It was only one game — a preseason game, at that — but that the Packers' offense was off and running last week against Cleveland is reason for cautious optimism.
The Packers ran roughshod over the Browns last week, piling up 232 rushing yards and averaging 5.2 yards per carry once you subtract the two kneel-downs to end the game. That included 93 yards on 21 carries (4.4 average) in the first half, when the Packers' first and second units were facing the Browns' No. 1 defense.
Can the Packers maintain that success tonight against Buffalo? If so, that would be an extremely positive development.
Last season, the Packers ranked 23rd in rushing one-fourth of the way through the season. They wound up 17th.
In 2007, the Packers ranked 27th in rushing through four games. They improved to 21st.
In 2006, they ranked 26th in rushing through four games. They managed to get to 23rd. In 2005, they ranked 28th in rushing through four games. They wound up finishing 30th.
"Past success doesn't predicate future success, nor does failure," said right guard/center Jason Spitz, who's been a starter and seen those slow starts first-hand since 2006. "We have struggled with the run early on. Obviously, that's apparent. You can't really say one way or the other if we have it fixed. We were successful on Saturday. We're going to keep working, keep plugging away and hopefully we'll have success later on."
As has been well-chronicled, coach Mike McCarthy set the tone with a more physical training camp, with the hope that the team would be more physical from Week 1. Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton acknowledged that fact after Saturday's game.
"It's tough to put too much stock into the first preseason game, no question about that," Clifton said. "But what you like seeing, you like seeing the guys out there competing, busting their butts to get the running game going. We certainly did that today. It's been a physical camp — I think a camp that we needed to get that mind-set and that attitude. It was a good start, and that's all it was. It was a good start today and something to build upon.
"The past couple years, we kind of started off slow in the rushing category. This year, hopefully we'll just hit the field running with it."
The Packers face a different challenge tonight. After slicing and dicing the Browns' 3-4 scheme last week, Buffalo runs a 4-3 defense similar to what the Packers ran last year, with former defensive coordinator Bob Sanders coaching the Bills' defensive linemen. The Bills played in the Hall of Fame Game so have been at this for an extra week.
"This is Buffalo's third preseason game, so they've had an opportunity to put their defensive line out there and do their rushes and their twist schemes and things like that," offensive line coach James Campen said. "It will be a great challenge for us and a great evaluating period."
Left guard Daryn Colledge, who like Spitz has been a starter since being drafted in 2006, isn't preoccupied with the rushing stats. All he cares about is whether the run game is effective when it's needed.
"I don't think it makes a difference for us," he said. "We just want to have a consistent enough run game that we're taking some pressure off of A-Rod. Whether we run the ball for 150 yards or we run the ball for 50 yards, we need to run the ball for what we need in that game. If there's a team we plan on attacking with the pass, we won't run as much. We just need to have consistency.
"We need to be able to rely on it, to fall back on it when we need it, to use it to convert short yardage and put Ryan (Grant) in the Pro Bowl."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.