4

September

Despite Optimism, Evidence is Lacking that the Packers’ rushing attack will be Better in 2013

Eddie Lacy has people excited about the Packers running game. Is it irrational excitement?

Is it just me, or are people irrationally assuming that the Packers will be a better running team this season?

I just got done listening to Bill Simmons’ latest podcast. Simmons and Cousin Sal (Simmons’ sidekick) talked about NFL over/under win totals and highlighted the Packers improved running game as a possible reason for the team’s success this upcoming season. Sal even cited Jonathan Franklin as a reason for his optimism, even though Franklin has looked like a total bust so far.

It’s normal for national media figures to stick to talking points and get a little confused about specific players when doing massive preview shows that cover all 32 NFL teams.  But even locally and among Packers fans, the consensus seems to be that the Packers will go from being a horrible running team to at least a decent running team.

Why? What have we seen this preseason that has made us think that? I can’t think of much. Here’s what I have seen, and it’s not pretty:

  • The Packers averaged a measly 3.0 yards per carry in the preseason.
  • The Packers long rush was a 21-yard scramble by the now departed Vince Young, a quarterback.
  • Eddie Lacy, the presumed starter, averaged 2.0 yards per carry.
  • Bryan Bulaga, a key to the Packers run blocking up front, is out for the season.
  • DuJuan Harris is gone for the year, and Mike McCarthy sounded uncharacteristically depressed when talking about the injury.
  • This is still the Packers and McCarthy is still the coach. They’re going to want to pass, pass and pass some more.

Help me out here: What am I missing that others are seeing in predicting great things for the Packers on the ground this season?

Is all of the hope about a better running game centered on Lacy? That’s fair, I suppose. I’m excited about Lacy as well. But Lacy is also already banged up and could be one hit or awkward fall away from joining Harris on injured reserve.

Is all of the hope centered on just how awful the Packers were at running the ball in 2012? It’s not good when you’re leading rusher finishes with 464 yards, like Alex Green did last season.

24

October

Packers Video: Alex Green Is Fine, Line Needs to Block Better

Packers running back Alex Green

Packers running back Alex Green

Alex Green finished last Sunday’s game with 35 yards on 15 carries, not exactly setting the world on fire. Soon after, Packers fan panic set in.

“We have no running game with Benson hurt”

“Green hesitates too much and is indecisive…”

“We need a faster, shiftier back…”

Alex Green is fine, people. In fact, less than 12 months off of ACL surgery, he’s damn fine. While we all want instant gratification, Green deserves more time to get fully healthy and another offseason to get stronger. Green is better than Cedric Benson in all but one category, pushing the pile.

The problem with the Packers’ running game is the offensive line. There just aren’t a lot of clear holes there for the Packers running backs. There also isn’t much of a downfield push, either. In fact. the opposite is often true; opposing defensive linemen spend a lot of time on the Packers side of the line of scrimmage.

Take a look at this video of the first running play of the game:

Unknowingly, this play would set the tone for the Packers running game against the Rams. I’m not picking on TJ Lang here, although he admitted himself on twitter he did not have a good game. Lang was abused by rookie Michael Brockers most of the day (Brockers was the DL I was most hoping the Packers might get in last April’s draft). But Lang had plenty of company. The entire offensive line, even the usually reliable Josh Sitton looked a step slow and unable to contain the Ram’s young and talented front four.

There is no doubt this was a game where Cedric Benson could have helped more than Green. Benson has the ability to push the pile and fall forward to gain an extra one or two yards when there seemingly were none. I believe this is what Mike McCarthy was hinting at this week when he commented that the Packers left too many yards out on the field (too many 2 yd runs that could have been 4 yd runs).

For his part, McCarthy has been making some adjustments for Green’s style of running. During the Texans’ game, I spotted something rather unusual for Mike McCarthy’s offense – at least 3 running plays where the Packers pulled a guard (TJ Lang in all cases). Here’s the video of the first one I spotted:

15

September

Green Bay Packers Running Game: the Six-Legged Monster

Green Bay Packers running back James Starks dives into the endzone for a touchdown .

One thing that has been left out of the discussion this week has been the effectiveness of the Green Bay Packers running game during their 42-34 win over the New Orleans Saints. Hidden behind Aaron Rodgers’ deadly accuracy and Randall Cobb’s record-setting plays were three guys that together made a big difference: Ryan Grant, James Starks, and John Kuhn.

Before getting into the details, I do have one admission of guilt to make: I was skeptical of the “two-back system” coming into the game.

I didn’t doubt the abilities of Ryan Grant or James Starks; instead, I wondered whether their running attack would be less effective by splitting up the carries. In the past, many of us have criticized Mike McCarthy for not giving enough touches to the running back, and yet, by splitting up their carries, weren’t we preventing them from finding their rhythm?

And yet, somehow, that didn’t seem to matter in this game. Both Grant and Starks managed over 4 yards per carry and only two runs for less than positive yardage. Ten of their 24 first downs were gained on the ground, as were two of the five touchdowns from the offense.

JAMES STARKS

Between the two running backs, James Starks looks to be the best runner by far. He has good vision, patience, and a hard running style. In this “one cut system,” he will shine brightly and often.

Starks’ biggest play of the night was his 17-yard touchdown run. While the line did an excellent job of initiating the blocks, Starks showed some nice dexterity by weaving through the hole created for him. After that, he lowered his pads and forced his way past two remaining defenders for the score.

Ironically, Starks was also the only running back to get stuffed during the game. Once for no gain, and once for a 2-yard loss.

RYAN GRANT

The tried-and-true veteran of the group, Ryan Grant was solid but unspectacular. His longest run of the evening was 10 yards, though he managed 4.4 YPC on only 9 touches with a single reception of 5 yards.

While Grant will occasionally suffer from some running-into-the-pile syndrome, he did seem to improve his pass blocking for the game. Considering some of the recent blunders by Starks in that department, Grant might find himself in a few more third down situations than originally anticipated.

11

May

My Newest Favorite Packers Draft Pick – Alex Green

Um, who is Alex Green? I have to admit, that was my first reaction to the announcement of the Packers’ third round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. I hadn’t really paid much attention to running backs in my pre-draft research. I can blame that on the CheeseheadTV Draft guide, which had me spending all of my free time studying offensive tackles and outside linebackers.

I did expect the Packers to take a running back, but not until day three of the draft. So when the Packers selected Green, I raised my eyebrows a bit, read a few scouting reports and was satisfied that it seemed like a decent pick. When the draft concluded, I have to say that there was a lot that I liked about how it had all worked out for the Green Bay Packers. The Packers took three players I was really hoping for (Sherrod, Cobb and Guy), and a few I consider very pleasant surprises (House, Williams, & Elmore).

But what about this Alex Green? Well, since the draft ended, I’ve been quietly compiling information and watching tape. I can now truly say – I like this pick as much as I do those of Sherrod and Cobb.

First, a little background. I’ve been watching football for over 40 years and I’ve always been a bruising running game kind of guy. I’ve always been drawn to teams that could run it down your throat and there was nothing you could do about it. The Packers with Taylor and Hornung. The Dolphins with Csonka, Kiick and Morris. The Steelers with Harris and Bleier. Of course, those were all a long time ago and it’s a different NFL now.

As recently as during the 2010 season, I was still steadfastedly holding to my belief that a championship caliber team needs at least a “consistent” running game.  Of course, the Packers went out and proved that to be just a bunch of hooey, and finally broke though that wall of denial I had built around myself. Yes, I am now a believer. Running game, schmunning game – who needs it?

But while the Packers proved to me you don’t “need” it, I don’t think anyone would argue it would be a hell of an additional weapon to have. Well Good Golly Miss Molly, I believe the Packers agree. With their selection of Alex Green, adding to the Ryan Grant – James Starks mix, the Packers are saying to opposing defensive coordinators – good luck game planning us.

13

March

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations — Offense — Korey Hall

1) Introduction: A former linebacker at Boise State, Korey Hall was converted to fullback by the Packers after they selected him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft. Hall started 10 games in his rookie season, and caught eight passes for 49 yards while contributing on special teams. Over the next two seasons however, Hall only started a combined 10 games at fullback and dealt with a number of injuries. Durability has been a concern, and Hall missed 12 games in his first three seasons (2007-’09).

His signature moment might be when he caught his first and only touchdown of his career in Week 1 of the 2008 season against the Minnesota Vikings. Hall’s catch was also the first touchdown pass for Aaron Rodgers as the Packers starting quarterback.  Interestingly enough, Hall has never carried the ball in his 48 career games in Green Bay.

2) Profile:

Korey Dean Hall

Position: LB
Height: 6-1    Weight: 230 lbs.

Born: August 5, 1983 in Mountain Home, ID
College: Boise State (school history)    (Hall college stats)
Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 6th round (192nd overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft.

3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: Low. Hall is probably the least-known and least-respected member of the Packers fullback trio, and there were few people who were talking about him coming into the season. Many suspected the physical blocking of Quinn Johnson to take hold of the fullback position, and John Kuhn was considered a more versatile offensive player.

However, that didn’t mean that Hall was without value coming into the season.

He’s never contributed much offensively, but Hall is an underrated and important part of the Packers special teams unit. From 2007-2009, Hall led the Packers in special teams tackles. The unit has struggled over those years, but Hall was expected to contribute to the turnaround of the special teams.

4) Player’s highlights/lowlights: As a player who touched the ball twice the entire season (two catches for 11 yards), very few highlights or lowlights exist for Hall. Even so, his 17 special teams tackles led the team.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Hall began the season as the Packers starting fullback, but his playing time slowly gave way to John Kuhn and  Quinn Johnson. While limited offensively, Hall found other ways to help the Packers during the 2010 season. He was arguably the Packers most important special teams player behind Jarrett Bush, and his 17 tackles on that unit led the team.

11

March

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations — Offense — Quinn Johnson

1.)Introduction: He may not be a folk hero like fellow fullback John “Kuuuuuuuuhn” Kuhn, but Quinn Johnson is no small guy.  Drafted in the fifth round by the Green Bay Packers in 2009 out of LSU, Johnson is a beast of a man and has been a key part of bolstering the Packers’ rushing attack.  While he may not be a touchdown machine near the goal line like Kuhn, Johnson took his blocking role seriously even though he was only active for 11 games this season.

2.) Profile:

Quinn Marcus Johnson

Position: RB
Height: 6-0    Weight: 251 lbs.

Born: September 30, 1986 in New Orleans, LA
College: LSU (school history)    (Johnson college stats)
Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 5th round (145th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 0 (14365th overall since 1950)

3.) Expectations entering the 2010 season: For Johnson, there were very few expectations placed on his shoulders.  With the Packers running an offense that does not feature the fullback very often, Johnson and the others played the role of lead blocker for the running back, whether it was Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson or James Starks.

The mission for Johnson in 2010 was simple: make your blocks and help open lanes for the running backs.

4.)Player’s highlights/lowlights: Basically Non -existent.  Johnson only started four games this year and with no rushes and only 3 catches for 26 yards to his credit, it’s hard to find any noticeable ups and downs for a player.

Still, with the Packers lacking a rushing attack for the majority of the 2010 season, some of that can be thrown on Johnson, I suppose.  Holes were not being opened up and all the blockers share some responsibility.  Johnson was definitely part of that group.

On the plus side though, Johnson helped anchor a backfield that allowed James Starks to set a Packers rookie playoff rushing record in the Wild Card game against the Philadelphia Eagles.  That helped serve notice that the Packers were close to achieving offensive balance and put the Falcons on notice for the next week (not that it helped).

5.) Player’s contribution to the team’s overall success: Again, when you are only active 11 games and start four of those,   it’s hard to make a significant on-field impact.    Johnson was inactive for the Super Bowl.

11

March

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations – Offense – John Kuhn

1) Introduction: Kuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhn! It’s surprising that John Kuhn has risen up to be a folk hero with the Green Bay Packers fan base considering it wasn’t even a lock that he would had made the team in 2010. In 2009 the Packers made a highly unusual move by drafting a fullback, and in the 5th round to boot. That created a log jam with incumbents Korey Hall and Kuhn. In a even more unusual move, the Packers chose to retain all 3 for the 2010 season which is surprising since many teams only have one. With the injury to starting running back Ryan Grant in week 1, John Kuhn basically switched to running back for the first half of the season before going back to full back for the second half of the season with the emergence of rookie running back James Starks. But by then Kuhn had not only enamored himself with the fans but also to the offense as he became the primary short yardage back and also clutch goal line receiver for the Packers.

2) Profile:

John Kuhn

Position: FB
Height: 6-0    Weight: 255 lbs.

Born: September 9, 1982 in York, PA
College: Shippensburg

3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: Starter. Kuhn figured to see significant playing time as the starting fullback for the Packers (although Korey Hall typically was listed as the starting fullback Kuhn seemed to be on the field more often), one of the few teams that actually runs the traditional I formation consistently. Kuhn also figured to play on special teams, and even when he became a focal point of the running game he still was on kick offs and as the personal protector for punter Tim Mathsay for punts.

4) Player’s highlights/lowlights: His highlight was undoubtedly during week 4 against the Detroit Lions, where he covered for the fact that Aaron Rodgers was having an off day by essentially running out the clock on his own on the last drive of the game. It is perhaps the only time in the season where they running game came out clutch and won the game for the Packers.