Mike McCarthy says he wants his team to run the ball. The coach knows that the offense will have to run the ball at some point this season, especially as the weather turns colder. Yet, it seems as if McCarthy is afraid to pull the trigger in an effort to establish any resemblance of a rushing attack thus far on game days.

Prime example: In Sunday's victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers were facing a third-and-inches from Minnesota's 15 yard line early in the fourth quarter, clinging to a 13-9 lead. Instead of pounding the ball in an attempt to gain a yard or two for a first down, Brett Favre fired a laser to Donald Driver that bounced off his hands for an incompletion.

McCarthy, the team's play-caller, missed a golden opportunity to inject confidence not only in his running backs but offensive line. The Packers were forced to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Mason Crosby, which stretched their lead a little, but had the Packers run for a first down, they may have been able to go on and score a touchdown, and break the game open.

Instead, McCarthy passed on the run, like he has done throughout the season. Understandably, the Packers were facing a defense that specializes in stopping the run, but the 4-0 Packers are going to need the running game to lean on at points this season. The sooner that the Packers can get it in gear, the better, however, it will be up to McCarthy to take that leap of faith and call more running plays.

"The bottom line is we need to score points and move the ball up and down the field," said McCarthy after the Packers' 23-16 victory over the Vikings. "We've been doing that for the last three weeks. We didn't do a good job in Week 1 (vs. Philadelphia), but we need to work at it.

"I'm a run-the-ball offensive-minded person, but we're not doing it as well as we can right now, and I need to have more confidence in calling the plays. That's the hurdle that we need to get over."

Or is it the hurdle that McCarthy must clear himself?

The Packers finished with 46 yards rushing on 20 attempts against the Vikings. Green Bay averaged just 2.3 yards per rush, less than its 2.9 per carry average entering the game. Again, the Packers came out throwing and more-or-less sprinkled in rushing attempts amid Favre's 45 passing attempts.

The way it stands, the Packers have been living by passing, but it was difficult not to think during the game of how much more potent Green Bay's offense could be if it had a proven running back, like Ahman Green or Larry Johnson lining up in the backfield.

When it did come time to rely on the run to shave time off the clock at the end of the game, the running backs nearly cost Green Bay the game. Ryan Grant's fumble of a handoff from Favre was nothing short of disastrous.

Fortunately, Green Bay's defense bailed the team out when Atari Bigby made a game-ending interception off a deflected pass from Kelly Holcomb.

Vernand Morency returned to action against Minnesota, but got a grand total of one carry. Then when he caught a pass and tried to make a big play, he lost control of the ball and fumbled it out of bounds. The backs who are getting a chance to play seem to be so nervous not to do anything wrong that that's exactly what happens.

While there seems to be little chance of the Packers acquiring a veteran running back at this point in the season, McCarthy and the Packers can make the offense that much better by at least trying to establish a running game early on. But that's up to McCarthy.

Leaning on Favre is always tempting, and his effectiveness with the passing game has led to a 4-0 start. But the Packers can be better off in the long run by focusing a little more on the run, and that involves McCarthy putting his trust and confidence in the line and young running backs on a more regular basis to make it happen.

Packer Report Top Stories