The Green Bay Packers offense has been heavily lopsided in favor of the pass over the run for seemingly forever. All last season and through nine weeks of this season, at least, the Packers’ fortunes have rested almost exclusively on Aaron Rodgers’ right arm. In Sunday’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the Packers were able to bring some balance to the offense, with a 39-rushing, 30-passing performance. For Packer fans who have long watched Green Bay struggle to establish any sort of consistency on the ground, this is astonishing. The Packers actually ran more than they passed!
Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy have admitted that, due to the struggles of the run game, rushing attempts can be more about quantity than quality in keeping opposing defenses honest. On Sunday, the Packers were able to get both quantity and quality, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, after spending the previous eight weeks dwelling in the NFL basement with under 3.8 yards per carry.
There was balance within the running game, as well. James Starks led the team with 61 yards, Alex Green had 53, Rodgers ran for 33, and Randall Cobb chipped in 29 yards. It was nice to see both Starks and Green have good outings. Starks began the season with a turf toe injury that kept him sideline, but was unable to earn many snaps even after recovering. Green has had a tough assignment, shouldering the majority of carries on a team that struggles with rushing, but was able to rip off a nice 21-yard run in the first quarter on a drive that led to the Packers’ first touchdown. Rodgers ran well but never looked like he needed to run. Rather, he took what the Arizona defense gave him.
Rodgers, who threw for four touchdowns but completed fewer than half his passes, benefited immensely from the strengthened rushing attack. With Rodgers not playing at his absolute best (he still looked pretty darn good, though), the quarterback did not have to force desperate throws into double coverage since he could rely on the running backs to pull their weight in the offense and take some of the pressure off of him.
Too often this season, McCarthy has abandoned the run when rushing yards were hard to come by, allowing defenses to drop extra backs into coverage and hamper the Packers’ passing game. Such an approach is tempting when you have a bad rushing team and an amazing quarterback coupled together, but against a team like Arizona, whose strength is their pass defense, such a strategy is exactly what they would hope for from Green Bay. McCarthy called a really excellent game, balancing runs and passes, using all the rushing options that were available, and forcing the Cardinals to commit extra men to the box.
Sunday’s game was a good step in the right direction for the Packers offense, but I don’t expect this to solve their problems in the run game. Arizona, while great against the pass, is pretty weak against the run. Green Bay will face much tougher rushing opponents in the back half of the season. The Minnesota Vikings are fifth in rush defense and will play the Packers twice, the Chicago Bears also have a top-10 rush defense, and the New York Giants are no cream puffs against the run, either.
McCarthy and the Packers will have to be committed and flexible in the run. They will have to be committed to giving balance to the offense despite difficulties, and will have to be flexible in how they comprise the run game – Starks might be hot one game, Green the next; Cobb is great for a spark when things are beginning to stall; short passes can equal a run game when you can’t get anything else going. This victory will not be the end of Packer fans wringing their hands over the run game – Green Bay will continue struggle – but it provides an encouraging blueprint for success in striking an offensive balance.