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While O-Line Transitions, Run Game Will Wait

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While O-Line Transitions, Run Game Will Wait

With visions of Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball all over the Arizona Cardinals' defense still dancing in our heads, and with much of the offseason so far spent focused on fixing a defense that did, after all, finish ranked as the 2nd best in the league - it's easy to forget that the Packers' running game had yet another uneven year. Yes, Ryan Grant definitely improved on his 2008 campaign. And Brandon Jackson and midseason pickup Ahman Green were both more than adequate role players.

But it's starting to become crystal clear that the running backs aren't the problem.

Oh sure, it would be great if the offense could get the ball in space to a burner like Darren Sproles or rely on the amazing speed of a Chris Johnson. And it would seem the Packers are searching for a bit more out of the backfield in the passing game with the drafting of James Starks and their flirtation with free agent Bryan Westbrook.

But when it comes to running the football, especially with one of their supposed bread and butter plays, the zone stretch, it's become more and more obvious that their veteran tackles just can't get the job done - and that Scott Wells can be a liability when the tough yards are needed. Now, I've praised Wells' work in the past, mostly in the passing game. He does a great job of using angles and body positioning to ensure the big guys in the middle of the defensive line don't cause too much trouble when Aaron Rodgers' goes back to pass. And he's been close to flawless in setting the protection schemes at the line of scrimmage. But when the rubber meets the road, and the Packers WANT and NEED to get the tough yards, Wells comes up short, especially when going up against the better 3-4 nose tackles.

The play below pretty much features all that is wrong with the Packers rushing attack:

Everyone who matters on this play loses almost immediately. Donald Lee doesn't get the step he needs on the edge. Mark Tauscher at least turns his man out in an attempt to create a lane. Josh Sitton comes off an unnecessary double team (yes, this is more the fault of the design than of the player) to find Ray Lewis. But poor Scott Wells pretty much ruins this play on his own, getting beat off the ball and then being unable to seal the nose tackle from making the tackle.

Now, the defense catches a break in that the front happens to be slanting toward the play. But that should not be enough to ensure that a defense will automatically stop a stretch play. Unfortunately, that has been the case in Green Bay for far too long. Maybe the recent trend of Ted Thompson finding bigger bodies along the line will pay off down the road. But for now - we can expect the same problems, the same inconsistency from the Packers' rushing attack.

Now, this is nowhere near the death knell some football purists like to make it out to be. Make no mistake. the Packers offense will always be about throwing the football as long as McCarthy is the one calling the plays. There will be games, like the Chargers game in '07 and this past seasons game against the Steelers, where the running game will be nothing more than a token to keep defenses guessing or as a surprising change up. And on the opposite end, there will be games (almost certainly always in Lambeau) where the Packers shock us with big yards running the football against previously stout defenses against the run, like the first Bears game in '08 and the 49ers game this past season.

But more often than not, the running game will remain uneven until the final change has been made from Chad Clifton, Mark Tauscher and Scott Wells to Bryan Bulaga, TJ Lang and either Jason Spitz or Evan Dietrich-Smith (who, mark my words, is a player) Until then, you can count on Aaron Rodgers breaking a few of, if not a bunch of, Brett Favre's passing records.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (52) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

pczrvp's picture

Great article. EDS is a great player? Isn't he Scott Wells with a hyphen? 6'2" 305.
What do you know that we don't?

packeraaron's picture

Not what I wrote. But I do think he'll be quite good. Went back and watched his preseason work before the season started, and then looked at the handful of snaps he got this past season. It's just a hunch, but I think the guy can play.

Oppy's picture

Aaron/pczrvp-

It's a small sample size, but in my two days at training camp last year, Dietrich-Smith left me impressed enough to ask Bedard during a training camp live blog if there was any drop off from Wells to EDS... Bedard's response was "Not nearly as much as you might think."

EDS looks like a serviceable NFL interior lineman to me, for what it's worth

nerdmann's picture

Can't happen soon enough for me. I'm sick of waiting until week 10 for the offensive line to show up.

hollycrat's picture

I don't see the harm in Aaron putting his name to a few records in Titletown, but I agree that the run game can't wait until Week 11 in this year's schedule. We play too many well-balanced defenses in 2010 to be able to rest on Rodgers' arm alone.

PackersThad's picture

I don't want to blow everyone's mind here, but what about trying Newhouse at Center. I know he's supposed to play Guard/Tackle and what not, but if the Packers are planning for Spitz to play LG and not compete with Wells for the Center job, then why not let Newhouse compete over there. I think he scored relatively well if I'm not mistaken.

packeraaron's picture

It's a possibility - but I think Center is Spitz' best position.

PackersRS's picture

Wow. You watched a very different Spitz at C than I did... Specially calling protections. God-awful. No coincidence defenders where shooting untouched with him at C, and it suddenly stopped with Wells...

packeraaron's picture

I agree he was off his game at the beginning of last year - but if you look back to 08 when he came in for Wells he showed much better than he did in 09. And 'God-awful' is complete hyperbole.

Dilligaff's picture

IMO Newhouse could be a Lang type player this year as a rookie.

I question the availability of Spitz, he has the bad back and did not impress me when healthy, not like he is a proven player coming off an injury, people are reaching when discussing Spitz's proven talent (potential yes).

I would like to see Lang take over that LG position, giving the Packers a young and healthy interior lineman that should make it through the season and into the playoffs (Lang-Wells-Sitton).

Use Bulaga as the first backup for both tackle positions, given the strong possibility that Clifton goes down or shows diminishing skills.

We have enough depth with the other players to handle the other positions.

As far as the running game is concerned, it is a two way street. Just like A-rod holding on to the ball too long, running backs need to read the blocks and make the proper cuts.

It is a team effort, all players have to do their job well to make it happen, after all Grant gets paid well to do what he does, if it all rest on the O-line, then we can have anybody back there running the ball.

packeraaron's picture

Good stuff Dilligaff - a few points.
1. I'm right there with you on Spitz - back injuries esp have a way of popping up at the worst possible times. And I agree he's not exactly an All-Pro, esp at guard.
2. Disagree on Lang. I really like him at RT and it would seem that Philben and Campen are on board with that. McCarthy is on record agreeing with you however...
3. I hear you on Bulaga, but I think the best, smartest play is to let him concentrate on left tackle. You never know when Clifton is going to go down, but you do know that he WILL at some point during the season. Best to have Bulaga ready with as many reps at LT as possible.
4. You're correct of course, but Grant turned in a pretty impressive season last year. despite the limitations of the line. Does he have his limitations? Of course. But he does a pretty good job considering the circumstances.

dilligaff's picture

Aaron I see your point with Lang, especially if Newhouse or another player does not come forward to be the future RT.

IMO I have a gut feeling that Tauscher will be able to play all the games this year, he has enough left in the tank, Clifton however is not 'if" but when. If Tauscher plays all the games, I would like to see Lang in there given that Spitz has back problems and Colledge is under performing.

So if Spitz has back problems, you are comfortable with Colledge starting while Lang backs up Tauscher?

I am all for putting the best 5 guys on the field and I don't buy into the idea that switching players around hurts as much as Colledge would like us to believe. I think players and coaches have used this excuse to explain our O-line situation, as we all sit complain about it, easing the pain.

I don't have a problem with Lang only in his second year playing guard, then next year moving to tackle. Getting Lang on the field gaining experience will only make him better, riding the bench will not develop his skills compared to playing out of position.

This years training camp will be interesting to watch and see what we have to work with, who knows Barbre may end up being the guy. Ha,Ha, God help us all.

packeraaron's picture

I am completely comfortable with Colledge at LG if he wins the job coming out of camp.

Keith's picture

I agree with Aaron on Lang - he and Bulaga are our future bookends.

Re: LG - on Twitter I threw out the idea of Barbre at LG. Aaron informed me that Barbre's issues at LG were more mental than physical. I'd like to see him get another shot at LG since I don't foresee him being a factor at tackle.

packeraaron's picture

I don't foresee Barbre making the roster.

PackersRS's picture

Barbre? From starter to scrub in one season? Who do you see making the team, Aaron?

packeraaron's picture

On the oline: Clifton, Spitz, Colledge, Wells, Deitrich-Smith, Sitton, Tauscher, Lang, Newhouse

PackersRS's picture

Forgot Bulaga... again. Why are you mental-blocking him?

But I could see it, 10 players, starters and backups, each playing 1 position, some 2 because of the 45 gameday roster... And I'm happy with that list, for the first time since, what, 2003?

Ron LC's picture

With the age and condition of some of the veteran players, I can see them keeping ten. There are a few issues hanging right now, not the least of which is the sttus of Colledge. Will he even be a Packer this year? Not a given. After four full years, Spitz has to establich himself in camp. If not he could be gone. I seem to remember Meridith was #5 last year and he was not on the roster when the year started.

_____
Just saying, there are a whole lot of unknowns to be dealt with before establishing the line or any individual on the line as a sure thing. GB has one player in the sure thing category, Josh Sitton. The rest have warts of varing magnitude from injury issues to inexperience. We'll soon see!

Cuphound's picture

Yeah, I guess I am more of a purist. I don't know how to get used to having an unimpressive running game. We were spoiled all those years with Ahman Green's explosiveness every Sunday. I miss that.

I have such mixed feelings about the Sherman era. For all my emotional comfort with that team during its heyday, it never won a championship. It didn't really come close. Still, in some ways they were more fun to watch than this iteration of the team. That may change for me if this group of Packers can cohere into a consistent, quality offense. I can live with the running game being reduced to, "You want fries with that?" if these guys cohere into something reliable.

At least we seem to be moving toward larger linemen. I'm hoping zone blocking is now behind us. Most of the men recruited for that scheme seem to be circulating out. I don't know going all high-tech was a good strategy for a Packers team.

I'm sick of all those "first half of the season" sacks. Nerdmann is right. Our Cinderella O-line needs to stop arriving fashionably late to the ball. Resolution: If we don't have the weak start we had on the O-line last year, I'll shut up and be happy.

Keith's picture

The Green years aside, the Packers have been a passing team for quite some time. Even then, I'd argue the team was more balanced than run heavy.

RandomDrunk's picture

"That may change for me if this group of Packers can cohere into a consistent, quality offense."

Huh?

The last three years we've ranked 3rd, 5th, and 4th in Points Scored. And 6th, 8th, and 2nd in Total Yards.

If that's not a consistent, quality offense I don't know what is.

Glorious80s's picture

You don't find this team offense and now defense fun to watch??? If you're arguing consistency fine, but this team can be so explosive with really great energy.

nerdmann's picture

I think part of the situation with the Oline not showing up until week 10 is that they can't practice the zBS on their on team mates.

dilligaff's picture

Another component of our running game problems IMO is MM's play calling. He is at times very predictable when he is going to run the ball.

I will be honest, I am not a 100% in love with MM as a head coach, yet he gained some respect in my eyes during the playoff game last year.

With that said I feel some of our running problems is a result in the play calling and at times when the running game is working he moves away from it, hurting our time of possession and allowing the other team plenty of time to match our scores.

I don't know how many time early last year that I screamed at MM for not considering time of possession and field position as key components in winning games as a he called plays.

IMO this is his biggest flaw, too pass happy.

packeraaron's picture

It's the way the league is headed, whether we like it or not. I, for one, am quite pleased we have a coach who is one of the best around when it comes to designing a first rate passing attack. Playcalling is a tricky wicket. You can say he goes away from it when it's working - but I would counter that he makes it work by keeping teams continually on their heals with the passing game. Plus, there are a lot of "check with me's" at the line where Rodgers has the option to change from a run to a pass, and he does that quite frequently.

Keith's picture

Also, while we have been giving Grant some kudos (well deserved, I might add) he is still a limited RB. He is basically a non-threat in the passing game (screens, wheel plays, check-downs, etc.) and he isn't great running outside. Even thought the backs aren't the problem, per se, it would be nice to have a more dynamic option so defenses can't predict the playcalling based on the personnel package on the field.

nerdmann's picture

agreed, Keith. Starks adds a whole new aspect to our team, as far as running screens and whatnot. GLORY BE!

NickGBP's picture

Disagreed, Keith.

Grant has improved dramatically in catches last season. Go back and watch...we've had a lot of successful screens and checkdowns with him (Yes Jackson as well). Only big OOF I can remember was that fumble (his only one of the season I might add) after a catch.

Keith's picture

Sorry Nick, but Grant just isn't a significant threat in the passing game. Has he improved? Sure, but it would be hard not to since he started off at such a low baseline. Check out Green's stats during his first two of duty; he never had fewer than 40 catches in a season.

Also, let's take a look at the feature RBs in McCarthy's offenses:
2000: Ricky Williams: 44 catches, 409 yards.
2001: Ricky Williams: 60 catches, 511 yards.
2002: Deuce McCallister: 47 catches, 352 yards.
2003: Deuce McCallister: 69 catches, 516 yards.
2004: Deuce McCallister: 34 catches, 228 yards; Aaron Stecker: 29 catches, 174 yards.
2005: Kevan Barlow: 31 catches, 241 yards; Frank Gore: 15 catches, 131 yards.

And what has Grant done?
2007: 30 catches, 145 yards.
2008: 18 catches, 116 yards.
2009: 25 catches, 197 yards.

So yeah, he has "improved" but I think that's more a product of defenses just giving those yards to Grant rather than Grant being that great in the passing game. Even Ricky Williams, who was not known for his hands coming out of UT, was pretty damn effective in the passing game under MM.

Bottom line: I stand by my initial point - the RB has been a vastly underutilized aspect of MM's system with Grant as the RB.

packeraaron's picture

But it's not just McCarthy - it's Rodgers as well. Favre threw checkdowns all the time while Rodgers almost never does, though he started to toward the end of last year. There's a reason Grant went from 30 catches in 07 to 18 catches in 08. That said, I agree that McCarthy hasn't called a bevy of plays with the running back in mind - probably because he knows he doesn't have a great pass catching back on the roster. Hopefully Starks can become that back.

nerdmann's picture

Starks not only catches WAY WAY better than either of those guys, but is much, much faster as well. He can even get to the corner.

PackersRS's picture

Dilligaff, we were #1 in time of possession last year...

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/stats/teamsort/NFL/OFF-TOTAL/2009/regular?s...

PackmanAZ's picture

Love it when people post before they do the homework... That's why I don't post very often =)

Dilligaff's picture

In the games we lost early, the time of possession was not in our favor.

I am talking about the loses, not our winning streak where the time of possession was in our favor, thus proving my point.

Stats are like statistics, how you come up with the equation and how you add things can give you multiple readings.

With your logic, we have a top rated defense (I think second best in the league by some accounts), thus all we have to do this off season is work on special teams and we are a lock for a super bowl with the 6th highest offensive unit.

I would recommend you think before you follow your stats blindly.

packeraaron's picture

This is true up to a point. But it kind of discounts the fact that, in those games they won AND controlled the clock - they did so passing the ball, not running it

dilligaff's picture

I agree you can still control the clock by passing as we did in the second half of the season. No matter how you do it, time of posseesion matters.

I would argue that the big pass play (20+ yards or more attempts)hurt Packers early in the season when we went 4-4.

PackerRS, you posted a stat and the following poster replyed that I was off my rocker. I am not saying our D is not good, but by you saying we have excellent time of posssession over all we need to do nothing.

My point about the defense is that even with good stats, there are improvements to be made to take this team to the next level.

I believe ball control hurt the Pack against the Steelers, the Cardinal game is a whole different discussion due to the early turnovers.

PackersRS's picture

Woa, buddy. I didn't analyse anything. I merely posted a very real stat.

And it's absolutely not the same with the D. Yes, we were #2 in Yards per Game. Not #2 overal, because there isn't that stat.

But if you think our D isn't very good, then give me some of that you're smoking...

You can argue with the stats all you want, but it sounds crazy when you say that the Packers had problems with ball control and they were #1 in ball possession. Because even if you take into consideration the opponents, there's no way you can struggle with it and be #1...

I do agree it's an important part, but not as important as some other aspects of our team, such as the redzone efficiency, and more importantly, the god-awful (yes) defense against teams that spread our D, and the piss-poor ST play...

nerdmann's picture

we might have been #1, but we could've done better, imo.

madden07's picture

If bulaga is the back up left tackle he will get a ton of reps with the first team since Clifton rarely practices a whole week. He could have a nice chance to start building some good chemistry.

DaveK's picture

I think you forgot Bulaga in that list Aaron!

If Deitrich-Smith is really a player then it appears we have three legit centers on the roster. Trade one of them? I guess it depends on how badly they need Spitz to play left guard.

You could possibly have a lineup where every position has a primary back-up. Every player takes every rep in practice at the position they would play in a game.

RT: Tauscher (Lang)
RG: Sitton (Newhouse)
C: Wells (D.-Smith)
LG: Spitz (Colledge)
LT: Clifton (Bulaga)

packeraaron's picture

Doh.

elhandro's picture

Do you think we will see Bulaga come in to block as a TE?

elhandro's picture

Do you see Bulaga being used as a blocking TE while Clifton is healthy?

packeraaron's picture

Anything's possible, but I would tend to doubt it.

Chuck's picture

Has anyone noticed that Ted Thompson wears one of those Power Balance wristbands? They use holograms to (supposedly) enhance your strength, balance, and flexibility. Kind of New Age-ish for a guy like TT.

packeraaron's picture

I was WONDERING what that was - do you have any info you could link to? It was really noticeable in the photos of his pressers.

PackerBacker's picture

Here is a website that talks about what a crock of shit those things are. They are supposed to improve your balance and strength. "In the Mylar hologram is a frequency and the frequency as soon as it comes into contact with the electrical field of your body basically works with your body's electrical field that gives you a feeling of wellness,"

http://www.ratbags.com/rsoles/comment/powerbalance.htm

Chuck's picture

Aaron, here's the link to the Power Balance website:

http://www.powerbalance.com/

FITZCORE1252's picture

Solid Aaron.

I can't wait 'till those young guys work their way into the line-up.

GBP 4 LIFE

gratif's picture

We didn't flirt with westbrook anymore than Pacman Jones or Mike Vick. The Packers do their homework on everyone.

Nypacker's picture

Madden07 makes a good point. He said that Bulaga will get a lot of reps with the 1st team since Clifton has to sit out at times in practice. Clifton's agent did say that the Packers like to give Clofton extended breathers in practice, it's why he chose to resign with them.

Nerdman may be onto something. Maybe our O-line isn't as functional b/c of the lack of competition in practice. We don't have the best d-line in the world and our pass rush isn't spectacular. Take a look at all of the good o-lines in the NFL and you'll see that they have some premier teamates to go up against in practice.

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