9.29.2010

Why I'm not concerned about the running game

After a loss like the one the Packers endured on Monday night to the Bears, fans start to panic, and its hard to blame them. There's a lot to worry about going forward. The penalties raise concerns about discipline and age issues on the team, both young and old (ie - Clifton and Tauscher). You can blame the refs all you want, but even if the Packers really did get screwed on a handful of flags (I'm with Woodson on the Burnett PI call), they were still flagged 18 times. Even half of that is too many.

However, there is one thing I'm not worried about: the lack of a legitimate running threat.

Its a common mantra in the NFL that you have to run the ball to win consistently, and it breaks down to this: running the ball helps you control the clock, keep the defense honest, and wear the defense down. The logic is sound. But the Packers are in a situation where they can accomplish these three goals by going to the air, thanks largely to Aaron Rodgers.
To say Rodgers is accurate is to say there's a long line for Packers season tickets: you couldn't understate it more. In Monday night's game, the Packers owned the time of possession battle 35:49-24:11 and ran the ball a mere 15 times. The reason for this anomaly? Rodgers completed 75% of his 45 passes, thanks in large part to high-percentage short pass plays like the repeated 6-yard slant to Driver. The west coast offense is well suited to hide the lack of a solid running game, and Rodgers executes to perfection.

Of course, in order for the pass to consistently work, there needs to be some reason for the defense to believe the offense will run the ball. But Rodgers is willing to tuck the ball and run with it, and he does it well. In the past 3 years he has 11 touchdowns on the ground to go with 572 yards rushing on 126 attempts. When he rolls out or steps up in the pocket, the defense is forced to respect that he has that option.

Unfortunately, its difficult to wear a defense down in the passing game. But take a look at other teams who have overcome this problem in recent years: Indianapolis and New England. When you can't wear your opponent down physically, demoralize them by putting up big points on big passing plays. You know Rodgers has the arm, and Green Bay has a daunting receiving corps. It can't get much more demoralizing than trying to cover Jermichael Finley.

Now back to the running game. You can't pass on every play, and the backs on the roster are good enough for what the team needs to do. Brandon Jackson jukes too much to be an every down guy, but he's a solid 3rd down back and is perfect for screens, while John Kuhn can get you tough yardage when you need it. And if you're still not sold, remember that rookie RB James Starks should be ready to go around midseason, and the coaching staff is very high on his ability. He could provide a late season boost in time for a playoff run.

The Packers didn't lose Monday's game because of an inability to run. They lost because they were undisciplined. A better RB option would be nice, don't get me wrong. It just isn't a necessity for 2010 to be a good year in Green Bay.

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