Time to get macho

PackerReport.com's Doug Ritchay explains why fine-tuning the rushing attack will be key for the Green Bay Packers in 2008

When the Green Bay Packers hired coach Mike McCarthy two years ago, there was a term called "Pittsburgh Macho," in a reference to where he is from and how he wants to play football.

He talked about getting physical, or running the ball as the key to success, but with future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre he realized he had to use that talent as well. As the Packers and McCarthy enter this offseason, McCarthy may have to re-visit his original thought.

If we learned anything this season — and I'm sure few want to admit this — it is Favre isn't as good in the cold as he once was. In the team's two most weather-impacted games — at Chicago and home to the Giants in the NFC championship game — Favre was not himself and made crucial mistakes which led to defeats each time.

Don't get me wrong, Favre still can be Pro Bowl-type player next season, but he's at a position where age will catch you. He's lasted longer than anybody thought, but it's better for the Packers to start balancing their play calling next season instead of waiting for Favre to either retire or all of sudden look old, even on 80-degree days.

This means McCarthy has to take some of the burden off Favre in 2008, assuming he returns. If Favre retires, it would be smart to still go this way with Aaron Rodgers, as expecting him to carry the offense in his first season as a starter would be asking too much.

This past season, the Packers had 578 pass attempts and 345 rushing attempts (scrambles and kneel downs were not included), which means the Packers threw 63 percent of the time. Because Favre was so good, and the running game was so bad early on, McCarthy was forced to throw.

But entering next season, the Packers will have a better running game off the bat, as Ryan Grant has established himself as the featured back. With a full offseason with the Packers, Grant should be ready to carry more than the 188 times he carried this past season.

Also, by running more, the Packers' play-action pass will become a better weapon, as we saw with Grant late this past season, and they might become a better bad-weather team than they were this past season.

Furthermore, Favre isn't going to last forever. By taking the burden off him, he will remain fresher down the stretch of the season and likely feel less inclined to make questionable throws, because he knows the running game can win some games.

Favre is in the stage of his career where it's unfair to ask him to win games every week. He's going to be 39 in October and with all the football he has played, asking him to repeat his 2007 season in 2008 is asking a lot.

A perfect comparison is John Elway. His last four seasons was his best four-year run of his career. He threw a combined 101 touchdown passes and 49 interceptions and won the Super Bowl his last two years.

The reason he excelled late was he had Terrell Davis at running back and his ability to gain 120 yards any week made Elway's job much easier. Also, twice in those four years Elway didn't even have 500 pass attempts.

Denver, which relied on Elway much of his career, changed its direction and it paid off, which Packers fans weren't too fond of as the Broncos won Super Bowl XXXII against the Packers.

Remember Elway's impact in that game? It was little. Everyone talks about his "helicopter" run for a first down, but his numbers were nothing to boast about. At 36, he completed 12 of 22 passes for 123 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Meanwhile, Davis scampered for 157 yards on 30 carries, while scoring three touchdowns on his way to garnering MVP honors. Denver's running game, not Elway's arm, won that game.

I'm not saying Grant is Davis, but the Packers now have a running back they can count on. The key is to back him up with a quality No. 2, in case of injury, or just because it's smart not to wear down your feature back during the season. Whether that's Brandon Jackson or somebody else, the Packers need to address their running game this coming offseason.

They don't need to draft a back in the first round, but they need quality depth. If they get it, Favre will be asked to do less, he will feel less pressure and the Packers will be a better team than they were in 2007.

If the Packers continue to throw the burden on Favre, it's going to be tough to reach expectations next season. John Elway needed help and look where it got him. Now the Packers must do the same.

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

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