Three weeks in and you can count on one hand the number of times Ryan Grant has had a hole to hit. Of those times, you only need a finger or two to count the explosive runs from the Packers running game.
What is wrong?
A lot of things.
The first thing to be addressed, obviously, is the much maligned zone blocking scheme itself. I’ve read a lot of people saying they thought the Packers were going to be running more power running plays this season. Those that have been paying attention will know this was never strictly the case. Yes, the Packers tried to bulk up their offensive line by slotting in guys like Barbre, Sitton and Spitz but they are still ‘zone blocking’-types and up to now at least, the Packers are using almost exclusively zone concepts in the running game. Yes, it’s therapeutic to some extent to say “the zone blocking sucks – they need to get rid of it”. But if McCarthy went an entire offseason of study and decided to stick with it as his main way to attack opponents on the ground, it’s not going anywhere. Yes, he may mix in some ‘power’ stuff, as he did toward the end of the year last year, with man on man blocking and guards pulling, but as of now, it’s almost all zone. Fans wishing it away are going to be very disappointed.
So with the understanding that a drastic switch in schemes is not in the cards, what can McCarthy and company honestly DO to improve the fortunes of the ground attack? Well, the obvious answer is to try and upgrade the personnel somehow, but that’s next to impossible at this point. The Packers did work out left tackle Levi Jones today, but reports say he won’t be signed, at least not yet. The offensive line’s problems are well documented, and much has been made of the fact that Ryan Grant has had no holes to run through, but the fact is Grant is not without fault.
Time and again on Sunday we saw the backside cut open up. We even saw Grant see it. And that’s the problem.
For whatever reason, Grant is gathering himself before making the hard backside cut, and it’s giving the backside pursuit, usually the weakside linebacker or defensive end, the time necessary to close the crease and stop him for minimal gains. Again and again, Grant would cut at what seemed a glacial pace while the pursuit caught up to him. There is just no suddeness to Grant’s movement. It is becoming more and more obvious that Grant, who was compared to Dorsey Levens when he started out with the Packers, is actually much more like his position coach, Edgar Bennett, one of the best ‘mudders’ in modern NFL history. (It’s criminal, however, that Grant can’t catch the football like either one) It makes sense too, when you think back to when Grant burst onto the NFL scene, namely the second half of the 2007 season as the weather turned.
Apart from Grant’s struggles, the most maddening thing about the running game is the fact that there ISN’T one thing or individual you can pin it on. Every member of the offensive line took turns screwing something up Sunday, from Scott Wells getting overwhelmed off the ball or Daryn Colledge not getting a weakside defensive end on the ground, again and again four members of the line would be up to the task only to have one member fail in his assignment.
There is no magic formula here, no secret weapon waiting to be unleashed. Yes, a healthy Brandon Jackson will help, but he’s only a marginal improvement over Grant, an assessment the Packers don’t seem to agree with, unfortunately. It will be interesting to see how McCarthy attacks the Vikings on the ground – he is one of the few coaches that has had consistent success running the football against them. Whatever the attack, every man involved in the running game, coach or player, has to give more to the cause, because right now they are failing. Badly.