Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy both want more production from the Green Bay Packers running game. The quarterback and the coach aren’t saying that 20 carries for 35 yards – which is what the Packers got from second-year running back Alex Green in last Sunday’s victory over the St. Louis Rams – is enough.
But it’s become abundantly clear that both men, despite their preference for aerial assaults, have developed a deeper appreciation for what a willingness to run the ball can do for the Packers offense, even if the productivity is less than optimal.
“It’s attempts. It’s quantity at times as much as quality,” Rodgers said Tuesday during his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com. “It’s a balance, to make sure that you’re slowing the rush down and trying to make the most of opportunities when they do have six or seven guys in the box and there are favorable run looks.
“It’s just something that we’re going to have to stick with and be patient with. We can’t abandon it. We do have a passing attack that’s kind of gained the steam right now, but we need to continue to be patient with the run game because it’s going to be important.
“Everybody knows that as the weather gets even colder here it does become tougher to throw. We have has success throwing the football, but we’re going to have to have at least the threat of the running game to slow teams down.”
That’s not to say that the output Sunday was acceptable. After rushing 22 times for 65 yards against Houston on Oct. 14, Green and the run-blocking unit left what McCarthy called some “hard yards” on the Edward Jones Dome turf.
While averaging just 1.8 yards per attempt against the Rams, Green had a 15-yard run and a pair of 5-yard gains, including one on a swing pass that wasn’t meant to be a run, but was scored as such because the pass was thrown backward behind the line of scrimmage and thus considered a lateral.
Of his other 17 carries, Green had four attempts that failed to gain yardage and four more that lost yardage. Of the other nine carries, two were 1-yard gains, four were 2-yard gains and three were 3-yard gains. The Packers’ best run was a 19-yarder by versatile wide receiver Randall Cobb from a running back position.
“I wasn’t real happy with the production in the run game. I thought we left too many hard yards on the field. There were too many 1, 2-yard runs that should have been hardball 3, 4, 5-yard runs. We need to improve that aspect of our offense,” McCarthy said.
“We need to get better running the football – the blocking unit, the finishing of the back, the finishing of the blocking unit, the perimeter blocking. We had a big run there. If we’re finishing on the play, we may have a chance to go maybe to the house or definitely get more yards. We left too much out there.”
Despite Green’s lack of production, he and fullback John Kuhn were the only running backs who saw action against the Rams. Former starter James Starks, who entered camp as the No. 1 running back before a turf toe injury in the Aug. 9 preseason opener led to the signing of Cedric Benson, dressed and was active but did not play a single snap.
“We have Alex and James as the running backs. We hoped to get (Starks) in and get him some playing time,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “With the two backs, you would think we were going to get both of them in there at some time. It’s just the way the game went. It didn’t work out.”
Whether it was the first-half blitzkrieg Rodgers experienced in Seattle on Sept. 24 – when the Packers called 24 passing plays and three running plays and Rodgers was sacked a whopping eight times – or Benson’s arrival, Rodgers admitted Tuesday he has a greater appreciation for the running game than he might’ve had last year, when the Packers’ passing game was virtually unstoppable.
“I just think you realize that when you take a lot of shots it’s important to realize that you should have something to slow those guys down,” Rodgers said with a chuckle.
Asked to explain how even an unproductive run game can be beneficial, Rodgers said the split-second hesitation it creates in the mind of a pass-rusher is very valuable.
“If you just run up the field every single time (as an edge rusher) and the tackle can turn you, that’s just opening up holes there that are bigger than if they’re pressing into the tackle and kind of peeking in the backfield,” Rodgers explained. “If we can get them to do more of the pressing and looking and peeking, it’s going to slow down that rush and turn it into a transition rush, which I think we do a really god job of blocking upfront.
“There’s no reason for a defense to respect a run fake in the red zone or anywhere if you’re not running the football effectively. We had a play called (against the Rams) when I got sacked in the red zone and they ended up calling a penalty on their defense where I made a play fake and (the Rams defenders) all dropped back. There wasn’t any type of respect for that run.
“If we would have run it, we probably would have had a real positive gain there. You have to be able to run it effectively for them to respect it, and we need to stay with it and do a better job with it. When Cedric came to us, he offered us something different that we’ve never seen here probably in my time in Green Bay. That made me want to call more runs and give them more opportunities and give him more opportunities to get him going. I think he’s really spurned on Alex to get his game going as well. There’s a lot of confidence that I have in those guys, and the line needs those guys to help slow the rush down.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.