Last week, the Green Bay Packers' offensive line was overwhelmed by the Minnesota Vikings' defense. Last week, the Chicago Bears' run defense dominated the Tennessee Titans' potent two-headed running back.
So, naturally, the Packers rode a powerful ground attack to a 37-3 thumping of the Bears in a must-win game at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Ryan Grant rumbled for 105 rushing yards by halftime and the Packers finished with 200 yards on the ground in easily their most impressive offensive performance of the season.
"The offensive line dominated the game," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Behind a line that drew heavy criticism for its play last week at Minnesota, the Packers gained 7 or more yards on 11 of their 38 carries against the NFL's fourth-ranked run defense. They averaged 5.3 yards per attempt, including 25 carries for 145 yards (5.8-yard average) and a touchdown by Grant and 10 for 50 (5.0 average) for Brandon Jackson.
"It felt great," Grant said. "To do it in our hometown, in front of the crowd, to get that win when we needed it the most against a division rival, it's big for us. Big game."
The Packers set the tone from the start, when Grant ripped off a 6-yard run off left tackle. After a holding penalty set up second-and-14, Grant rumbled off left guard for 35 yards. It was his first run of more than 17 yards since Week 1.
While that drive fizzled, that strong start was just the launching point for a Packers' running game that hammered the Bears with a heavy dose of two-fullback and two-tight end sets. With Green Bay leading 7-3, Grant rushed for 7 and 3 yards to convert a second-and-10, then Brandon Jackson got the ball on five consecutive carries, picking up 9, 7, 7, 6 and 1 yards.
As was the case for most of the game, most of the damage came on runs behind left tackle Chad Clifton and left guard Daryn Colledge, with some misdirection runs to the right continually keeping the Bears off-balance.
That drive ended in an interception, but the Packers went ahead 14-3 on their next possession, keyed by Grant's 18-yard run around left end and culminated on a 4-yard scoring run by Grant in which center Scott Wells and right guard Jason Spitz pushed Bears defenders into the end zone and right tackle Mark Tauscher rode defensive end Alex Brown far to the outside.
The Packers led 17-3 at halftime, with Grant becoming the first Packer since Samkon Gado in December 2005 against Detroit to rush for more than 100 yards in a half. A lot of the credit goes to a line that was throttled by the Vikings a week earlier but took its frustration out on a Bears front seven that stacks up among the best in the NFL.
"I think it was evident, really starting with practice Wednesday and Thursday," coach Mike McCarthy said of his line's bounce-back performance. "That's a credit to their character, it's a credit to their coaching and the veteran leadership in that group. It was nice to see them get after the opponent."
It was a sweet performance for Clifton, in particular, who had one of the worst games of a superlative career against the Vikings' Jared Allen last week. On Sunday, he was strong in the run game and was part of an offensive line that didn't allow Rodgers to even get hit, much less sacked.
"Yeah, for me personally, it was nice," Clifton said. "But as an offense as a whole, it was nice to have the game that we had today rushing the ball."
Asked if the line played with a collective chip on its shoulder after a poor performance last week, Wells paused before saying: "We wanted this win. We had kind of been backed into a corner. We came out there and executed much better. Last week was a real low point. Obviously, this week is going to be a real high point. Guys have to keep it in perspective, build on it and move forward."
After not getting a single carry during a preseason ruined by a sore hamstring, Grant has hit his stride with 584 rushing yards over the previous six games. Sunday was his season-high performance and second 100-yard output in the last four games.
"I have felt better and better," Grant said. "This is the best I've felt all season, so I do feel like I'm getting in a groove."
McCarthy said it's a matter of all facets of the ground game coming together.
"I think it's really the whole group," McCarthy said. "I think it starts up front with the run-blocking unit, and I think we're hitting our targets better, we're finishing better. Our combination blocks are tighter. I think Ryan is seeing it cleaner. He's picking his knees up better. I think it's really the whole group. We were not crisp at the beginning of the year. You've still got to block 'em, you've still got to read it right, you've got to finish them and get to the second level. I really felt the last month, the crispness and the rhythm and timing of the run game has been there. It's days like today that you're able to get the attempts to both Brandon and Ryan and get the production that we got done today. That's what you're looking for."
For weeks, the Packers said they were close to popping Grant loose, and finally, it wasn't so many empty words. Grant had runs of 35, 22 and 18 yards. Just as importantly, he was dropped for a loss just once and was stopped for no gain only four times. With the offense getting production on almost every carry, the Packers were able to avoid the third-and-long situations that doomed them against Minnesota. The Packers converted 7-of-14 third-down opportunities and went 1-for-1 on fourth down.
Asked what the difference was from last week, Wells said it was execution. And Grant's hard-charging style only fueled the line's fire.
"I saw it on the first time he got the ball. He ran hard," Wells said. "I was motivated by the way he was running the football. Any time you can see that passion in your running back, the offensive line builds on it. We were able to kind of feed off each other. I know he was feeding off us. We were feeding off him."
So, with the season on the line, the Packers ran over the Bears to create a three-way tie for first place in the NFC North. McCarthy can only hope it's a sign of things to come as the season enters its stretch run.
"This is November football, and this is when you have to do it," McCarthy said.
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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