I’ve tried to be positive about the Green Bay Packers‘ running backs since Cedric Benson went down with an injury early in the season, but I never had much faith in James Starks and Alex Green. I guess I owe them an apology after their strong performances in Sunday’s tougher-than-it-should-have-been win over the Minnesota Vikings.
The Packers once more balanced their offensive play calling with 36 run attempts and 35 passing attempts. The difference was, this time, the run attempts actually gained something. Green Bay finished the day with 152 yards rushing for a 4.2 average per carry. Starks ran for 66 yards and Green added 58.
The average per carry was a bit better than the stats show as Green Bay spent the final minutes running to spend the clock. The numbers aren’t gaudy–not like Adrian Peterson’s 10 yards per carry average!–but they’re a huge improvement for the Packers.
The ability of the run game also aided in the Packers being able to control the clock, something they have struggled to do both this season and last. More ground production helped the Packers put together an NFL season-high 11-minute drive in the fourth quarter. The drive netted only three points, but put the Vikings in a bind time-wise when they eventually did get the ball back.
In a game that saw an already-shuffled offensive line having to introduce yet another player into the line, protecting Aaron Rodgers was a number one priority and the increased production of the run game went a long way in helping that.
But, as coach Mike McCarthy has said over and over this season, it’s all about stacking success, especially in a season when the Packers have put out such inconsistent week-to-week performances. The Packers did well against a team that ranks seventh in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt, but that’s not going to mean much if the Packers can’t carry over this improvement to next week and beyond.
They’ll have an opportunity next Sunday night when they face a Detroit Lions defense that ranks 24th and 27th in rushing yards per game and per attempt, respectively.
The Packers will never be a run-first team, not as long as Rodgers is taking snaps. They don’t need a dominant rusher like a Peterson or Arian Foster, but they need runners they can depend on. They need runners that can put them into manageable third down situations, as Starks and Green were able to do on Sunday. Now it’s all up to them to stack that success.