In football, oohs and ahhs are delivered by passing the ball, but games are won and lost with a team's ability to run the football and prevent the opponent from doing the same.
So far, the Packers are doing neither at a respectable level.
Green Bay's run offense, with a less-than-full-speed Ryan Grant, a revolving-door offensive line and the absence of starting fullback Korey Hall for most of the last three games, ranks 23rd in the 32-team NFL with 93.5 rushing yards per game and is tied for 18th with 3.9 yards per rush.
The Packers showed a promising running game en route to a first-drive touchdown against the Buccaneers, but Grant gained just 3 yards on his final 10 rushes and had a critical fumble for the second consecutive week.
Rookie Josh Sitton, who spent half of training camp starting at right guard before spraining a ligament in his knee, is healthy, but coach Mike McCarthy on Monday signaled no lineup changes were in the works. Perhaps, he wants to give this unit – which regained the services of veteran center Scott Wells last week – more time to come together.
"Personnel changes is really not on my mind-set right now," McCarthy said. "I'm more focused on the meeting today and make sure they clearly understand exactly what went wrong and what we need to do to fix it. It's not about changing parts. It's about getting the parts cleaned up and working in a better fashion."
What went wrong is what's been wrong for the last several weeks. McCarthy cited poor pad level by the blockers, giving Tampa Bay's defense a leverage advantage. Combined with Grant still rounding into form after missing so much practice time during training camp and the first three weeks of the season, the running game remains a work in progress. Except, it's not making much progress.
"It all fits together," McCarthy said. "You make statements of rhythm, timing, footwork, pad level, they all mean something. The cohesiveness of it all working in conjunction together is important, and that's definitely not there right now. It's nothing that can't be fixed. Their pads were lower than ours. It's not like we don't practice ... we don't practice high pad level. Our footwork needs to be better. Our finish needs to be better. They did a better job of that than we did, and we need to go back and rep it and spend a little more time in pads and individual work this week than we have the last two weeks and that's how we'll go about it."
Meanwhile, Green Bay's run defense, with injuries galore, a lack of depth and shoddy tackling, ranks 26th in the NFL with 157.8 rushing yards allowed per game and 30th with 5.2 yards allowed per rush. And the Atlanta Falcons, with the NFL's top-ranked running game, coming to town this week.
While the Packers yielded more than 170 rushing yards for the third time in four weeks against the Bucs, McCarthy said he saw some improvement.
"I thought we played with much better gap control throughout the defensive front. We're just not winning it down enough," McCarthy said. "Time and time again, we had very good spacing and leverage on the ball carrier, but was unable to put him down in a favorable down and distance. Those are things as far as tackling, firing your gun and so forth. I think we definitely made improvement in that area. We had the big run come out there at the end that obviously hurt us, which counts, in the run defense, but we're just not winning it down enough on defense. But I thought our gap control from Dallas to this week improved."
McCarthy suggested punter Derrick Frost will get another opportunity this week, but he's clearly not happy with a punting unit that continues to give away field position. "We need to punt the ball better, we need to punt protect the ball better," McCarthy said. "The punt protection was not what it was supposed to look like. We've been very strong on special teams maybe the first two contests, but the last two weeks, this is probably as bad a performance as we've had on special teams in some time here. We need to get that fixed." … Donald Driver had just one first-quarter catch against the Bucs, but McCarthy said the veteran receiver performed well, saying mistakes by others took away some opportunities. … McCarthy said cornerback Tramon Williams had a "winning performance" in his first start in place of Al Harris.