I don’t want to jinx anything, but are the formerly pass-happy Green Bay Packers developing a surprisingly dependable running game?
You won’t mistake them for a run-first team by any means, but the recent performance of the Green Bay running backs gives the team reason to hope – and takes some the pressure off of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Not only does the presence of a ground game mean that Rodgers doesn’t have to do absolutely everything on his own, it also means that he won’t be subject to so many tough sacks and hits from defensive lines that don’t have to account for the run.
In the Sunday night 27-20 victory over the Detroit Lions, the Packers ran for 140 yards with a 5.7 yards per carry average. These numbers are not showstoppers unless you’ve been keeping tabs on Green Bay’s dismal yards per carry stats throughout the season – fewer than four yards per carry on average.
Though the Packers have had glimpses of a run game earlier in the season, it’s been inconsistent, to use a generous term. Combined with last week’s 152 yard rushing outing, the Packers have put together the strongest back-to-back running performances the Green Bay faithful has seen in a long, long time. It’s not just the final numbers, but the efficacy of the run.
Alex Green, who has struggled to make his mark on the field, had the best day of his career, setting the pace with 69 yards on 13 carries. More important than the numbers is that Green was able to make significant gains on first downs, putting the Packers in great down-and-distance situations. This is awesome to see from Green, who, up until last week’s decent game, had not made a convincing case for playing time. This game goes a long way in proving to his coaches and fans that he can be a solid, two-down back. Now, the team just needs to get him his first NFL touchdown!
Rookie DeJuan Harris, who was signed barely a week ago from the Green Bay practice squad, had a strong and surprising debut. The guy that most Packer fans hadn’t even heard of ran the ball seven times for 31 yards and a crucial touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Prodigal son Ryan Grant had only one rushing attempt, but it was for 13 yards and a big-time first down. The first down let Grant get his feet wet, but also gave the fans at Lambeau Field a chance to let Grant know how happy they are that he’s back.
Even Rodgers got in on the rushing fun, running for a 27-yard touchdown and an opportunity to pull out his Championship Belt celebration, which he reserves for his more “athletic” plays. The running game became such a priority for Green Bay that Rodgers ended up not throwing for a touchdown in the game, snapping his streak of 35 home games with a passing touchdown.
As happy as I am with the game, the truth of the matter is that I’ve been burned before by thinking the Packers’ running game was “fixed” after one good game only to watch it crumble the next, so I’m viewing the current state of the running game with cautious optimism. After all, as good as Detroit’s front seven is, they are only 22nd in the league in yards allowed. But after losing two starting running backs to injuries this season, the fact is that the Packers are slowly and steadily putting together a reliable run game that can give them comfort as the weather’s going to get colder and snowier than it was Sunday night. And that’s something to be (cautiously) excited about.