Grant proving to be the answer in backfield

Running back upstages Peterson in second career start

A month ago the Green Bay Packers' running game was on the side of milk boxes, because nobody had any idea where it located.

The Packers' running game was going nowhere with rookies Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn. So when the Packers entered their bye week, coach Mike McCarthy said he would fix it, or at least work at improving the NFL's worst rush offense. Three weeks later, call McCarthy "Mr. Fix It," because the running game actually has arrived.

However, it's doubtful McCarthy knew it would be this easy. He won't call it easy, but after Wynn was hurt early at Denver, Ryan Grant entered the game after Wynn was injured with nothing to lose and a lot to gain. He recorded the Packers' first 100-yard game of the season, and Sunday, just to prove it wasn't a fluke, he did it again, rushing for a career-high 119 yards in the Packers' 34-0 drubbing of Minnesota at Lambeau Field.

This performance was easily the most impressive rushing performance in some time for the Packers when you consider the Vikings entered the game with the NFL's second-ranked rush defense, led by the big, beefy defensive tackle Pat Williams, whose gut dwarfs Santa Claus.'

Grant has given the Packers a reliable option to counter Brett Favre's arm, and Grant's performance cannot be confused with Samkon Gado a couple years ago, when Gado came from nowhere and became solid.

Grant is better than Gado, runs hard, hits the hole fast and has an extra gear. When Grant was acquired in a trade with the Giants before the start of the season, nobody paid attention to the former Notre Dame tailback.

With Vernand Morency injured all training camp and Wynn a question mark in many ways, the Packers needed a body, but now they have more than that. Sunday's performance had Favre saying Grant reminds him a lot of Dorsey Levens, who wore No. 25, just as Grant does now.

"It's really something that we've been emphasizing," McCarthy said of the running game. "It starts up front with the run-blocking unit. The offensive line did an excellent job. "I think Ryan just keeps getting better each week with his opportunities. We're heading in the right direction. At one point I looked up on the scoreboard and our offense was pretty much balanced. That's the way you want to play entering November and December."

Nobody thought the Packers had a shred of chance to fix their running game during the season. It just doesn't happen, but the answer was on the sideline all along.

Part of Grant's development likely has to do with not being with the Packers during training camp. He had to learn a new offense, which takes time, and adjust to a new team. That takes time, but it's evident he's comfortable now.

Grant deflected praise after Sunday's game, like all running backs do.

"My success is based off the team," Grant said. "(Running backs) coach (Edgar) Bennett has done a great job on keeping us consistent, have goals … I'm just a long for the ride and playing my part."

Still, once he gets through the hole, it's usually up to him to see how far he can go. On his 30-yard touchdown run, Grant hit the hole and made a few players miss, while playing well off his blocks. Unlike Jackson, who seems to be thinking on the field, Grant is decisive and lets his instincts take over. He looks natural on the field.

Grant was the star running back this day, which was surprising. Minnesota had super rookie Adrian Peterson, but the former Oklahoma Sooner was contained until he hurt his knee in the third quarter and had just 45 yards, 251 fewer than a week before.

Peterson's talent keeps you watching every play, because, like Barry Sanders, his next carry could be for 60 yards.

Grant didn't enter the game thinking he had to out rush Peterson, whose the only back in the NFL to rush for more than 1,000 yards, but there had to be satisfaction that he, not Peterson, was the star running back.

The Packers' scheme against Minnesota was to run wide. With Kevin Williams and Pat Williams clogging the middle, the Packers went wide with success. A week earlier, San Diego ran LaDainian Tomlinson up the middle with little success. The Packers obviously saw if the best back in the NFL can't do it, then they certainly can't. McCarthy used Grant's speed outside and it worked perfectly.

"Their defensive tackles are, as a tandem, are one of the best in the league at run defense," McCarthy said. "The core of our running game is a stretch, cut mentality. That's the starting point. "We also felt some of our pattern schemes we could get on the edge. Those are some things in game-planning that you think you can take advantage of. When you break their run defense down, it starts with their tackles."

Added Grant: "With those two defensive tackles they have, it's hard running inside. We felt we could do some good things stretching them out." Now two 100-yard rushing games by Grant in three weeks doesn't mean the Packers have a running game to rival the best in the NFL. But you have to start somewhere and Grant has things moving in the right direction.

He has given hope to the Packers, when they play in tough, winter weather there is an option outside of Favre. Many believed the lack of a running game would be the Packers' downfall come postseason.

But now with Grant establishing himself as the feature back, it appears the Packers can be serious contenders to reach the Super Bowl. Who would've guessed that a month ago?

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to and Packer Report. E-mail him at

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