Air McCarthy?

Until the Packers figure out how to run, they will continue to throw the football

In the 1980s, the San Diego Chargers had a passing attack second to none. It included Hall of Famers in quarterback Dan Fouts, tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Charlie Joiner. Not to mention the likes of John Jefferson and Wes Chandler.

It was known as "Air Coryell," as Chargers coach Don Coryell was the architect.

The way things are going this year with the Green Bay Packers, the moniker "Air McCarthy," named after Packers coach Mike McCarthy, can't be far behind.

Through four games – all wins – the Packers have thrown the ball 170 times and ran it 68 times with running backs. It's basically a 3 to 1 ratio of pass to run.

Sunday night's game has Chicago visiting Lambeau Field and don't expect the Packers to change anything. Last week at Detroit, Lions quarterback Jon Kitna looked a lot like Brett Favre. The veteran completed 20 of 24 passes for 247 yards and two TDs, which translated into a 137.3 passer rating.

You think if Kitna can tear apart the Bears' injured defense, Favre won't, or at least won't try?

The Packers have lived off their QB's arm through four weeks and are one of two NFC teams undefeated (the other being Dallas). This isn't how McCarthy wanted to reach 4-0. He said during training camp he wanted to run the ball a lot, but it hasn't worked out that way.

The Packers have never had all their running backs healthy for a game this season, and for whatever reason, the offensive line has blocked poorly. The Packers have 219 rushing yards in four games.

Considering how Vernand Morency ran behind this line late last season, a running problem to this level wasn't expected. The Packers average about 54 rushing yards per game, which ranks last in the NFL by 20 yards.

Still, they remain undefeated because the passing game has been able to fill the void. In addition to the normal pass plays, the Packers have used a short-passing game, which in some ways replaces the run.

Favre has taken advantage by recording a passer rating of 97.3. His best season for passer rating was 99.5 in 1995, the first of three straight seasons in which Favre won or shared the NFL MVP. Many give Favre kudos for this passing fancy, but what's being overlooked is a receiver/tight end corps which had little respect entering the season. Outside of Pro Bowl receiver Donald Driver, many questioned if Favre would have a viable weapons around him.

Four weeks later, Favre's head is on a swivel. He completed passes to 10 receivers at Minnesota last Sunday, and James Jones is tied with Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe for the rookie-receiver lead with 18 receptions.

"I think our perimeter group, particularly in the passing game, has performed at a high level," McCarthy said. "We need to continue to do so. They're all competing for the football, and that's what you want. You have a lot of happy people in your perimeter group when the ball is thrown, and that just makes them work a little extra to get open. We're doing a lot of positive things in the passing game."

Many question the Packers' method to 4-0, mainly because when the weather becomes a factor even Favre will have trouble being this good when it's snowing, windy or cold, or all of the above. But until the Packers figure out their running game, they will be "Air McCarthy," because there's no better alternative.

The only way this changes is if offensive line coach James Campen can figure a way to improve the blocking. Tony Mandarich isn't the answer and neither is John Michels.

"I had a coordinator once tell me it's a lot more fun to throw the ball," McCarthy said. "It is, but that's not the best answer over the course of the year. We'll continue to work on the run game, we'll continue to work on the passing game, because we have to try to stay one step ahead of the team we're playing, based on what we anticipate their reaction or how they're going to play us in the passing game."

It's possible the Packers never fully reach their expectations with the run, which means this season relies on the arm of Favre. The way he's playing, is there really a better way to go?

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.


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