Run game – as expected – grows legs
Packers News – “A great week of practice,” – that was Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s prediction moments after last week’s sluggish victory against Jacksonville.
This week, McCarthy’s post-game comments could have led with the tried-and-true phrase, “We played the way we practiced. …”
The Packers practiced the run game all week, stayed with it against Arizona, and ultimately relied upon it to make Aaron Rodgers’ life a bit easier. Rodgers responded by throwing for four touchdowns between his own clever dashes and handoffs as the Packers rolled the Cardinals.
The Packers’ 31-17 victory over Arizona on Sunday at Lambeau Field sent Green Bay into the bye week on a four-game roll. At 6-3, the Packers have time to heal for the seven-game stretch run.
They also have time to tweak and adjust what appears to be something that resembles a running game. Whether it’s too legit to quit on remains to be seen, but McCarthy seems committed to a balanced attack.
McCarthy simply could have asked his quarterback to do more until Cedric Benson’s return, but the Packers’ coach remembers last season. A 15-1 record wrought by Aaron Rodgers’ right arm and a fleet of receivers was wondrous, at times, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
It was why McCarthy, at least partially, perhaps, decided to run the football time and again against the Jaguars a week ago. That in-game work, reinforced by a “great week of practice,” reaped its reward.
The Packers rushed 39 times for a season-high 176 yards against Arizona. It was Green Bay’s most rushing yards since Oct. 25, 2009, and it featured a first half that saw the Packers rack up 126 yards rushing.
“That’s the way you want to run the ball,” McCarthy said. “Aaron, obviously, made some plays with his feet and added to the total. I was very pleased with the rushing effort.”
Early in the week, McCarthy suggested Alex Green would continue to start at running back. However, James Starks began in that role before being banged up and missing several series.
Starks finished with 17 carries for 61 yards. He looked strong but needs to refocus on ball security after a careless fumble. Green gained 53 yards on 11 attempts, including a long run of 21 yards.
Green Bay’s biggest play of the game came from an unlikely source: Tight end Tom Crabtree who chugged 45 yards after the catch to cap a 72-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that sealed the win.
After that, Green Bay’s defense shut down the Cardinals’ John Skelton, who could muster only one fourth-quarter first down.
The Packers’ victory allows them to keep pace with NFC North rivals Chicago and Detroit, both of whom won Sunday.
It also leads into a 10-day stretch to get healthy during the bye.
“We need to get healthy, that’s what bye weeks are for,” McCarthy said. “We’re 6-3 and we’ve got time to evaluate, step back, clean some things up and get ready for the grind.”
Offensively, the Packers await receiver Greg Jennings’ return from abdomen surgery. Meantime, receiver Jordy Nelson injured an ankle after battling a pulled hamstring last week.
Without their top two receivers the Packers have relied on second-year pro Randall Cobb (two touchdown catches, 136 return yards) and James Jones, who hauled in his single-season best eighth touchdown catch.
Defensively, linebackers Erik Walden and Dezman Moses were active, while the young secondary didn’t give up the big play.
The Packers have won 17 of their last 18 regular-season games at Lambeau Field, and are 5-2 in games leading up to the bye week in McCarthy’s seven seasons.
That said, the resounding storyline from Green Bay’s victory over Arizona was the rebirth of the running game. The Packers must bridge the gap between now and whenever Benson returns. It begins with road games at Detroit and at the New York Giants, places notorious for getting loud and getting after the quarterback.
Now, at least, the Packers’ offense shouldn’t go in one-armed.
Last week’s prediction: Packers 35, Rams 10 (Packers 31-17)
This week’s prediction: Packers Own The Bye
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.