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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