If there is ever a football season coming up in which RUN THE BALL shouts to the Green Bay Packers, it will be this season. The Pack is entering the season with its most discerning array of wide receivers in recent memory, and a midfield that turns 39 in December and isn’t as mobile as it once was. Since the recipients are young and inexperienced, this quarterback is likely to be looking for an intense attack and a high risk of injury.
By contrast, Green and Gold would produce one of the league’s most impressive backcrosses, bolstered, when healthy, by an offensive streak with at least two Novice All-Pro calibers. So, if you’re really playing with your strengths, the logic might sound like you’re running, running, running, right?
Well, not if you are the beams. Ball running does not appear to be in their DNA. Last season, Green Bay threw the ball 593 times and did it 446 times. In fact, it’s been nineteen years since a team ran the ball more than passed the ball during a regular season. It was 2003, when Ahman Green collected that record year for the franchise, sprinting for 1,883 yards and 15 touchdowns. But the ground offensive was more than just green. Najah Davenport added 420 yards to the ground, and Tony Fisher added another 200 yards.
The Packers went 10-6, losing to the Eagles in overtime in the division round. That was the fourth match and the infamous 26th. Green Bay appears to have concluded the competition, leading 17-14 with 1:12 left in regulation. The Eagles defense was fourth and 26th on the 26-yard streak. But the defense allowed Donovan McNab to complete a desperate 28-yard throw to Freddy Mitchell to keep the leadership alive. The Eagles continued to kick the game with a field goal tie, and went on to win 20-17 in overtime.
But I digress. Sorry to reopen this scabies. That game still tortures me. The point I wanted to make is that the less-than-cool Packers went further than expected that year due to their willingness to commit to running. Since then, they haven’t even come close to balancing the two. The closest they got was in 2014, when they “only” passed the ball 101 times more than they had passed. 2018 was the lopsided year, when the team threw 307 times more than they passed! No wonder the team went 7-8-1, and coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t survived this season.
Of course, the Packers aren’t the only team in the NFL that routinely throws a lot more than they run. The current rules invite you to pass. The league added protection for the midfielder, and made it more difficult to defend and legally tackle the goalkeeper. Green Bay has also been blessed with back-to-back Hall of Fame callers, and taking chances to throw the ball away from them may seem like a waste of their talent.
But the 2022 season presents a unique set of circumstances. You pay your quarterback an average of $50 million a year. It is your privilege. No longer a child. It is critical that you stay healthy and be able to answer the bell in all 17 games. The best way to do this is to dampen the impulse of the pass with a strong, persistent sprint. Especially when you have a good idea. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon ran a combined 1,602 yards last fall. Run the ball. Make those lockers come. Then use Christian Watson’s speed, Allen Lazard’s dexterity, or the experience of Randall Cope and Sammy Watkins, to hurt them with the pass.
An idea of what this might look like would be the plan for a Green Bay game in Arizona last season. Al Hazmoun entered that competition without their top three passing players. Davante Adams, Marquis Valdes-Scantling and Lazard all exited. Forced to lean hard on the run, Jones and Dillon rushed 137 yards together against one of the league’s best defenses. When Rodgers threw, his mark was often Jones off the field, targeting 11 times with seven assists. The beams have set it 37 times, compared to 34 lunges. This excellent balance enabled Green Bay to produce a thrilling upset of undefeated cards, which Messenger Douglas’ stunning interception kept for the final drive to Arizona. They beat a very good team despite having only 184 yards in the air. This is the kind of offensive template that should work with the Pack next year, at least until all the new receivers feel comfortable.
Let’s be honest. Green Bay’s passing game isn’t likely to be as good this year as it has been in the last three games under Matt LaFleur’s regime. It would be tough to replace Adams and MVS losses with the rookies, and the seasoned veteran who didn’t justify his placement in the first round. This means that your running game has to be better. To do this, it must be used more often.
This should be the year Green Bay finally commits to running. But will they?