Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Aaron Rodgers Says: "We've Got To Run The Ball Better"

His comments shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has watched the Green Bay Packers over the past three games, but QB Aaron Rodgers says the running game isn't good enough:
“Quantity is important – we want to have a certain amount of runs every game to keep them honest,” Rodgers said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “But I have to say the quality of them has not been anywhere where we’d like them. . . . We’ve got to run the ball better.”
Mike McCarthy says RB Alex Green will remain the starter, but his backup plan is either a still recovering (toe injury) RB James Starks or a wide receiver (Randall Cobb). Those aren't great options. While McCarthy is talking positive in public, that doesn't mean he's saying the same thing in private. Back in 2010, he spoke well of RB Brandon Jackson shortly after RB Ryan Grant was lost for the season, but he didn't stick with Jackson as the season went on.

While Green and his 2.9 yards per carry have not been the solution, it wasn't like the running game was dominant behind RB Cedric Benson (3.5 ypc). While both backs could be doing more, the blocking up front has to be looked at too.

After eight weeks, Football Outsiders offensive line stats have them ranked against the run at No. 28 overall. At first glance, the problem seems to lie with the running backs. The Packers "stuffed rank" of No. 24 overall indicates that the line isn't terrible at letting defenders make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, but still it's a poor ranking. Where the Packers come in near, or at, the bottom is against the second level and for open field yards. That's a sign that the backs aren't doing enough even when the line is blocking well.

Looking at the Packers rankings by directional yards, the only good news is when the Packers run up the middle (4.13 adjusted line yards per carry; No. 16 overall). They're at their worst when they run to the right tackle (2.54 ALY per carry; No. 32 overall). I noticed against the Rams that the Packers seemed to run mostly to the left, which was probably the right thing to do if RT Bryan Bulaga is getting so little push to that side. Football Outsiders says that the Packers run off right tackle only 12% of the time (15% off left tackle) and 50% of the time straight up the middle. At least the coaches realize where they have their most success.

One example that comes to mind regarding Bulaga's struggles: against the Jaguars, the Packers had a 3rd and 1 at the Jags 14 yard line with about two minutes remaining in the third quarter. They ran Green to the right and Bulaga was pushed back at the line of scrimmage after the snap. When he took a step back with his right foot to re-plant himself, he tripped Green and the conversion attempt failed.

There's no easy fix here. Maybe one of the current backs on the roster will emerge, but they'll probably need to look for an upgrade in the offseason. There are some trade options available, but the current options at running back aren't the entire problem. Maybe moving Bulaga to left tackle, which was rumored this summer after Chad Clifton was released, is the way to go. Maybe LT Marshall Newhouse can provide a stronger push at right tackle, or they could find a right tackle more in the mold of RG Josh Sitton to open up room on the right side. Derek Sherrod won't help in 2012, but he was very good at blocking against the second level in college, so he might be part of the solution in 2013.

In the short term, the best they can do is keep handing the ball to Green and see what happens when Benson and FB John Kuhn (though I've never been overly impressed with Kuhn's work as a lead blocker) return from injury. With the passing game playing great, they can probably get away with this patchwork situation. But they'll need to make a serious effort to improve the running game at some point in the future.

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