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The Packers Running Backs Are Not The Problem

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The Packers Running Backs Are Not The Problem

Steven Jackson, DeAngelo Williams, LeGarrette Blount, names being tossed around by media and fans as the solution to the Packers running woes. After a game where Aaron Rodgers once again looked human, the lack of dimension in the Packers offense is very real.

Since losing Cedric Benson for part of the season, the Packers have relied heavily on second year player Alex Green. Previous starter, James Starks, recovering from a pre-season turf toe injury, has been noticeably absent from the back field. Even after returning from his injury, the Packers have limited Starks’ role in the offense. Starks was active for the game against the Rams yet didn’t even take the field.

In their last two games, the Packers have averaged 2.7 and 2.5 yards per carry. With Aaron Rodgers as quarterback, the Packers aren’t a team that needs to rely on their running game, but the lack luster performances of the running game and the offense, are cause for concern.

So it seems fantasy football type trades of Finley for Williams or Jennings for Jackson are on everyone’s lips this week. But could a fancy named back really be the solution?

Alex Green is a fast runner. He’s young and lacks some of the field vision required to make the right cuts but the speed is there. Is Green struggling because he is the problem? Or is it something more?

Since assuming the lead running back role from Benson in the middle of the Colts game, Green has actually been pretty consistent. He cannot gain yardage when running to the left. On 32 attempts, Green has gained only 44 yards. That’s an average of 1.38 per carry. In two games, he actually averaged less than a yard per carry when running to the left.

Yet, when Green isn’t running to the left he’s much better. Up the middle he averages 5.29 yards per carry and to the right he averages 2.63. Combined, when not running to the left, Green averages 3.73 yards per carry, and has gained 153 yards.

Is Green simply incapable of running to his left? Or is there something schematically wrong with the left side of the Packers line?

Cedric Benson had more luck than Green when running to the left, but not consistently. In week 3 versus the Seahawks, Benson averaged .75 yards per carry to the left. And in week 5 versus the Colts, before getting hurt, Benson averaged 1.6 when running to the left.

The left side of the Packers offensive line is anchored by T.J. Lang and Marshall Newhouse. Newhouse’s play has been up and down this season, and while Lang is an outspoken player on twitter and quickly becoming a fan favorite, perhaps his, and Newhouse’s, play on the line is also to blame for the Packers running problems.

Sure, if Green had better vision and made better decisions, maybe he’d always bounce off the runs to the left and head to the right where presumably the field would be more open. But at the same time, if the left side of the line was blocking better, Green would be able to run where the play is called and gain more yardage.

In the last two games, 23 of Green’s 42 attempts have been to the left. Despite the poor production, the Packers are running to the left. Until the Packers can find a way to block that side of the line better, no matter who is running the ball, the Packers running game will struggle.

So while the names might be flashy, and trade talk is fun, the Packers do have the tools on their team to make the running game work. It’s about shoring up the left side of the line, getting Starks more reps and Green making good decisions, and sticking with what works and not chasing running to the left when it is not working.

Jayme Joers is a writer at CheeseheadTV’s Eat More Cheese and co-host of CheeseheadRadio. She also contributes to Pocketdoppler.com. You can contact her via twitter at @jaymelee1 or email at Jaymelee1@gmail.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (40) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Drew's picture

Interesting take, I had not thought to look at directional carries, I was just kind of assuming that all our runs are paltry. Let's not forget too that cedric benson's longest run of the season was only 11 or 12 yards. I agree that a named back is not going to be the charm that fixes the running game. I also think that idea is preposterous due to the cap situation and our inability to take on a large contract like that of williams or jackson.

calipackfan's picture

When McCarthy puts Starks as the starter this will all go away.

Chad Lundberg's picture

I pray you're right dude, but I am a firm believer that the run blocking is the problem, not the lack of talent in the running back corps.

Mike's picture

It's definitely more than 50% of the reason the run game flat out sucks this season. Last season, it was more an issue of not running enough at times. But this year, our o-line couldn't open holes if their lives depended on it. Is the Saturday for Wells thing really what the issue is?...

calipackfan's picture

Benson had better yardage than Green before he got injured so it may be partially the o-line's fault but it is also the running back.

Point Packer's picture

Totally disagree with this comment and this article.

Our offensive line is no 90's Cowboys and they really below average, but Green's vision is truly horrendous - at this point in his career. With the exception of the 2011 playoffs, Starks has been a bust. I have zero confidence in either.

The window of opportunity is short in this NFL. Who knows what this team will look like next year. I hope TT is pursuing Williams and Jackson (Blunt is a dud). Personally, I'd pull the trigger on a Finley for Jackson/Williams trade or something similar.

One a side note: I'd love to see Finley on a crap team without a chance at the playoffs after all drama he's pulled this season. Not to mention the continued and consistent drops. The guy makes one deep catch last week and freaks out like a 14 yr old. I'm done with that childish, over-rated whining baby. This is purely emotional.

Pack Fan in ATL's picture

I need clarification of the word bust. Starks was a 6th round pick with a history of injuries prior to coming to the league. The fact that he is only in his 3rd year with an average of 4.3 ypc and has had success in the playoffs to the degree that he did makes me think he wasn't a bust at all.
If he had been picked in the 3rd round or earlier (see Alex Green) I would have greater expectations, but its not as if he has a career ending injury after being picked early (see Justin Harrell).
I'm not sure why he's in McCarthy's dog house (healthy scratch against the Saints, no snaps against the Rams and only 7 snaps against the Jags), but let's see what he brings to the table before we start talking bust.

markinmontana's picture

Even if the running problems go away if Starks is the starter, failed blitz pick-ups and busted assignments might pop up. That's probably why he's being eased in.

Chad Lundberg's picture

I can't TELL YOU how much it frustrates me to hear fans blaming the running backs!!! Is anyone even watching the games any more??? There are times when the backs are tackled the very second they touch the ball, just what exactly are they supposed to do about that?

The problem is clearly the run blocking, NOT the running backs! I for one think Green is a fine running back.

The O-line coach simply having success with the players in Green Bay. I don't what he's telling them, and I don't know if he's a bad coach, but clearly, it's just not working with him. He needs to go. We need a Kevin Greene like O-line coach to replace him (if there is such a thing, lol).

Thank you Jayme Joers for having the cojones to say it like it is, regardless of how unpopular it may be.

Mike's picture

I agree. The o-line has not gotten it's job done in the run game, and has barely done so in the passing game.

I really wonder if this team should just scrap the zone scheme and go with a man-on-man run scheme with some power concepts involved. The zone scheme was advertised nicely when McCarthy first arrived in '06, but it hasn't worked well in a while. I don't know if it was the injury to Grant that initially threw it off, but the blocking/running hasn't been anywhere near as productive as it was in '09. That was the last time Green Bay could legitimately say they had a respectable run game.

I don't understand what the issue with our run blocking is though - our two top RBs last season combined for a 1000-yard season with a 4+ ypc average. What happened this season? Is it in fact Saturday failing to replace Wells in the run game effectively? Are Lang and Bulaga's injuries worse than we know? Does Campen need to be replaced? Should EDC replace Saturday?

MarkinMadison's picture

I don't think it is exactly unpopular to say it is the O-line's fault. Lots of people here have been saying that for a while. It is also worth noting that Benson was eeking out about a yard more per carry than the "Packers" average in the last two games. So the answer is probably, "It's both."

On the RB side, IMHO Alex Green is the best prospect that TT has drafted at the position. More so than Starks because of his injury history. The most surprising thing about Jayme's stats is how well Green is running up the middle. You would think that coming from a spread offense his vision when running in the middle would be the weakest part of his game. I just wonder if physically he is strong enough right now, coming off of an injury, and has the physical stamina to be an every down back this year. Base fitness comes in the off-season, and he spent his off-season in rehab. My bet is this is not the best Alex Green can be.

On the O-line side I am not sure how much they are doing ZBS now v. power running/man. Before the season I thought the intent was to run some of both. If I recall correctly in 2006 they had a ZBS-specific line coach. After they lost him the ZBS has been noticeably worse. If they have moved on from the ZBS then the answer may be hard to swallow, but it just might be the personnel. And if running to the middle works and running to the left doesn't, then I think you have to take a hard look at Newhouse and see how his run blocking grades out.

Bugeater's picture

Have anybody done any analysis of the zone blocking vs 'traditional' blocking productivity for the Packers? I'm curious about that.

Bugeater's picture
Mike's picture

Yes, Benson eeked out a few more yards than Green but a 9 year probowl vet is going to have better vision than a 2nd year guy with limited touches. That doesn't change the fact that even when Benson was in there he had to make jukes and jump cuts as soon as he was handed the ball just to gain 2 yards because the Oline blown up and pushed 3 yards into the back field. Yes, Benson is a better back than Green, but he had to work to get what he did because this Oline is TERRIBLE at run blocking and on top of that, below average at pass pro. It really is a wonder the Packers are surviving with such an inconsistent Oline and I'm affraid Arodge might not last because of their up and down play.

MarkinMadison's picture

Glad you picked up on the "eeked." The counter-argument is that Benson is no longer in his prime either. He has better vision, but would he be putting up Pro Bowl numbers this year with a better O-line? Probably not. The truth is TT has put some picks into the position (2nd, 3rd, Starks ?) but nothing has panned out. We have not had a great running back on this team since Ahman Green (Ryan Grant in his prime was very good, IMHO). So I don't think you can put it all on the O-line, but I do think you can put over half the blame there.

Denver's picture

I blame the running backs. :)

Glorious80;s's picture

Please, not LeGarette Blount. He's losing credibility in Tampa. They say he can't run the short yardage.
Datko, anyone? Iknow, injuries and experience. But he was a high draft prospect before college injuries. Next opportunity, the Packers should bring him on board if he's healthy.

PadLevel's picture

Amen Brother! I have been shouting from rooftops that James Campen (OL coach)should go. McCarthy preaches accountability, so where is the accountability for the failure of the Offensive line to run block? Too often we have Rodgers scrambling or making lightning fast reads and compensating for the horrendous line play. We have the talent, Can't blamed Teddy T for not drafting well - look at the players that we let go who are starters in other teams - Giacomini, Colledge,Jamon Meredith etc. The OL coach needs to come up with a scheme that can be adjusted to the skill level of the players. Sounds like an over-simplification, but if you watch the games closely that is exactly what they are not doing.

kennypayne's picture

Is Alex Green all the way healed up from last year's season-ending ACL injury? He seems to lack burst.

Also, I thought he was brought in to be a 3rd down back. He does not have the body type of an every down back and certainly did little running out of a conventional set at Hawaii.

All that said, Jim Brown in his prime would have problems running with the passive run blocking of the OLine.

Mike's picture

Are you kidding? Dude is 6' 220-225 lbs! He did have a 1000 yard season his last year at UH. He can be a lead back. I do believe he still isn't quite where he was before the injury, but that 41-yard run against Indy was pretty impressive to me.

However, I do agree he was brought in to be the 3rd down back of the future, because he has a much better physical and skill set than B-Jackson. Starks was supposed to be "the guy" at RB, but that (so far) has proven to be a mistake. Starks can still prove himself, but he's running out of time and chances (dropped passes definitely aren't helping him).

pkrNboro's picture

I've been struck by how much the running game looks just like it did with Brandon Jackson...

Point Packer's picture

At least Brandon Jackson could block on 3rd down with the best of them.

Tobey's picture

I emailed Bob McGinn last week, prior to the Rams game; he didn't answer yet which is strange, as he usually will. I proposed that it's a systemic problem (or personnel, I asked which of Bob); either it's the way they teach run blocking, or it's James Campen. I'm tired of hearing how good they're gonna be. They should be better than they are. Every other team is able to run the ball (every one of them)...but not us...again! Wow!

ToddRammer's picture

I respectfully disagree with the assessment that the O Line is the whole problem. After a ton of coffee and hours of game film, I think that there have been spots for Green to run. My opinion is that he tends to hit the line too fast, he's a bit impatient and is not in sync with the 'flow' of the game.

I also am not a huge fan of the one back, shot gun formations that they are running the ball out of most of the time. Once in a while, yeah, great, but not so much.

But I'm just an arm chair QB...or LB, rather.

RON's picture

MCCARTY IS THE OFFENSES PROBLEM.RUNS WRONG PLAYS AT WRONG TIMES.WHO ELSE WOULD BENCH MVP QUARTER BACK AND HAVE PUNTER THROWING PASSES IN RELIEF.

PackersRS's picture

I really can't understand running to the left. Occasionally, OK. But the strenght of the OL is the right side, specially regarding run blocking.

And it's not like McCarthy is trying to set up bootlegs to the right.

I just don't get it.

CSS's picture

He has to run to the left to support pass protection with an average left tackle (and I like Newhouse, just saying he's league average for an LT) and an injured Lang.

Best pass rushers come from the left side, Rodgers blindside. You can't let great pass rushers play on the balls of their feet all game by limiting your runs to that side. Balance to the left side means the Julius Peppers of the world can't sprint up-field on every snap. Threatening the run repeatedly is Newhouse's and Lang's best friend in pass pro.

PackersRS's picture

Does that offset a negative run everytime he does it?

CSS's picture

If it means giving an injured or average lineman more time or any competitive advantage that keeps Aaron Rodgers off the injury report than the answer is yes.

OregonPacker's picture

This article is spot on. If you watched the 49er offensive line the other night you could tell the got off and hit the defensive line. The entire Packer offensive line seems to get off and push (nudge) the opposing players. Instead of spending millions on used running backs maybe we should spend something considerable less and get some offensive linemen who can run and pass block....

dawg's picture

This Ol is one the worst in the NFL. PERIOD!
This OL leads in sacks allowed, and this is how you reward your MVP!
UNBELIEVABLE!

$-TheMoneyman-$'s picture

Um ... I think the Arizona Cardinals would have a thing or two to say about the Packers' O-Line leading the league in sacks allowed...

PackersRS's picture

Have you seen any Bears or Cardinals game?

QOTSA1's picture

So far Green looks like Brandon Jackson 2.0. A relatively early draft pick, does a good job catching the ball out of the backfield, does a decent job at pass blocking, but he runs to darkness. He shows no patience or vision, and just runs in to the back of the offensive linemen. I'm not saying he won't get any better, but that's what he is at this point.

The offensive line is obviously a large part of the issue, but Green is not without blame.

mark's picture

This post mentions DeAngelo, SJax and Blount. But it skips past the best RB available: Chris Ivory. Here's the case for Ivory as I see it...

1) SJax and DeAngelo are 29 years old, with lots of miles. Ivory is 24, with relatively few miles.

2) Ivory is fresh this year having not yet played a snap. Without being a distraction, he's spoken of the frustration of not playing. He desperately wants to play. He's a guy who's hungry for an opportunity.

3) But why hasn't he played a snap? Is he no good? Or could it be that he's a good player in a bad situation? Look at it...New Orleans' backfield is crowded with a #1 pick (Ingram) and two guys with decent-sized contracts (Thomas and Sproles). On top of that, New Orleans is hardly a running team. Only so many touches to go around.

4) Ivory is a powerful runner with lots of speed. Furthermore, he has a one-cut-and-go style that seems to work well in Green Bay.

5) ESPN's John Clayton said Ivory could "probably" be had for a 7th round pick.

So look at the Packers' situation...

1) We all know that Packers running game has been awful this year (and for a while now). And while the play calls seem telegraphed and the blocking suspect, it's hard to say that Starks or Green have shown anything special up until now.

2) Apart from Green and Starks' subpar production, neither guy is a model for perfect health. Green is coming off a rough injury and Starks has been dealing with stuff all year. With a lot of football left to play, maybe adding a third RB wouldn't be such a bad idea.

3) Ted Thompson. I brought up the Chris Ivory conversation on Twitter and was quickly shushed, "Ted would never do it. Not gonna happen," I was told. But why not? An Ivory trade would seem to fit the Ted Thompson mold. Few people see it coming (classic Ted), the cost is minimal, and it's a high-upside, high-effort guy from a small school.

And all of this practical mumbo jumbo aside, I just absolutely LOVE the way Chris Ivory plays football. He's always jumped out at me. I'm convinced the guy is a special football player who just needs a chance.

See for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1wjt_lmJfs

calipackfan's picture

I saw the Chris Ivory video he looks pretty good but I doubt TT will get him.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I agree that would be my choice. I beleive he could come in and make an impact.
I heard the same thing from John Clayton that he could be had for 7th round pick. Hell i would send a 6th round pick for him.
Thats a very low risk very high reward possiblity.

Ryan's picture

Ivory also had one of the best OL's in the league with multiple pro bowl OL men blocking for him when these videos were created.

marcopo's picture

Excellent research. Thank you. Your point about the left side of the offensive line is well taken. In prior years, Lang has been pretty good in the run game, but he's been playing hurt all year and it shows. Newhouse is a project. His quick feet is something hard to teach, but run blocking has miles to go.

nick perry's picture

I look at Alex Green as the guy we took with the draft pick that would have went to Buffalo for Marshawn Lynch. Green could have been had in the 4th or according to most experts, the 5th or 6th round. With that said the left side of the O-Line is the weak link. From Saturday to Newhouse. Time and again they try to run to the left and get stuffed. It doesn't help Green runs right up the blockers back, but the left side get's no movement in the run game. How many times have we watched the Packers running back struggle to get back to the line or lose a yard or two. Then this offense becomes very predictable. The sad part is Lang is signed to a 4 year deal, Sherrod we have no idea about. We're no closer to having a decent RB than we were in 2010. (Although that year tuned out great! Thanks Rodgers!) I hope T.T. gets us a RB soon because this is a team built to win now. Multiple SB's, but it's not going to happen with Alex Green.

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