One half, the Packers' offense had the chain gang running wind sprints and the next they're stumbling through a mix-match of lethargic three-and-outs and costly turnovers. One major reason for the sudden dysfunction lies beneath the surface. As a 10-point lead evolved into a 7-point deficit, something else vanished: Vernand Morency.
Since suffering a patellar-tendon injury the first day of training camp, Morency has been cautiously nurtured by the Packers' coaching staff. After a dynamic first half in which Morency amassed 79 total yards, the nurturing returned. In the final two quarters he spent almost as much time on the sideline as Andrea Kremer.
DeShawn Wynn deserved the workload he received in the second half after returning from dehydration. But it should not have been at the complete expense of Morency. When healthy, Morency is the most compatible back to an offense that throws 40-plus times per game. In brief action he showcased his ability as a two-minute drill, third down, change-of-pace, receiving back rolled up into one.
Once Wynn's cramps ceased, so did Morency.
Whereas Wynn rushed nine times for 19 yards in the second half, Morency was not given one carry. Morency's sore knee may have flared up (head coach Mike McCarthy did not specify the exact reason after the game). Still, next to the five costly giveaways, this total omission of a key offensive weapon doomed the Packers more than anything.
In place of Wynn, Morency sliced and diced through Chicago's defense by air and by foot, while chopping down blitzing Bears linebackers in pass protection on multiple occasions.
Most importantly, he jump-started two key scoring drives.
Following Cedric Benson's 10-yard touchdown that knotted the game at 7-7, Morency immediately reversed momentum. Ten yards off left guard. First down. Fifteen more off tackle. First down. In the blink-of-a-Moses Moreno, the Packers were in Bears' territory. Two plays later, Brett Favre found Greg Jennings for a go-ahead touchdown.
On Green Bay's final offensive drive in the first half, an offensive pass interference penalty on Donald Driver pushed the Packers' ‘O' to its own 9-yard line. With 1:53 remaining, Morency provided instant offense again. He snared a short circle route pass, immediately turned up the sideline, gained the edge and broke a pair of tackles for 17 yards. Instead of playing to punt, Green Bay's offense switched to scoring mode. Comfortable field position led to Mason Crosby's 37-yard field goal to finish the half.
What Vernand Morency lacks in power between the tackles, he makes up for in sudden quickness. The wheels he displayed in spurts against Arizona, San Francisco, and Detroit last year are back. On nine first-half attempts, he ran for 43 yards (4.8 avg.), mostly on delays, draws, and counters. Such rushing plays are designed as back-breakers to exploit a defense expecting a pass- the mindset most of Green Bay's opponents will have all season. Morency can be this defensive demoralizer.
His success on draw plays forced Chicago to respect the run more than it would've liked. Excluding two spikes, Favre completed 19-of-20 passes in the first half. Five were to Morency. Teams must account for Morency as a runner and a receiver. His presence on the field may force teams to lineup in nickel rather than dime, thus putting James Jones and/or Ruvell Martin one-on-one with a linebacker.
Morency helped a solid offense, which averaged 172 yards per half through four games, churn at an unstoppable level. With 341 first-half yards, the Packers were two less fumbles away from possibly leading 31-7 at halftime.
Maybe Morency's knee injury is more severe than publicized. It did keep him in sweats all summer (yes, sweats in 90-degree heat). Quite possibly, Morency's knee took a blow in the Chicago game and he was kept out as a precaution.
"I think with Vernand we have to keep just bringing him along," said McCarthy after Monday's practice. "He's sore again today. I have to see how he feels Wednesday. Last week was the first time he took three days of practice in a row, and in hindsight he may not be ready for that."
Injury or not, Morency's absence seemed like of a product of Wynn's return in the third quarter.
McCarthy stuck to his initial plan too long. "Our intent was to go with DeShawn Wynn, give him the bulk of it, and Vernand was going to play the third down in selected situations, and Ryan Grant was going to focus more on certain packages and special teams," McCarthy said. "But obviously we had to adjust after DeShawn got dehydrated after that first series."
The adjusting stopped there.
During training camp, McCarthy, running backs coach Edgar Bennett and virtually every other offensive coach and running back maintained that the bulk of carries will go to the running back that gets hot. Morency heated up and his fire was put out. A game day adjustment to stick with Morency, or at least get him more touches than initially planned, thwarted an opportunity at 5-0. Twice, three straight Wynn runs stalled offensive drives. It's an awful tease to see such a multifaceted weapon as Morency used so sparingly as an offense painfully collapses drive-by-drive.
Eleven games remain to rectify this quiet blunder. DeShawn Wynn's big night (13-78, TD) most likely landed him the lead role in the backfield. He has a major size/strength advantage over Morency, which suits well for the frigid December stretch run where grind-it-out wins are demanded. But Morency delivered in his first substantial playing time in 10 months. A chronically sore knee may prevent Morency from ever developing into an every-down back.
But it should not keep him on the sidelines when a key division game is up-for-grabs. Morency brings creativity to an offense that is already loaded.
Tyler Dunne is a student at Syracuse University and frequent contributor to Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.