The Packers Ground Game Has Much to Prove

The Green Bay Packers have confidence in Ty Montgomery as their starting running back, but is it warranted or is it a big risk? 

Over the years the Green Bay Packers have taken plenty of risks at the running back position and it seems like in 2017, they are set to take another. 

Throughout head coach Mike McCarthy's tenure, there has been a question at the running back spot. When he started, the Packers had an aging Ahman Green. Then, after allowing him to leave as a free agent, Ryan Grant took over, before eventually giving way to guys like James Starks and Eddie Lacy. 

But the truth is that outside of some solid years from Lacy and Grant, the Packers really haven't had a big-time back in the McCarthy era and it's worth asking, if that's going to change in 2017? 

My answer is no. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. For as much as McCarthy likes to talk about running the football, the truth is, he loves to sling it. With Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, honesltly, who could blame him?

However, that doesn't change the fact that last season, the Packers ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing attempts or that in McCarthy's 11 seasons, they have never ranked higher than 12th. 

At some point, does McCarthy's mention of running the ball just become lip service? My honest opinion is no. I think Mike wants to run the ball, he's just never had the back or the offensive line to do it the way he wants. 

From the looks of things, he won't have the personnel necessary in 2017 either.

Don't get me wrong, I think the offensive line is solid, but I have doubts about both guard spots. I'm concerned about whether Jahri Evans or someone else can hold up and whether Lane Taylor can duplicate his play from a season ago.

I have also doubts about whether Ty Montgomery can be a legit starting running back. After all, last season, he carried the ball more than 10 times on just three occasions. 

At 6-1, 216 pounds, Montgomery certainly has the physique to be an every-down back, but his first two NFL seasons were hampered by injury. In two years, he has missed 11 games (1 in 2016). That makes me question whether he can stand up to the rigors of carrying the ball 200 or 250 times this season. He was great last season and averaged 5.9 per rush on 77 attempts. But it doesn't mean he is suddenly a bell cow. 

Obvioulsy, there are other options like Jamaal Williams, Green Bay's fourth-round pick out of BYU or the other rookie backs Aaron Jones (UTEP) or Devante Mays (Utah ST), who went in the fifth and seventh rounds respectively. But if Green Bay is going to run it well in 2017, Montgomery needs to be part of that, even if it's not as the main guy. 

Last year, the Packers left themselves perilously thin at running back and at last weekend's draft, Green Bay was determined not to let it happen again. And in Williams, the team has someone who can legitimately challenge Montgomery for his spot, or at least offer some solid depth. But still, no veteran presence has been added and Green Bay is backing up one unproven runner -- with three more. 

I see why the Packers have high hopes for Montgomery, Williams and the rest. But at the end of the day, with the questions in the backfield and up front, there is no doubt, Green Bay's ground game, still has a lot to prove. 

 

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Chris is a sports journalist from Montana and has been blogging about the Packers since 2011. Chris has been a staff writer for CheeseheadTV since 2017 and looks forward to the day when Aaron Rodgers wins his second Super Bowl. Follow him @thepackersguru

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Comments (40)

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Nick Perry's picture

May 07, 2017 at 06:15 am

"At some point, does McCarthy's mention of running the ball just become lip service?"

Sometimes I think it's nothing more than "Lip Service". Over the 2014 & 2015 seasons Lacy ran the ball 17 times or more just 10 times. In those 10 games he gained 80 yards or more in 9 of them and 100 yards in 5 of them. Obviously the production was there when you gain 100 yards on 17 carries or more 50% of the time. The WINS were there too. The Packers went 9-1 in those 10 games. When you have production AND win games it's hard to say it's anything but lip service.

Last season's lack of a running game was more self inflected than anything. The very second Eddie Lacy showed up at TC looking "Heavier" than he did in OTA'S TT and MM should have been looking for another RB or two. Instead they counted on Lacy to lose and keep the weight off and for Starks to stay healthy and have one more year in him. Lacy couldn't, Starks didn't, and the Packers weren't ready for it. I also don't think losing Sitton a week before the season did much for the running game. As well as Taylor played, he's nowhere near the run blocker Josh Sitton was/is.

The Packers now have a nice array of RB to play with. From a position standpoint I think they have the RB to be successful and a decent enough O-Line. Question is does MM actually use them.

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The TKstinator's picture

May 07, 2017 at 11:01 am

I think part of it is Rodgers as many have noted: GB would be wasting him if they became too ground oriented.
Another is personnel; backs and line. As a fan I really don't feel qualified to assess the line's run blocking ability. Sure I watch. Mostly I listen to and read about what the coaches and media say. What was Taylor's run blocking grade? What was Bakhtiari's? Bulaga's? I've always heard that they are all better pass blockers than run blockers, and with 12, that makes sense too.

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Nick Perry's picture

May 07, 2017 at 07:56 am

I don't subscribe to PFF but what little I saw in about a minute of checking was they don't rank poorly at all in run blocking and the pass blocking is one if not the best in the NFL. They did mention Taylor wasn't graded as highly as Sitton but I don't know the specifics. The Packers have the best pass blocking line in the NFL, that's what they do best. I think their average run blockers at worst but more than good enough to get the job done.

What I pointed out about Lacy isn't the first time I've mentioned it. Hey 9-1 when they run him 17 times or more? 100 yards in half of those 10 games? That's not a huge commitment to the run giving your #1 RB the ball 17 times AND winning.

I like the ball in Rodgers hands too. This seasons going to be even more fun to watch with more of the 2 TE sets. I can't wait to watch teams try and defend the combinations the Packers can put on the field.

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The TKstinator's picture

May 07, 2017 at 06:33 am

I also wonder what MM would do if he had an arguably best in league RB. Now THAT would be pick your poison.
I'm hoping for that this season when GB lines up with one back, 2 TE, and 2 WR against nickel defenses. Run or pass? Pick your poison!

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sonomaca's picture

May 09, 2017 at 06:40 am

They completely whiffed at RB in this draft. No Cook, no Mixon, and no Foreman. They were probably confident that they'd get him at #93, but Houston swiped him away. Should have traded up. Huge error.

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dobber's picture

May 09, 2017 at 07:44 am

I guess it depends on how much faith they have in Monty, and just how many snaps they plan to run the ball. I was expecting an offensive skill guy in the first two days, too, but it just didn't happen. Still, RBs are perishable goods and you can usually find decent ones in the mid-to-late rounds (typed with fingers crossed).

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CAG123's picture

May 07, 2017 at 06:45 am

Why would they need veteran depth at the running back position? An aging free agent running back is going to be any different then the rookies they have now if that's the case they would have brought back Starks or Christine Michael. They will be better of with the young guys and depth they currently have.

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BradHTX's picture

May 07, 2017 at 08:16 am

The Packers went 9-1 in games where Lacy ran for more than 80yds last season. That's a fact, but it's important to remember that there is a different between correlation and causation. We can't automatically draw the conclusion that the Pack won those games BECAUSE Lacy had good games in them.

I'm not taking the time to look up the statistics or look back at the game summaries, but it's possible that Lacy had so many yards in games they won because the Packers were already ahead and salting away the clock in garbage time. It's also possible Lacy didn't have many yards in games the Packers lost because they were behind and throwing it in catch up mode.

The Packers are always going to be a pass first team, with support from the running team. As McCarthy has said, with the Packers scheme, the pass sets up the run rather than vice versa. It's certainly important to have a good running game, but let's remember they won their last Super Bowl with Brandon Jackson as the lead runner. This season will be fine with Monty and the rookies.

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Since '61's picture

May 07, 2017 at 03:06 pm

Lacy only played in 6 games last season and the Packers were 4-2 after they lost to Dallas and Lacy was injured and done for the season after that game so I don't know how the Packers could have gone 9-1 with Lacy. Otherwise, your comment is good and i agree with most of it except for the 1st sentence. Thanks, Since '61

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BradHTX's picture

May 07, 2017 at 06:09 pm

Thank you, Since '61 — I mistyped: I was citing Nick Perry's first comment on the article, in which he quoted the Packers' record of 9-1... in the 2014-2015 seasons, not this past season. My mistake, but the point remains the same. Cheers!

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Nick Perry's picture

May 08, 2017 at 04:47 am

I was speaking about the 2014 & 2015 seasons Since '61. Just the games THOSE seasons where Lacy carried at least 17 times.

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Chris Peterson's picture

May 07, 2017 at 08:35 am

In terms of a vet, I thought they should have kept Lacy or got a guy like Blount. I wanted them to have a power back. Maybe they will give Rip some carries in this spots. But call me crazy, I think the Packers are going to regret letting Lacy go to Seattle. I think he could thrive there.

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dobber's picture

May 07, 2017 at 09:14 am

I think Rip is a usable piece in the backfield but he limits what the offense is going to do. It's telegraphing tendencies.

As for Lacy, he may do well in a system where he gets 10-15 carries because he might stay healthy. They seem to be infatuated with CJ Prosise over there, so I don't know that Lacy will have a huge role. I see RBBC.

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Chris Peterson's picture

May 07, 2017 at 08:46 pm

Yea I don't want Rip getting too many carries. I am thinking of John Kuhn's old role when he used to be really good in short yardage on third and fourth down. I think at one point over the course of two years, he was like near perfect in converting in those situations. So I think in some instances like that or in surprise situations he can be effective. Hopefully, he improves catching the football, cause those little dump passes are wide open and probably could be good for a first down or two per game.

One thing with Montgomery I do worry about is short yardage, goal-to-go situations, third and fourth and short. I was at Lambeau when he get stuffed near the goal line a bunch of times by the Bears. And that was a bit of an issue. Hopefully, he improves there.

But yea I think RBBC is the best approach. I also hope the Packers throw the football more to Montgomery more this year. I have always thought the Packers and Rodgers could use a scatback type and while Monty isn't that super quick Sproles or Woodhead type, I do think he could do well and cause matchup problems for the defense. GB used to be great in the screen game, I'd like to see that again.

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Razer's picture

May 07, 2017 at 08:59 am

The run blocking and run play calling needs to get better if we hope to feature a run game. Bulaga is too stiff to get down and dirty and our interior lineman not big enough to move the inside guys. It all starts up front and we are pass blockers first.

I would like to see a strong run game but we have a ways to go on several fronts. I like the additions at RB. With TIME, we should develop the plays and coordination to force teams to respect the run. Hopefully Evans starts the OL process.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

May 07, 2017 at 10:06 am

On an NFL scale of 1-10, I give our RB's a 2. I mean, just look around the league.

My bigger concern, though, is the line. This is a pass-blocking group, whose run-blocking stats are inflated by low usage--defenses rarely load the box--and Rodgers taking off.

There is hope, however, in Ted's overhaul of the Tight End position. Going from Cook & Rodgers to Bennett and Kendricks is as big a jump as you'll find. Bennett can really block. I'm just hoping Sandland beats out Rodgers, completing the house-cleaning.

All told, I foresee a better run game this year. Perhaps quite a bit better.

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kidflash's picture

May 07, 2017 at 09:29 am

I'm not sure why I keep hearing how thin the Packers were at RB going in to the 2016 season? They usually keep 3 halfbacks on the 53 and a 4th on the practice squad. That's basically what they did, with Lacy, Starks, Montgomery, and Jackson. I know Montgomery was listed as a WR, but he was also expected to play RB as well. Any team that loses their 1st, 2nd, and 4th RBs to injury is going to have issues running the ball. So this year they go into the season with Montgomery, Williams, Jones, and Mays and their not thin at the position?

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

May 07, 2017 at 04:08 pm

Because what you wrote isn't precisely true. I don't believe GB thought of Monty as a HB, and I don't think he practiced there, until the end of training camp last year. By definition, that means Monty did not bulk up to play HB, and did not get the reps during camp. He had only 2 carries for zero yards during the first four games. Ty did not look ready for pass pro or the other little things RBs have to do when he became the emergency starter in game 5 and 6. So yeah, there was a 3rd RB allegedly listed as a RB on the depth chart, even though everyone knew he wasn't fully operational.

“we were fortunate we made that decision at the end of training camp to get Ty ready [at HB].” MM

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lebowski's picture

May 07, 2017 at 09:35 am

'honeslty' 'obivously' 'themsevles' 'determiend'
spell check, dude

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Chris Peterson's picture

May 07, 2017 at 09:41 am

Yep that's my bad. I did this post really early in the morning my time and forgot to do that. That shows you should never not spell check.

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The TKstinator's picture

May 07, 2017 at 11:25 am

I all whiz ewes spell czech four won hundred purse sent Acura C!

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michaelturi's picture

May 07, 2017 at 09:35 am

I would like to see statistics on the predictability of the Packers offense. It seems every 1st down started with a run, and everybody knew it was coming. If the Packers couldn't impose their will on first down they would try a run on second down. When that didn't work it was up to Rogers on third down to make something happen. The Packers seemed to get out of this cycle for the second half of the season last year when their winning streak started. Did McCarthy learn something, or did Rogers decide to start calling plays?

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ThxJackVainisi's picture

May 07, 2017 at 01:37 pm

It's funny how perceptions often don't match reality. According to the link, the Packers were 26th in the league in rushing on first down last season. That's partly because of the RB situation - the Packers being 29th in rush attempts was an outlier - they were 12th in each of the 3 previous seasons and then 16th in 2012. BTW, there isn't a large correlation between rushing attempts and offensive production - at least for McCarthy's Packers. They finished first in scoring while being 12th in rushing attempts (2014) and while being 26th in rushing attempts (2011).

https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/rushing-first-down-pct

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

May 07, 2017 at 09:41 am

I think last year's group was shakier, what with Lacy's conditioning, Starks's fast-declining skills, and Montgomery's tweener status.

This year's group looks more solid on paper, albeit not steller by any means.

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Chris Peterson's picture

May 07, 2017 at 09:43 am

I think there is definitely more depth. I have high hopes for Williams, but again that's counting on a rookie. But at the same time, if you are going to count on a rookie somewhere, running back is usually a good place.

Williams reminds me so much of Ryan Grant. I think he will be a solid, one-cut runner. My hope is he and Monty get the bulk of the carries with RIP getting a few here and there.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

May 07, 2017 at 10:15 am

Ryan Grant is a good comparison for Williams.

A more happy-thoughts comp would be Frank Gore. There's an awful lot of similarities between the two, though Williams will have to maximize his potential to reach that high.

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kidflash's picture

May 07, 2017 at 09:58 am

While in hind sight it may appear that way, I don't think it looked that way going into the season. Lacy did gain some weight back but still looked like he had regained some burst. Starks hadn't shown any decline at that point. And Montgomery as tweener would probably know the offense as well as any 3rd RB, who probably would have been a rookie. It will be interesting to see how much their 3rd RB plays this year.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

May 07, 2017 at 10:14 am

It's not hindsight for me. While I was heartened by Lacy's improved conditioning last year, he hardly looked ripped--and he was still injury-prone.

Starks appeared in solid decline last year, the way I saw it.

And I'm much more positive about Montgomery's RB skills now than a year ago--though I'm still skeptical.

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Bearmeat's picture

May 07, 2017 at 10:31 am

The real issue is MM. He's got the greatest QB in the world and he wants to use him. I don't blame him for that one bit. However, remember 2013? Remember how good Eddie and the OL got just running the ball a bunch?

Imagine if we had just a LITTLE more balance. Say, 5%. It would do worlds for the offense.

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Spock's picture

May 07, 2017 at 10:47 am

Not sure why so many are calling Ty a "tweener" as he's as big as some of the "bigger" backs! One point being overlooked is MM has many times said his philosophy on run balance is THE NUMBER OF ATTEMPTS, not necessarily the yardage gained. We just need the run game to be effective enough to make the other team's defense have to respect the run. I think the two (blocking) TE's will make that very viable and Ty's elusiveness and instincts (re-watch the Bears game) definitely make the "home run" run a real possibility plus the new RB's appear to be the "run to daylight" types that should garner respect. Can't wait for training camp to begin"

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Chris Peterson's picture

May 07, 2017 at 11:05 am

Yea when Monty wears an RB number this year I bet that will make him look more like a back. I just think it's hard to get over seeing a No. 88 run between the tackles. Lol.

But he definitely has enough size to be a running back. He has just been a little injury prone. But if he can stay healthy, I bet he gets 1,100 - 1,200 total yards. I don't think there is a 1,000 rusher on this team.

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worztik's picture

May 07, 2017 at 11:54 am

Good Day Gents... I am in blackout mode today... I'm just gonna read!!! Just sayin'....

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PatrickGB's picture

May 07, 2017 at 12:09 pm

I too read that Monty decided to keep his jersey number. But whatever his number is he will be better in pass blocking this year. Also with the addition of decent pass blocking, and run blocking TE's defenses will have to respect the run and not know if Monty is going to run or Aaron is going to pass. Uncertainty will be our friend. If they load the box or back away expecting the pass Aaron will audible to a more favorable play. All Aaron will have to take what is given. However, if we are playing catch up the running game goes out the window. So I believe that our offense needs to be our best defense with a quick lead and be able to milk the clock with a true west coast offense, decent run game and be able to hold a lead.

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4thand1's picture

May 07, 2017 at 01:57 pm

Every defense will play the Packers to pass. In fact every teams defense is set up to defend the pass first, but teams will focus on the Packers passing game first. They will be willing to give some yards on the ground, so the YPC will be decent. The only way the play selection comes close is if they have a big lead. MM has always played the odds, so look for a lot of 3 and outs and prevent to drive us nuts. (if they have a lead) Rodgers should be in the 5k range this year.

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Lphill's picture

May 07, 2017 at 02:29 pm

The run game will be much improved with the new backs and tight ends. I could see the packers being number 1 in scoring no problem. With the defense improved we are in for something special .

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LayingTheLawe's picture

May 07, 2017 at 07:49 pm

The Packers have consistently been in the top 10 in scoring points - and usually the top 5 in recent years. Even the Packers terrible down year in 2015 was in the top half of scoring. So scoring points has never been a problem.

The whole position of running back is now devalued by the NFL. The shelf life of a back is low and teams seem to move on to the next one much more quickly than any other position. Demarco Murray runs wild for the Cowboys and loses his job. Legarette Blount has 1100 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Patriots on their way to the Super Bowl last year and seems to lose his job every year. Jamal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Latavius Murray, Eddie Lacy, Lamar Miller, Shady MCoy, Matt Forte are all among the starting running backs that have changed teams in the last couple years. No other position has big producing starters move around so much. Free agent running backs seem to get low balled on nearly every stop. While no name receivers get big money offers, even hall of fame backs seem to get nothing but low offers.

The Packers approach seems to put some bodies in there and see what happens. With the low value currently put on backs in the NFL this is probably a wise idea.

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croatpackfan's picture

May 08, 2017 at 03:47 am

"However, that doesn't change the fact that last season, the Packers ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing attempts or that in McCarthy's 11 seasons, they have never ranked higher than 12th."

This statement is false. In 2013 Packers were 7th!
http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?tabSeq=2&offensiveStatisticCatego...

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Nick Perry's picture

May 08, 2017 at 04:54 am

2013 was the season Rodgers was out for half of it. He was injured when they were 5-2 IIRC and 7-7-1 when he came back for week 17 against the Bears.

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Nick Perry's picture

May 08, 2017 at 05:10 am

Double post...

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Hilarys's picture

May 08, 2017 at 05:01 am

Nice Post

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