Predicting a Much Improved Run Game

Run the ball. Run the ball. Run the ball. It’s what Packers fans have been hearing since the hiring of head coach Matt LaFleur. In recent years, the team’s failure with the run game has been a lack of commitment. The result was a strained offense with Aaron Rodgers having to shoulder the load. This offseason, LaFleur’s emphasis has been to change that.

“I think we really want to assemble our offense through the running game,” LaFleur said during his press conference at the NFL combine. “I think it takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback. And if we can stay balanced on first and second down, I think that’s an advantage for the offense. So that’s what we want to do.”

To follow-up, Rodgers said he was “excited” about the new offense just in the last week. It’s a good sign he has already embraced the change with training camp starting on Thursday.  That may mean fewer throws for Rodgers, but if it results in more wins he should be ok with that.

Right now we all anxiously await the new offense and until we see it live, we are basically in the dark. The only certainty we have is the Packers will run the ball more.

This doesn’t necessarily mean more is better. However, in the case of LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, you should be excited. Their run games in recent seasons have produced at a much higher rate than McCarthy’s.

 

Nathaniel Hackett (Jacksonville Jaguars):

2017- 2,262 yards (1st), 527 attempts (1st), 4.3 Y/A (9th), 18 touchdowns (T-2nd)

2018- 1,723 yards (19th), 416 attempts (T-12th), 4.1 Y/A (26th), 7 touchdowns (T-30th)

 

Matt LaFleur (Los Angeles Rams & Tennessee Titans):

2017- 1,953 yards (8th), 454 attempts (9th), 4.3 Y/A (7th), 17 touchdowns (5th)

2018: 2,023 yards (7th), 454 attempts (9th), 4.5 Y/A (16th), 15 touchdowns (T-11th)

 

Mike McCarthy (Green Bay Packers):

2017: 1,724 yards (17th), 386 attempts (27th), 4.5 Y/A (5th), 13 touchdowns (T-11th)

2018: 1,667 yards (22nd), 333 attempts (32nd), 5.0 Y/A (2nd), 14 touchdowns (15th)

 

Hackett was fired after week 12 in 2018, but injuries and general disfunction were contributing factors. Call him a scapegoat if you want it doesn’t take away from what he accomplished in a short period. In his second season as the OC, he took Jacksonville’s run game from 22nd to the top of the league.

At a glance, run games associated with LaFleur have done consistently well. Tennessee had average personnel on offense and they finished with a top-10 rushing attack.

In theory, when you combine Hackett and LaFleur and things could take off with the ground game in Green Bay.

The team has Aaron Jones who led the NFL in yards per attempt in 2018. He is expected to split time with Jamaal Williams and Dexter Williams but Jones will likely be their guy. McCarthy could never commit to one running back as his workhorse but that is also about to change. Hackett ran the hell out of Leonard Fournette in 2017 and LaFleur did the same to some degree with Derrick Henry last season.

Overall, the Packers will increase their rushing attempts by a good margin. Don’t expect to see them finish dead last in attempts two years in a row. Despite handing it off more they should not lose much in efficiency.

Finishing in the top-15 in terms of rushing yards and attempts should be considered a step in the right direction. Also, with Rodgers under center, that enhances the possibility of a top-10 offense with a more balanced attack. They haven’t done that since 2016. It’s time to get back and it starts with running the ball.

 

 

 

Brandon Carwile is a Packers writer who also enjoys watching and breaking down film. Follow him on Twitter @PackerScribe.

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Comments (39)

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Lare's picture

July 21, 2019 at 12:31 pm

Having an effective & productive running game gives the offense a lot of help. It keeps the defenses honest, it wears defenses down, it sets up the passing game and it protects the QB. Will be a big plus to the Packers if it works better this season.

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GBPDAN1's picture

July 21, 2019 at 06:00 pm

With our improved defense, opponents scoring should be lower which in turn will help with Lafleur's run commitment. If we were to get behind by 2 TDs or more, it would be more tempting to lean on Rodgers and the passing game. (Obviously).

Hope Jones can hold up for 16 games (and more) and the line starts run blocking as good as they pass block. Go Pack

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Bearmeat's picture

July 21, 2019 at 12:36 pm

I want to finish in the top 5 in running efficiency, and bottom 10 in running attempts. I would not be terribly pleased if we finish in the top 10 in run attempts. We have the best QB in the game. Advanced analytics have consistently shown that the running game is far less important than the passing game.

What we have to avoid is the opponent knowing we're going to pass every single time we do. We need to be unpredictable. We need to be efficient and have the play action game become deadly once again.

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Mark Gaedtke's picture

July 22, 2019 at 02:33 pm

One of the best things about the Lefluer system is that the run and pass are run from the identical formation. No tip offs for the defense. . .

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Oppy's picture

July 22, 2019 at 06:26 pm

Sounds like 2018: #2 yards per attempt, #32 in rushing attempts..
...Or 2017: #3 in yards per attempt, #27 in rushing attempts....

.....Or 2016: #7 in yards per attempt, #29 in Rushing Attempts....

We need more rushing attempts. I'd prefer to be sitting around 16th-22nd in the league in attempts. That's on #12.

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Johnblood27's picture

July 23, 2019 at 12:32 pm

Let's pump the brakes on the "We have the best QB in the game" talk until AR shows that he is more than a 35 year old, often injured QB who is smart but on the downside of a distinguished career.

The recent won-loss record tells a story dissimilar than the hyperbole spread in the comments section here.

AR has the most to prove of any of the 90 men vying for a GBP roster spot this year. Of course he will start at QB, but will he be able to provide QB play that rises into the top 5 in the league again?

I really do not care much about statistics, wins and losses tell the story,

I need to see AR become a leader of men on the field and not play to a fantasy sports star statistics line. Doing less statistically while being a field general that leads his troops to victory is what makes Bart Starr the best QB in GBP history and Tom Brady the GOAT. Those are clear examples AR should emulate, not the Marino/Manning/Favre statistics whores.

Lets not forget that this is the real NFL with real men playing real football, not fantasy leagues where team and winning do not matter.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 21, 2019 at 01:04 pm

Ten teams ran the ball 439 times or more last year. Nine of them made the playoffs. Green Bay was last in the league with 333 attempts.

Draw your own conclusions. IMO, running more and throwing less is our best path towards the playoffs and having a healthy QB when we get there.

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Coldworld's picture

July 21, 2019 at 01:24 pm

Most of those teams didn’t have a QB like Rodgers. We want to be somewhere in the lower middle of the pack where we establish a rhythm in the running game for blockers as well as ball handlers. We need to be a credible to take advantage of misdirection.

That said, the running game is not how I would look at it, what really matters is getting the running backs involved consistently and that includes as catchers and play action. That’s all part of setting up the balance, hence a little below middle in terms of the number of actual runs would be ideal in my view.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 21, 2019 at 02:04 pm

Y’all keep thinking that Rodgers, in 2019, is somehow head and shoulders above Wilson and Brees and Ryan and all the other top QBs in the NFC.

75% of the playoff teams ran the ball a lot. You think Rodgers and the Packers are so exceptional that you’d rather go against the odds. You should take that strategy to Vegas and see how it does.

Me? Play the odds during the regular season and help your QB stay alive for the playoffs.

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Coldworld's picture

July 21, 2019 at 02:27 pm

I do think he remains able to do things with the ball that none of them can do. Brees is older than Rodgers, Wilson does is a completely different QB. Ryan has the best arm, but not other attributes. If you have a Rodgers you use him. Pounding the ball in the upper quartile is neither doing that nor using the RBs in the passing game.

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Leatherhead's picture

July 22, 2019 at 02:33 pm

And they can do things that he can’t.

Look at only the NFC and forget about Brady and Mahoney etc. You have Brees and Wilson. You’ve got some overall #1s in Newton and Winston and Wentz.....and Stafford and now Murray.

Goff has been to SuperBowl.

My point is that you can’t go out there planning to beat them with Rodgers for 19 weeks,. Let him be a magician in December.

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The Marathon Man's picture

July 22, 2019 at 06:54 pm

Who's "Mahoney"?

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dobber's picture

July 22, 2019 at 08:26 pm

The dude from the Police Academy movies. A total rag-arm.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

July 23, 2019 at 08:23 am

At the end of the day good coaches are going to do the research leading up to a game, and look at the opponents injury report each week and try (better be) to exploit the opponents defense with their play calling. Additionally, they will do a self assessment of what the Packers offensive strengths are. It isnt going to always be x number of passes vs runs.

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holmesmd's picture

July 22, 2019 at 04:06 pm

No way is Ryan’s arm “better than Rodgers” IMO, FWIW.

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Tarynfor12's picture

July 21, 2019 at 02:34 pm

It's the ' Rodgers Walks On Water ' syndrome, along with other such syndromes that come with the blind optimism that is regularly documented here at CHTV commenters.

The Rodgers syndrome was once an undeniable one but no longer is justified. This LaFleur system could elevate Rodgers to such miracle status again or it could lower him. This begins in a couple of weeks.

One thing is for certain or as certain as I can offer is there is no way this team on offense or defense can be as they have been the last two seasons for one and numerous more for the other.

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fthisJack's picture

July 23, 2019 at 07:09 am

you have a choice of not reading the blind optimists on CHTV.

as for Rodgers...he did more on one leg than most QB's last year and had to do it with an obsolete coach and system. he'll be back with a vengeance this year , healthy, in a new system, and shut you naysayers up. book it.

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Bearmeat's picture

July 21, 2019 at 02:42 pm

Dang right.

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Brandip's picture

July 21, 2019 at 01:12 pm

I would love a run/pass ratio that keeps opposing defenses guessing. I hope this helps prevent sacks and throw aways on those third down plays that we have witnessed far too often last year. This scheme allows for increased time of possession. That hopefully translates into fresh defenders applying pressure to their applicable defensive assignment. A dynamic running game will hopefully reduce the amount of times Rodgers is knocked silly on a pass play everyone knew was coming. We cannot afford back up quarterback play. Plus I want the Packers running backs to validate their value in this position obtained from late round drafting. Let us not forget that the backs need solid blocks at multiple levels to be a threat. Go Pack Go!

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PeteK's picture

July 21, 2019 at 01:28 pm

Loved our offense with Lacy. An improved defense should allow us the opportunity to run the ball more because we won't be playing catchup. Also, improved guard play is a must.

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Packer_Fan's picture

July 21, 2019 at 03:39 pm

I consider that the Packers with MM always unbalanced. Always doing something different than what they should have been doing. And fourth and short were mostly disasters. And having a predictable offense did not help. The new offemse with different looks should help both the rin and short passing game. Saying you will run more is just to answer the media and pundits. Having both effective running and passing game allows a team to move the ball and score when a defense is taking one away. The last Super bowl should convince you of this. It was the fourth quarter running game to wore LA down and put the Patriots out of reach.

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Since'61's picture

July 21, 2019 at 04:19 pm

Running the ball does not necessarily mean the Packers will throw less. The running plays need to be effective to enable play action to work.

A big question mark going into the 2019 regular season is the quality of our receivers after Adams. If our receiving corps including the TEs are not improved over last season the run game will need to become more of a factor for the Packers offense. However if our #2 and #3 WRs are getting open and our TE s are effective there will be no reason not to take advantage of play action based off effective run plays. It all really depends on the OL winning at the LOS. If the OL can win for the run game it will be that much more easier for them to win with the passing game. Thanks, Since '61

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fthisJack's picture

July 23, 2019 at 07:16 am

if you remember...Allison had over 300 yds receiving in 5 games last year before he got hurt. translate that to a full season and add a possible second year jump from MVS and ESB plus a solid group of backups and WR should be a strength.

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AgrippaLII's picture

July 21, 2019 at 04:50 pm

It may have been the 2016 season I looked at (I don't remember now). What I found was if the Packers featured RB ran for at least 80 yards and the other backs combined to get the total close to or over 100 yards the Packers usually won that game. I don't see any reason why the group we have can't achieve that this season...of course you have to actually run the football...talking about commitment to the run doesn't fool too many defenses.

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Qoojo's picture

July 21, 2019 at 06:28 pm

The run game was pretty good last year. It was underutilized. Now was that poor utilization due to MM play calling, Rodgers' audibles, or a combination of both? I do not know.

Instead of improved, I think the run game will be more consistent, and the offense will hopefully be more balanced.

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ThxJackVainisi's picture

July 21, 2019 at 07:21 pm

How about waiting to see how the players execute the new scheme before deciding on your preferred run/pass ratio?

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Freezn's picture

July 21, 2019 at 07:24 pm

I believe Aron will be fine with a much improved offensive line a good running game. The offense will be new to apposing defenses and Aron will have time to pick them apart. Our Defense will be greatly improved with both coaching and players Aron will get the ball more apposing quarter backs will be running for their lives and giving Aron the ball back

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Johnblood27's picture

July 23, 2019 at 12:40 pm

get your binkie, its nap time

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MadMan's picture

July 21, 2019 at 10:14 pm

I think it is more than just having a balanced attack. If the defense turns out to be more effective and gives the offense more opportunities, the number of total plays should increase from last year. In many games the offense ran too few plays compared to the opponent. We all became frustrated with MM's play calling but running the clock down to 1 sec on every play did not contribute to an effective offense.
If MLF can get the offense to run plays more quickly and effectively the total number of plays increase, the run/pass ratio will take care of itself. Along with a more effective defense total plays per game should increase and make the Packers offense unstoppable.

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sbransbottom's picture

July 23, 2019 at 12:36 pm

My thoughts exactly. Well said sir.
We can effectively throw the ball more this year than we did last year, while still increasing our run attempts into the top 10-15 in the league. Our offensive weapons are going to be dangerous but its our defense that is going to really set us up for success this year. We now have not only size and some experience, but immense speed in our secondary (which we have been lacking). I believe that halfway through the season, teams are going to start being scared of us.

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Lphill's picture

July 22, 2019 at 04:20 am

Get an early lead , play defense then lean on the run game to keep the clock moving , but let Rodgers play his game , simple formula .

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NickPerry's picture

July 22, 2019 at 05:12 am

What I find amazing is Aaron Jones only carried the ball at least 17 times twice in a game... TWICE! Even after his breakout game of the season against Miami which took till week 9, he didn't carry it 17 times until week 11and then again in week 13. That NEEDS to be different this season. I'm not saying give him the rock 25 times a game, but you HAVE to get the ball in this kids hands...Have to!

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fthisJack's picture

July 23, 2019 at 07:22 am

it took MM way too long to give him the starter role. MM moved like a reptile in a Michigan winter to make any type of change.

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dadon_111's picture

July 22, 2019 at 07:40 am

With a healthy line, I believe our backs will gain the 1st down on 3rd and one or two on a reg basis thus making a Rodgers audible that much more effective as our backs will have gained respect for our ground game

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fthisJack's picture

July 23, 2019 at 07:23 am

i dreaded third and one and then fourth and one with MM calling the plays.

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Tundraboy's picture

July 23, 2019 at 05:50 pm

Whatever the ratios end up turning out to be, they can't keep running the same predictable slop like we did the last couple of years. No matter the sport, being predictable makes the defense's job that much easier.

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Mark Gaedtke's picture

July 22, 2019 at 08:55 am

I think part of the reason our running game was under utilized last year was we were usually behind by the 4th quarter and had to pass in order to get back in the game. Contrary to popular belief, nowhere in the NFL rulebook is it written that the Packers have to enter the 4th quarter trailing. I believe the improved defense will help us to greater utilize our running game and control not only the clock, but the game.

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Slim11's picture

July 22, 2019 at 10:38 am

This goes two ways. Running the ball effectively will help the passing game become more potent and vice-versa.

I want the running game improve to the point where these two things happen...

First, a Packers’ RB is actually running the ball and gaining significant yardage to a point where play-action really will freeze opposing LBs and DBs for that split-second necessary to get one or more WRs open in space.

Second, a Rodgers passing threat is effectively offset by an effective running game. A Packers’ running back isn’t in the game purely as a pass-blocker on third down but might actually run the ball on third down or might actually catch a screen pass and pick up the first down.

I also hope all this means the Packers will get a lead and then keep their foot on the gas pedal. I don’t want to ever use the phrase “prevent offense” again!

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PatrickGB's picture

July 22, 2019 at 02:00 pm

The unknown factor here is how well the players adapt and implement MLFs new offense. I would not be surprised if it took a few games for the players to know it as well as they did the old scheme. The other unknown factors include how well the RBs hold up to that pounding they will receive with more reps. I WANT them to be successful running the ball but the question remain, can they actually do it?

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