Despite Optimism, Evidence is Lacking that the Packers’ rushing attack will be Better in 2013

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Eddie Lacy has people excited about the Packers running game. Is it irrational excitement?

Is it just me, or are people irrationally assuming that the Packers will be a better running team this season?

I just got done listening to Bill Simmons’ latest podcast. Simmons and Cousin Sal (Simmons’ sidekick) talked about NFL over/under win totals and highlighted the Packers improved running game as a possible reason for the team’s success this upcoming season. Sal even cited Jonathan Franklin as a reason for his optimism, even though Franklin has looked like a total bust so far.

It’s normal for national media figures to stick to talking points and get a little confused about specific players when doing massive preview shows that cover all 32 NFL teams.  But even locally and among Packers fans, the consensus seems to be that the Packers will go from being a horrible running team to at least a decent running team.

Why? What have we seen this preseason that has made us think that? I can’t think of much. Here’s what I have seen, and it’s not pretty:

  • The Packers averaged a measly 3.0 yards per carry in the preseason.
  • The Packers long rush was a 21-yard scramble by the now departed Vince Young, a quarterback.
  • Eddie Lacy, the presumed starter, averaged 2.0 yards per carry.
  • Bryan Bulaga, a key to the Packers run blocking up front, is out for the season.
  • DuJuan Harris is gone for the year, and Mike McCarthy sounded uncharacteristically depressed when talking about the injury.
  • This is still the Packers and McCarthy is still the coach. They’re going to want to pass, pass and pass some more.

Help me out here: What am I missing that others are seeing in predicting great things for the Packers on the ground this season?

Is all of the hope about a better running game centered on Lacy? That’s fair, I suppose. I’m excited about Lacy as well. But Lacy is also already banged up and could be one hit or awkward fall away from joining Harris on injured reserve.

Is all of the hope centered on just how awful the Packers were at running the ball in 2012? It’s not good when you’re leading rusher finishes with 464 yards, like Alex Green did last season.

But if the leading rusher in 2013 totals 625 yards, that’s improvement, but really not that much better.

I’m skeptical that the Packers will suddenly morph into this reliable running team that many in the national media seem to think. I’d love to see it happen, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Right now, the evidence just isn’t there.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam\\\'s writing on the Packers here.

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  • Sanguinius

    We won’t know until the season unfolds really, so it’s a bit of the great unknown.

    On paper we should be improved in the running game but it’s not all down to Lacy on whether the run game will improved or not.

    Firstly the O-line has to stand up the challenge of creating those spaces. With Lacy being more of a power back he shouldn’t need massive holes but he needs something to work with.

    There needs to be a real commitment to the run. How many times have we seen the Packers under McCarthy abandon the run very early in a game? We have to find ways to get it working and stay committed to it.

    My conservative prediction is we will see some improvement (not a huge one) in the running game but it will down to Rodgers and the wide receivers largely to win games.

    We only need a smidgen of a running game, one that the opposition has to think about to be a better offense than last year.

    • Tarynfor12

      “We only need a smidgen of a running game, one that the opposition has to think about to be a better offense than last year.”

      This amount(smidgen) of a run game is exactly why teams laughed at us when we attempted to ‘inflict’ it on them.

      It’s a wonder we didn’t succeed just by them merely falling down laughing.

    • Savage57

      A real double-edged sword for MM in game planning and play calling.

      If he commits to the run and the unit produces historical results he’ll be excoriated for ‘not giving the best QB in the NFL’ the ball.

      If he gets away from the run, and AR gets hammered or the offense stalls, he’ll be chastised for not sticking with the run.

      In the end, it’s still going to come down to AR using the pass, being initially successful getting the LB’s and S’s on their heels, then letting the (hopefully) big dog pound the rock.

      But if he comes out and MM calls run on every 1st down like he’s always done, I’ll just have less hair.

      • Tarynfor12

        Regrettfully,thats the job of those in the media and Packer fans,bloggers,etc.Otherwise,it would be seen as having achieved perfection or just having the aweful trait of being thankful a win is a win is a win if no ridicule comes forthwith.

      • John Zoul

        Savage57, you are replaying a nightmare for me…the predictability of when we’re going to run the ball…first down:run…less than five yards?…pass…and pass again…first down?…yes: run on first down…less than five yards?…then, pass…pass…the predictability has made it easier for other teams to defend…

  • Dobber

    I have a hard time putting too much stock in preseason performance because the Packers seemed to be intent on evaluating personnel and packages, and far less intent in establishing momentum and chemistry.

    As was said above, so long as ARod is under center, the Packers will be a “pass to set up the run” team. Cohesion on the OL will be a big part of that, but having a big back who isn’t going to try to bounce everything outside will hopefully diminish the number of times we’ll see a runner taking hits behind the LOS. If you cut those runs down, the per carry average will improve significantly.

  • Wayne Crannell

    The running game does not have to be better than last year. It only has to SEEM like it is better. Our run offense is always going to be there to set up the pass…this is McCarthy and Rodgers we’re talking about after all.

    As long as we have a threat back there, teams have to at least think about playing the run, and that’s when Rodgers sees just that much more daylight in the secondary.

  • Tarynfor12

    “The running game does not have to be better than last year. It only has to SEEM like it is better.”

    Inept people wearing jeans and tee shirt are still inept when wearing a tuxedo…lets not think teams will be fooled by what ‘seems’ to be..’SEEING’ is still a huge requirement.

  • Mojo

    I think the DuJuan Harris injury really hurt the prospective running game. Completely different type of back than what’s on the roster. To me he was one of the bright spots late last year and someone I was looking forward to having a good year in 2013. I was more dejected than MM.

    Combine that with what looks to be a so-so run blocker in Bakh and the potential boon to the running game all hinges on Lacy. He should do alright, but there is little depth behind him right now.

    Unfortunately when it’s all said and done, I see the Packers going to a pass-run percentage similar to last year. As far as the YPC, it will be up to Lacy to duplicate the spark Harris gave us last year. And he needs to do it for the whole season which means he can’t get hurt. Good luck with that.

    The Bulaga-Harris injuries were huge blows to the run game. I don’t think MM was counting on that happening when he made his proclamation. Maybe MM will try to compensate with more short-passes and screens as pseudo-running plays.

  • NYPACKER

    I went back & looked at our running plays when AR was the QB from the 3 preseason games in which he played. We gained 70 yards on 16 carries for an average of 4.35 yards per carry, so that is a positive sign. In addition, not much “gameplanning” is done in preseason, so teams were more likely play the typical “stop the run first” defense. This is not what we saw for a majority of games last season when most teams played “pass” when defending us. As others have noted, MM appears to only want the run game to be good enough for teams to THINK they have to stop it.

    • Adam Czech

      Good point on the run stats w/ Rodgers at QB.

    • Slim11

      As I said on another thread here, Rodgers’ backups not named Wallace and Tolzien wouldn’t strike fear into any opposing defense. Thus, in preseason, no one had to worry about GB throwing the ball effectively. Only when Rodgers was playing did Lacy become more effective. At 4.35 YPC, Lacy will provide something for the opposing defense to consider.

  • Nopainnogain

    First of all, let’s throw out the preseason bull- stats.

    we all know that 99% of the preseason, the rb’s were stuck

    next to an inept qb & playing against a stacked front that

    had no fear of a pass. And the majority of the time, other

    starters weren’t even in the game so trying to extrapolate

    anything off of that is a total crapshoot. Green Bay’s

    oline backups struggled a ton and the rb’s were getting

    met 2 yards in the backfield. The starting oline is by no

    means a stellar group, but I think the gap between them

    and the rest of the league’s starters is smaller than the

    gap between the gb backups and the rest of the league’s

    backups.

    The reason the running game will be improved is because it

    has nowhere to go but up. While EDS is no road-grader, he

    is miles ahead of Saturday (by far worst PFFocus run

    blocking grade among centers). No matter how bad Baktiari

    struggles, he’s not gonna be any worse that Newhouse (by

    far worst PFFocus run blocking grade among tackles).

    Bulaga is good, you can make a case Barclay is a superior

    run blocker and we’ll have a full season of him & he’s got

    experience now.

    While the oline played their part in the struggles, I think alot of the blame falls to the runningbacks, which is why ppl think the RB swap (lacy widely considered best rb in draft) will provide such a boost. According to Football Outsiders, only 12 teams were

    stuffed (%) less often than GB, which is an indicator of solid oline performance. Meanwhile they ranked 29th and 32nd in 2nd-level yards and open field yards, respectively, which indicates poor runningback performance (not poor oline performance). Disregarding whether it was a lack of health or talent, Green failed miserably in his ample opportunities and the fact that he was the leading runner speaks volumes about the rb group last year. I don’t think it’s crazy to expect improvement, provided EDS & Lacy are healthy, and if they aren’t it’s still hard to be worse than last year at center & rb.

    • Ed Schoenfeld

      Just expanding, some of the 2nd level yardage is on the O-line, because the zone blocking scheme, which the Pacjkers still use, relies on OL getting to the second level and taking ou an LB.

      That said, the bigger problem with Green as an RB was a complete inability to pick the right seam (ZBS runners look for seams, not holes).

      Harris could do that and squeeze through for yardage. Lacy and Starks can do that and bull through for yardage. Franklin doesn’t know enough yet.

      So the Packers start the year with a better run bloking O-line than they finished with last year (Bakh >> Newhouse) and net one better runner.

      The real question is how much of acommittment to run will McCarthy show in games. If he sticks with it consistently, the run game will be better.

      • Stroh

        I know he paid it lip service to some degree in the past, but McCarthy will run the ball enough to keep the D honest. Even last year we actually ran more often, it just was ineffective against 6 and 7 man fronts. This year the Packers have to be able to run, especially against 6 man fronts and even to some degree 7. Its not like we’re going to see an 8th defender in the box w/ our passing game. The ratio last year wasn’t really that bad in hindsight. It should improve even more this year, assuming Lacy is effective.

  • Wkupackfan

    It is a myth that the Packers do not run the ball enough. Without looking up the exact stats, the Pack was somewhere in the middle of the league in run/pass ratio last year. If anything, one could argue the Pack ran too much last year, especially on 2nd and long yardage. What is needed is more effective running, translated into a better ypc average. Lacy (and Starks, if he remains healthy) should be able to increase the ypc by breaking some tackles, something that Alex Green and Ced simply couldn’t do.

    In addition, remember that AR adjusts the play at the LOS according to the defensive look. It would be crazy, unless the game situation demanded it, to stick with a called rush play when the defense is showing weakness to a pass option. It was interesting to see the stats on run stuffs above. My eyes sure told me that our RBs were contacted behind the LOS a lot last year.

    • Dobber

      “My eyes sure told me that our RBs were contacted behind the LOS a lot last year.”

      Exactly. There are plenty of those to share blame on that. Could be the OL for failing to get to their man or for being beaten off the line. Could be a back who either won’t shoot the gap or lacks the patience for a run to set up and bounces plays outside.

      Whatever the case, I think Lacy fixes some of that. He’s going to hit the hole and fall forward. I don’t see him bouncing a lot of inside runs to the perimeter where he’ll get run down by safeties and OLBs.

      I’d like to see how many running plays for the Packers from 2012 resulted in a TFL or in contact behind the line.

  • Razer

    While Lacy will make a difference, because he actually has talent, the key to a real run game rests with the O-line. If they are getting beat and the lanes do not form, where are you going to run. We are at least a year away from a real running attack. The line must improve as a foundation for a complete offense.

  • Reid

    Improved doesn’t mean best in the NFL. It just means better than last year…which won’t be too difficult. I think we will have an improved running game with Lacy. He’s better than anyone we’ve had in a while. I went to the Rams preseason game and the guy has got some moves (spin move after reception) and he broke several tackles. IF IF IF IF he stays healthy, our run game will be improved. But we will still be a passing team and should be.

  • Treg

    Our O-line doesn’t have the maulers to make a running game work. They also lack the ability to get downfield and block..

  • UNIFORMED

    Bad blocking scheme, bad coaching, headcoach who doesn’t get it.

    • Dobber

      Is that “uniformed” or “uninformed”?

  • Kal

    I like (and agree wholeheartedly) with what Nopainnogain wrote; most of the time, Lacy was in with the 2s on the OL, and backup QBs against 8 man fronts. The DEF held Russell Wilson (and most of the SEA starters) in check for three quarters. Wilson was picked twice, and I think his rating was around 50 for the game. THAT is what will make the difference in games this season, against powerhouse teams, like SEA and SF. All we need from Lacy is a slight uptick in production, which he has demonstrated (briefly) that he CAN provide, and we will be fine. GO PACK GO!

  • Archie

    WHAT I’M WAITING TO SEE is the no-huddle with Eddie Lacy runs and AROD play actions. That will be the true test. I hope we go to the no-huddle at least 50%. I hope it becomes our run offense! And if they cheat to stop it, they will not have the personnel on the field to stop AROD from beating them through the air. Now, if MM sticks to conventional offense and our run game gets stuffed w only 7 in the box, well then, we will be in a world of hurt. Lacy may not be all-world but he is plenty good enough to beat a 7 man front with a little help from his friends. Can’t wait for the game.

  • Since ’61

    The run game is up to the O-Line. Yes, the quality of the backs is important but the blocks have to be there. In the 60’s Lombardi’s backs included Hornung, Taylor, Elijah Pitts, Anderson, Grabowski, Travis Williams, Ben Wilson, Chuck Mercein, and Tom Moore. It didn’t matter. Lombardi’s line made their blocks and the running was always effective and always a threat. Only Hornung and Taylor were Hall of Famers, and Hornung got there because he could run, catch, pass, block like a guard, kick FG’s and PAT’s, Kick- off, Punt, returns kicks and punts and play DB and LB. He was a football player. After Super Bowl 1, Hank Stram, the defeated KC coach said of the Packers, “they never missed their blocks”. Imagine being able to say that about the current Packer O- Line. If the Packers Running game is going to improve it’s up to the O-Line. Then the running backs will look really good. There’s no Gale Sayers in this group, but they can be effective if they get the blocks. Thanks, Since ’61

    • http://AllGreenBayPackers.com Drdawg

      Most everyone agrees Pack is a pass first, run second offense that runs well when defenses are on their heels protecting down field. Our run game fails when we need less than 3 yards on third and fourth downs and the defense closes the box. There is nothing about our new run game that shows that aspect of our offense has improved. Note that Rodgers and company did not put up a TD this summer, and yes I know it was exhibition football but I also know they were trying.

  • James Jeffers

    Its not like the pack and MM gave up on the run game last year. Check the stats and you’ll find they attempted to run the ball more than most teams in the second half of the year. The combo of the O-line and running backs just flat out didn’t get the job done. Maybe the new combo of backs and O-line will get the job done better this year. We’ll find out soon enough. But the notion of MM giving up on the run game is not accurate, they just failed to execute with the personnel they had. Lacy is a big upgrade in the backfield this year, and his bruising style of running should soften the hardest front 7’s in the game, a big reason he was drafted I’m sure. Even if the O-line can’t open holes for him he will wear out defenses eventually. It’s also not MM’s fault their 1st round tackles are out with injury, so their plan was solid. Bad luck has hurt the O-line, not MM or TT.

  • James Jeffers

    Sure a great O-line can make an average back great, but the opposite is also true. (i.e.- Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders)
    Now I can’t say Lacy will get near Sanders status, but he is the best we’ve had here since Ahman Green. For a pass first team he can be just the right fit to at least take pressure off Rodgers and make opposing defenses respect the run, which surely hasn’t happened in recent years.