Running on empty: Packers need boost
Grant suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the season opener, and the running game hasn’t been the same. In two games since replacing the injured Grant as Green Bay’s top running back, Brandon Jackson has 18 carries for 41 yards and a touchdown.
Converted fullback John Kuhn has been slightly more productive, rushing 15 times for 67 yards in a win over Buffalo and a loss at Chicago. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers at times has looked like the team’s most dangerous running threat.
Left guard Daryn Colledge says it’s more complicated than just Grant.
“I think it’s simple to say something like, ‘You miss Grant,’ and obviously we do miss Grant,” Colledge said. “He’s a great player, we’d love to have him here. He worked hard to be ready for this season.
“But we’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to fix besides just who’s running the ball. We’ve got to make better holes, we’ve got to make better reads, we’ve got to move the pile, we’ve got to do a lot of things better. We’ve got a lot of things to work on.”
It’s no surprise that the Packers are relying mainly on a high-octane passing game to move the ball. But there will likely come a time where they’ll have to run the ball and they haven’t yet been able to do so without Grant.
Rodgers said the Packers just took what the Bears defense was giving them Monday.
“The way they were playing us, they allowed us to do a lot of underneath stuff,” Rodgers said. “The drive to take the lead there in the fourth quarter was a lot of that, it was dinking and dunking and spreading them out. And I think we did a good job with that. Now there will be games down the road where we’re going to have to run the ball more times, more effectively, and I think we can do that.”
Despite the so-so statistics, Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn’t seem particularly displeased with his running game this week as the team prepares to host Detroit.
“I thought Brandon and John played well with the opportunities that they were given with the ball in their hands and what was put in front of them,” McCarthy said.
The Bears stuck to their defensive scheme Monday night, typically rushing only four down linemen and often backing two or three linebackers into coverage. With so many players dropping into coverage, shouldn’t the Packers have had more opportunities to run the ball?
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said every play is different in terms of what personnel the Packers have in the game, what formation they’re using, what defense they’re facing and the down-and-distance situation. But generally, Philbin said, the Packers should be able to run the ball when opposing defenses aren’t clogging the line of scrimmage.
“If you say that we’ve got as many blockers as they’ve got guys in the box, then there should be some run opportunities, sure,” he said.
Philbin said blockers needed to do a better job keeping defenders out of the offensive backfield Monday night.
“It’s hard for them to make guys miss real early,” Philbin said of the running backs. “You want to give (Jackson) a chance at the second level on a (defensive back), give him a fair shake. Some of those, he hasn’t had great looks quite yet. But we’re hopeful those are going to improve.”
Veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, who struggled Monday night, said the blocking needs to be better.
“I just think we’re not a precise as we need to be,” Tauscher said. “We’re not giving our running backs the seams in order to be more efficient. I think it’s little things. If you’re off on your landmark by even six inches, it takes away six inches of running lane. It sounds easy, but it’s a lot tougher to execute.”
than just to say it.”
On the plus side, coaches were pleased with the way Jackson and Kuhn performed in the passing game. Jackson caught four passes for 27 yards against the Bears and Kuhn had two catches for 20 yards.
But Philbin doesn’t think a short passing game can completely replace a running game.
“I don’t ever think we ever want to get totally one-dimensional,” Philbin said. “So say, ‘OK, we’ve got the short passing game, that’s our run game, carte blanche,’ it may work for a couple weeks but you may end up in trouble.”