Run game serves purpose

While nobody is satisfied with the productivity, a run-heavy offense paid dividends against Seattle.

Averaging 2.9 yards per rush against a defense that was gutted for 254 rushing yards seven days earlier?

Not good.

But, as Mark Twain would have said, there's lies, damned lies and statistics.

Not to put a zesty garlic pesto on a roadkill, but the Packers' running game wasn't as bad as the statistics would lead you to believe in Sunday's 27-17 win at Seattle. The Packers ran the ball 39 times — 35 if you throw out two kneeldowns and two scrambles by Aaron Rodgers — and while it wasn't always productive, every one of them served a purpose.

"You're looking for big gains and you want those explosive runs, but I think what it does is it gives you the ability to have that threat the whole game," left guard Daryn Colledge said on Monday. "They've got to respect your ability to rush the ball. And even if you're only getting 3-yard gains, you're at least showing that, ‘Hey, if you guys don't put a guy in the box, we're going to break one.'"

In 33 attempts, Ryan Grant never broke one, and never really got close to doing so after the game's opening possession, but the perseverance provided several benefits. It kept a short-handed defense off the field and fresh for the fourth quarter. It slowed Seattle's pass rush, which is a nice benefit when the quarterback has a bum shoulder. And by keeping an extra player in the box, the run game led to an efficient passing game.

Plus, even without the benefit of a steady stream of 4- and 5-yard runs, the Packers benefited from a bunch of manageable third-down situations. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin thought the 18 third-down plays were the most since he arrived in Green Bay in 2003. The Packers went 10-for-18, including 5-of-8 on third-down plays of 1 to 5 yards and 5-of-8 on third downs of 6 to 10 yards.

"Going into the game, we felt good about the plan we had in place," Philbin said. "We felt like we had good matchups against their defensive front seven guys. We displayed good patience with the running game. You're always hoping, the 2.9, we would have thought with the 30-some-odd attempts — whether we cracked it in the third quarter or the fourth quarter — we would have anticipated that in the second half we would have gotten a bigger run off. There were some signs of progress, but we definitely need to get the yards per carry up."

That will be up to the offensive line. On Monday, coach Mike McCarthy said Grant's decisions got a "passing grade," meaning Grant didn't miss many reads that could have resulted in runs that would have significantly raised his 2.7-yard average.

"A guys gets a tackle around the ankle and you're like, ‘Uhhhh!,' Colledge said. "Or, the fullback gets tripped by me because my foot's in the hole too long. It's just one of those things. You're always right there, and that stuff will come. If I'm a little better with my aiming point, I stretch that hole, the fullback gets through. We get that guy down a little sooner, all of a sudden, he can't make that shoestring tackle."

At the same time, while Grant certainly isn't shying away from contact, he also hasn't broken many tackles or shown much wiggle to make a defender miss. Until all facets come together, the Packers' run game will remain mired in the bottom third of the league. (They rank 21st with 98.5 rushing yards per game and 20th with a 3.7-yard average per attempt.)

"I thought there were a lot of positive things," McCarthy said, "but time and time again, whether it was the finish of a block or the breaking of an arm tackle, it's always the little stuff that makes a big difference. It really is. If you watch the film closely, you'll see it. You'll see a lot of positive, a lot more positive aspects of our fundamental play was evident (Sunday) compared to our prior competitions. But we can do a better job, because we had some opportunities for some runs to come out the back door, and it didn't happen."

Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com


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