Running Backs Show Sixth Sense

Ryan Grant gets some help from his friends as the running backs contribute all six touchdowns in a 48-10 victory over Seattle. The performance was special for Grant, as well as his backups, young Brandon Jackson and veteran Ahman Green.

What in the name of Vince Lombardi is going on here?

Did Mike McCarthy ditch the zone blocking scheme for the fabled Packers' sweep? Did the Green Bay Packers walk into some sort of time capsule, with Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Donny Anderson stepping into the backfield?

The Packers throttled the Seattle Seahawks 48-10 at Lambeau Field on Sunday. The Packers' prolific receivers didn't score a touchdown. Nor did high-flying tight end Jermichael Finley. A ballhawking defense picked off four passes but didn't take any of them to the house. Instead, the running backs scored all six touchdowns -- including five on the ground for the first time since 1988.

Brandon Jackson put the Packers in front 7-0 by scoring from 13 yards out on a perfectly executed and well-timed screen against a blitz. Ryan Grant dove in from 3 yards and sprinted in from 56 as Green Bay led 24-3 at halftime. Jackson used speed and vision to score from 6 yards and power to score again from 4 as the score swelled to 38-3. And finally, Ahman Green bulled through from 6 yards for the Packers' final score.

So, in the penultimate week of the NFL season, Green Bay's fourth-ranked scoring offense has unveiled an even more diversified attack as it rolls into the playoffs on a 6-1 streak. If it's not Donald Driver or Greg Jennings or Jermichael Finley, it's Jackson and Green.

"We have different options," Green said. "If it's a pass, Aaron (Rodgers) drops back and he knows he can look deep, look short and then look to a short route to us or a tight end. For a defensive coordinator trying to game plan, it's like, 'Oh man.' You scratch your head a little bit and think about it hard, because you know you've got some good running backs you've got to prepare for a good receiving corps you've got to prepare for and a pretty good offensive line that's working hard and knows how to protect the quarterback."

It was a sweet, sweet day for all three of the halfbacks.

For Grant, who surpassed 1,200 rushing yards for the second consecutive year, it was another step toward recognition. In his last three games, Grant has touchdown runs of 62 yards against Chicago, 24 yards against Pittsburgh and 56 yards against Seattle. It's not unlike Grant's big-play roll that helped the Packers reach the NFC championship game two years ago.

"It means a lot more when you're winning," said Grant, who left the Seahawks' defense in his fumes after taking advantage of blocks by center Scott Wells, guards Daryn Colledge and Josh Sitton, and fullback Quinn Johnson. "1,200 yards is 1,200 yards, so from an individual standpoint, it does feel good. But when you win, you feel like you're doing more to help your team win, putting them in a better position to win games."


Brandon Jackson and Ryan Grant celebrate a touchdown.
Jim Prisching/AP Images
While nobody would mention Grant in the same breath as Minnesota's Adrian Peterson or Tennessee's Chris Johnson, there's no knocking his production. Since breaking into the lineup against Denver midway through the 2007 season, only Peterson (3,666 yards) has more than Grant's 3,334 rushing yards. Grant was slowed for much of last season by a hamstring injury, and had only 347 yards, a 3.8-yard average and two touchdowns through five games this season. In his last 10 games, though, Grant has 855 rushing yards, a 4.8-yard average and eight touchdowns. And while Peterson is a fumbling machine, Grant hasn't coughed it up on a running play all season.

"I've always felt like the guy," Grant said. "I'm still that guy. It doesn't make a difference. As any running back will tell you, confidence is half the battle. I want to score every time I touch the ball. I feel like I'm going to score every time I touch the ball."

Since become the featured back, Grant has basically been a one-man army for the Packers' rushing attack. Grant entered Sunday's game with 80.7 percent of the running backs' carries and 84.7 percent of the backs' yards and eight of the nine touchdowns. Against Seattle, Green contributed eight carries for 29 yards, including a 16-yard burst in which he refused to be brought down. Jackson chipped in five carries for 20 yards and three receptions for 19 yards, showing some of the shiftiness and power that made him a second-round pick in 2007.

"No. 1, I think Edgar Bennett does a fabulous job with those guys," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He's an excellent football coach and he works them extremely hard and they respond to him. We've gotten very good contributions out of all of those guys that have played. Whatever role they've been in, they've done a good job. They're a hard-working group of guys. They come to work every day. You don't worry about those guys assignment-wise; you don't worry effort-wise. I think it reflects well on E.B. and it reflects well on them, obviously."

For Jackson and Green, their performances were satisfying.

In Jackson's case, he's toiled away in relative anonymity as a third-down back for most of the season. He had carried the ball 26 times and caught it 16 times before Sunday but had made an important behind-the-scenes mark because of his growing physical and mental ability to pick up blitzes. His three touchdowns against the Seahawks were more than his career total of two, and he hadn't scored a touchdown since Week 2 at Detroit last season.

"It felt good out there, just catching the balls and converting the third downs and just scoring, just finally getting those stats on the board," Jackson said. "Blocking's kind of an unknown stat. You really don't get a stat for blocking. It felt good and I'm just blessed to be in that position to help the team."

In Green's case, it was his first touchdown since returning to the team for which he starred earlier in the decade. He has reached the end zone 68 time as a Packer -- good for third in team history -- and it was his first touchdown since playing for Houston more than 13 months ago.

"It felt great," Green said. "Scoring a touchdown here at Lambeau is a journey in itself because after you do whatever you do -- spike the ball, dance, whatever -- then you go jump in the stands and celebrate with the fans and a Lambeau Leap. It felt good. It's been too long. It was fun.

"I always dream about getting into the end zone, and this was one of them weeks, especially after we got the ball down there after the (pass interference). It was about 6, 7 yards out, and I was like, 'A bring wall ain't going to stop me from getting in the end zone today.'"

Even though the team rushed for 155 yards on 30 attempts (not including Matt Flynn's game-ending kneeldowns), Philbin wasn't exactly satisfied with a running game that averaged 3.4 yards per rush once Grant's long touchdown was excluded.

"I'm not sure we had a great day running the ball today," Philbin said. "We hit a huge 56-yarder that you usually don't hit, but I'm not so sure that we were as consistent and as sharp as we need to be."

But on a day when Rodgers barely completed 50 percent of his passes, the running backs stepped in and picked up the slack.

"When you're laying in bed on Saturday night, you're kind of hoping for five passing touchdowns," Rodgers joked, "but it's nice to have some of the burden taken off of your and those guys did a great job. Ryan, I think has really taken off this second half of the season. All three of our guys bring something different to the table."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, 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.


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