5-1, but running on empty

PackerReport.com correspondent W. Keith Roerdink was at the Packers-Redskins game today at Lambeau Field and offers his evaluation of Green Bay's lackluster rushing attack.

There's nothing wrong with a ‘running back by committee' approach to running the football. Unless of course, that committee is DeShawn Wynn, Vernand Morency, Ryan Grant, and when healthy, Brandon Jackson. It's questionable if you could go into Dr. Frankenstein's lab, take parts of all four backs and come up with a consistent, quality runner. But with Halloween -- not to mention the Denver Broncos -- just around the corner, it might be worth a try.

Six games into the season, the Green Bay running game -- barring an apparent first-half fluke against Chicago -- is a non-factor. Yes, Green Bay is 5-1. But no team has ever been awarded a playoff spot by virtue of their record through six games. At some point, the Packers will need a balanced offense. They will need to do something other than rely on the golden right arm of Brett Favre. They will need to be able to grind out yards to preserve a lead or worse yet, win the game. Right now, that doesn't seem possible.

"We're winning," Favre said. "But we needed to be able to run the ball and run the clock out at the end of the game. We've needed to do that in several situations this year. We've needed to force people out of the ‘Cover 2' (defense). They play the ‘Cover 2,' which is so difficult to throw the ball against, but we're not able to dominate in the run game. They're only rushing four guys and we're not seeing anything like we saw early in the year from these defenses. So we have to be able to run the ball."

Against Washington, the Packers managed just 56 yards in a 17-14 nail-biter of a win. Wynn accounted for 37 of those yards on 13 carries. That's 2.8 yards per carry. Morency had the same average on four carries. The longest runs of the game were a pair of seven-yarders -- one by Wynn and one by Favre. It doesn't help that injuries on the offensive line caused some juggling, with Jason Spitz starting and center and Tony Moll sliding into the starting right guard spot. Nor should it be ignored that Washington is one of the better defenses in the league, along with previous opponents Chicago, Minnesota and San Diego. But the numbers don't lie. And these numbers are hard to take.

"We're just going to keep continuing to try to get better in practice, which is all we can do," Wynn said. "Hopefully, we can get it turned around during the bye week."

At the same time Green Bay was doing its best ‘running through quick sand' impression, Minnesota rookie running back Adrian Peterson was scorching Soldier Field for three touchdowns and 224 yards in an upset win over Chicago. Peterson is one of those rare athletes who made the leap from dominating at the collegiate level for Oklahoma to dominating at the NFL level. He has speed, power and is the odds-on favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Now here's a crazy thought: What if in April the Packers had offered Washington, who had the sixth overall pick in the draft, their first (No. 16 overall that became defensive tackle Justin Harrell) and second round pick (No. 63 overall that became Jackson) to move up and take Peterson one spot ahead of the Vikings? In other words, two guys who might never do more than take up space on an NFL roster, for a player that looks like a regular at the Pro Bowl for the next decade.

Not to fault GM Ted Thompson's exceptional draft record, but Peterson in Green and Gold is a nice thought. Maybe the Redskins wouldn't have accepted the offer, but Buffalo probably would have thought about it. The Bills grabbed Cal rookie Marshawn Lynch with the 12th overall pick. Through five games, Lynch had 373 yards on 100 carries (3.7 yard average) and three touchdowns. Hindsight, of course, is 20-20. Instead the Packers have Wynn in the starting lineup. A rookie out of Florida, Wynn's a second-round talent physically, who's attitude dropped him down to the seventh. He's been a good student in Green Bay and his size and speed are reminiscent of Najeh Davenport. But until he can make more than one big play per game, he's nothing more than a tease who's yet to realize his potential.

Then there's Morency. Traded from the Houston Texans for former Packer Samkon Gado, he's struggled coming back from a knee injury and failed to display any of the flash or sizzle he did in a complementary role to Ahman Green last season. Jackson is nearly the same size as Morency at 5-10 and 212 pounds and showed a similar burst while at the University of Nebraska. But in Green Bay, he's shown next to nothing, including that he's anywhere close to an NFL-caliber starting running back. Grant came to Green Bay via a trade with the Giants. He bears a slight physical resemblance and wears the same number as former Packer running back Dorsey Levens. Unfortunately, he hasn't looked anything like Levens when he's stepped on the field.

But lest anyone forget, Green Bay is running the ‘zone-blocking' offensive scheme made famous by the Broncos way back in the mid-90s. This is the offense that turns free-agent fullbacks and no-name players like Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary into 1,200-yard rushers. It's a scheme, that executed properly, could allow me to average 60 yards a game. Okay, that last part is a stretch. Partially because I'm 36 and partially because I run a 4.9 40, but the point is, you shouldn't even need a big-name back to have success. Sadly, the Packers have neither a big-name back or success.

And don't look for Green Bay to make some blockbuster move to bolster their ranks. If Green Bay wouldn't swing a draft day trade to move up 10 or even four spots, it's ridiculous to think they'd make an offer of future first-round picks for someone like San Diego star backup Michael ‘The Burner' Turner prior to the trading deadline. One intriguing option, however, would be to sign former Dolphin and ‘High Times' cover boy, Ricky Williams. It's a low-risk proposition for the Pack, who could probably pry him away from Miami with a late-round draft pick and sign Williams to the veteran minimum. This is, of course, after he applies for re-instatement with the league.

Say what you will about him, Williams was a phenomenal talent, hasn't had much wear and tear on him and is one of those naturally gifted athletes who could get himself into game shape fairly quick. His personal choice to smoke marijuana seems mild when compared to some of the run-ins with the law that other players in the league have had. He's not physically assaulting anyone, he's not endangering anyone by driving drunk, in general, he's not a bad guy. He's just a different sort of guy. He's been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, likes to travel to remote places (hey, Green Bay is kind of remote), keeps to himself, and at various times in his career, preferred smoking pot to playing in the NFL.

Williams is less of a character risk than Andre Rison was back in 1996 or than Koren Robinson is today. But assuming he can put down the pipe for a few months, wouldn't you love to have him in Green Bay's backfield? Chances are he'd be better than the aforementioned foursome, who at times play like they lit up in the tunnel prior to introductions. Williams needs some cash and the Packers need some yards. Seems like a perfect match (no pun intended -- well, okay, maybe a slight pun) to me. Start writing those letters to Thompson and Bob Harlan.

Winning is a whole lot tougher when you're one dimensional. Even if Favre is the guy directing the dimension that's actually working. While the passing game and the defense continue to carry the team, at some point, they‘ll need some help. They'll need some balance. Maybe Green Bay can get to the playoffs without a running game, but they'll have a hard time winning in them without one.

W. Keith Roerdink is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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