Four games in, Packers have No. 5 ground game in NFL All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Rookies David Bakhtiari and Eddie Lacy have helped recharge the Packers' ground game.
Rookies David Bakhtiari and Eddie Lacy have helped recharge the Packers’ ground game.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but in the case of the Packers’ new-look backfield, the early results show significant improvement running the football.

One quarter into the 2013 season, and the pass-happy Green Bay Packers have the league’s fifth-best ground game. The Packers are currently grinding out 141 rushing yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt; Green Bay trails only Philadelphia, Seattle, Buffalo and Indianapolis running the football.

Eddie Lacy, the team’s second-round pick and clear-cut No. 1 back, was just one yard shy of becoming the team’s third-consecutive 100-yard rusher Sunday against the Detroit Loins.

Lacy was knocked out of the Washington game after suffering a concussion, paving the way for James Starks to rush for 132 yards on 20 carries. The following week against the Bengals–with Lacy still out and Starks being forced out of the game early–fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin racked up 103 yards on just 13 carries.

Improving the running game was high on the team’s to-do list this past offseason, according to coach Mike McCarthy.

“We’ll be better,” McCarthy said of his team’s running game following the 2012 season. I promise you that. Big letters.”

And better, they are. Last season, the Packers’ rushing attack ranked 20th in the league after coming in at No. 27 in 2011 and No. 24 in 2010. The last time the Packers ranked in the top half of the league was 2009, when they came in at No. 14 after averaging 117.8 yards per game.

Starks missed the Lions game and is expected to miss “a couple weeks,” according to McCarthy. Franklin stepped in as the No. 2 back behind Lacy against Detroit, but the rookie didn’t get another backfield snap after a second-quarter fumble. Instead, McCarthy opted to use receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield for a third-quarter possession.

Cobb took his first carry and bounced it to the outside for a 67-yard gain down the left sideline. He added another five-yard carry on that hurry-up drive to give himself a modest 36-yard-per-carry average on the afternoon.

Two fumbles in as many games certainly won’t help Franklin’s case to get a share of the workload. Perhaps undrafted rookie Michael Hill will get himself some spot duty depending on the team’s health at the possession. Hill was called up from the practice squad prior to the Lions game.

Of course, the offensive line has as much to do with the ground game’s resurgence than the backfield. Following Bryan Bulaga’s season-ending injury suffered in the summer, the same five (Bakhtiari, Sitton, Dietrich-Smith, Lang and Barclay) have started all four games on the offensive line.

And according to Pro Football Focus, the Packers have the league’s No. 11 run-blocking line. Green Bay’s newfound running game hasn’t taken away from one of the league’s top-tier passing attacks, either. Aaron Rodgers the Packers have the fourth-best air attack in football, trailing just Denver, New Orleans and Atlanta through four games, and somewhat surprisingly, PFF grades the Packers’ line at No. 6.

The interior of the line has been terrific through four games. Evan Dietrich-Smith grades out as the No. 7 center in football, while guards T.J. Lang (12) and Josh Sitton (16) are among the league’s top players at the position on a list of 72, who have played at least 25 percent of their team’s offensive snaps.

The season is far from over, and the defense faces some key question marks, as they’ll be forced to play without Clay Matthews for more than a month. But on the offensive side of the ball, the Packers are as balanced as they’ve ever been.


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Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.


47 thoughts on “Four games in, Packers have No. 5 ground game in NFL

  1. 3 things

    Give Thompson HUGE PROPS for drafting David Bakhtiari!!! Say what you want about his drafting methods or his overall performance as a GM, but golly, he hit the Jackpot on this one! Not only is David playing better Than most OT’s that were drafted before him (including the first overall pick Eric Fisher), but with Bulaga out, Thompson got him at just the right time!

    People don’t often realize just how bad the Packers run game was in 2010. If you were to subtract all of Rodgers rushing yards from that season, the Packers run game ranked DEAD LAST in the NFL. (Yet Aaron Rodgers still had an amazing season! Critics should’ve taken notice).

    Like I’ve said before, the Packers run game didn’t need to have huge numbers (although that certainly helps), they just needed to be efficient. They’re averaging 5.3 yards per carry, good enough 2nd best in the league. As soon as Aaron Rodgers gets back to 2011/2012 form, the Packers will have an offense that can take on any defense in the NFL.

    Oh, and a 4th thing.

    GIVE THE BALL TO RANDALL COBB!! lol. But seriously, I was one of the few who opposed taking him off kick returns because the simple principle that he’s a rare NFL breed. Talent like that should not be condensed to just catching balls with the occasional big play from the backfield.

    1. All good news and all a sign of a maturing line and a step in the right direction when it comes to validating their ‘toughness’ on the field.

      Now, let’s take this puppy out for a test drive on 3rd and 1.

    2. Bakhtiari was THE crucial pick in what is turning out to have been a very good draft overall. I can’t imagine where we would be without him, and it is going to make things even more interesting next year when Bulaga comes back. I predict Bulaga at RT and Bakhtiari at LT, and that is assuming that Sherrod’s career is (unfortunately!) finished – bad luck on that one, but it happens from time to time. Tretter could end up being a factor next year as well. Gotta feel good about the future. Now all we need is for Datone Jones to prove that he was worth his D1 status, and this will turn out to be one of TT’s greatest draft classes!

  2. That stats you mention are particularly impressive having gone against some of the league’s best defenses (Lions, 49ers, Bengals:
    PFF grades the Packers’ line at No. 6.
    Packers have the league’s No. 11 run-blocking line
    Green Bay Packers have the league’s fifth-best ground game

    1. And while the Lions D isn’t spectacular, they still have a formidable front four. Nearly shut them out.

  3. All these experts have sat and bagged on, trashed and basically spoke all year how bad the offensive line is. The number of sacks Rodgers has had. NEWS FLASH, there are 23 other NFL offensive lines that have given up as many or more sacks thn the Packers. Rodgers has been sacked 11 times in 4 games. Granted, other teams with the same number or more may have played 5 games but not all. The Packers have also been opening up huge holes. Doesn’t seem to matter if it’s Starks, Franklin, or Lacy, the Packers are running the ball well. This week will be a huge test. With Ngata, Canty, Suggs, and Dumervil the Packers are going to have to continue to run the ball IMO. If they can and slow that pass rush down a little, I could see Rodgers, Cobb, Nelson, and Finley all having big games and Lacy running the ball some. They have to keep Ngata from blowing up EDS and Suggs from taking over the game like he did last week in Miami. If they can I could see a game like in Houston last year. Time for the NFL to start talking about Rodgers again and not that dude in Denver and with that the O-Line getting some props too.

  4. I am cautiously optimistic about both the run game and the O-line. I am not really a stats guy so I don’t buy into the yards and ranking. If you can count on running to get you there where you need it, then your ground game is ready. We still don’t trust it enough to move the chains or impose our will. But – we are getting there.

    To some of the comments, I agree that TT made some good moves this draft. Bakhtari was the gem of the draft and an essential pick for this O-line. Both Lacy and Franklin have contributed within the first quarter of their first year. You gotta be happy about that. All will need to key improving because teams are getting tape on these new players and plays.

  5. All of this is encouraging. The thing that discourages me is that the top five running game has NOT seemed to make the passing game that much better, but somehow that passing game actually seems to have taken a step backwards. My personal explanation for this is that Rodgers just isn’t on top of his game. He’s missing a few more throws than he has in the past. Fact is, however, I just don’t really have a great explanation. The passing game should be utterly unstoppable, but it isn’t.

    QUESTION: Assuming the same players are around next year, who’s on the field when Bulaga returns? And what position are they playing?

    Here’s my guess: Baktiari stays at LT. Bulaga goes back to right tackle, Barclay tries to take away one of the spots inside. He won’t get Sitton’s, I seriously doubt he can get Lange’s, but maybe – just maybe – he could unseat EDS, I don’t know.

    1. Remember also that they have Tretter coming off injury who people have been tabbing as the C of the future. And in a couple weeks we’ll find out if Sherrod comes off PUP to be eligible to play this season. My guess is that, if he doesn’t, he’s done in GB.

      All told, competition is good for all positions, OL included.

      1. Remember also that EDS is an unrestricted free agent. Is his performance enough to earn him an extension, and if so, will he take what Thompson is willing to pay?

        1. And more than that, the Packers were working Barclay at center during training camp before Bulaga went down.

          I’m guessing the Packers are anticipating that some other team will pay EDS more than he’s worth.

          1. “I’m guessing the Packers are anticipating that some other team will pay EDS more than he’s worth.”

            This will be the story for the next couple off-seasons as established vets approach their pay-days. Some of those guys will be re-signed, but otherwise all we can do is console ourselves in the fact that the Packers will start rolling in compensatory draft picks…that TT can’t trade away.

            1. TT has a pretty good record trading away picks for more or better picks. Lacy, Franklin, Hayward, Burnett, Matthews and Nelson were all acquired with picks that originally belonged to other teams.

              The big benefit of Compensatory picks is that they are usually later in the draft, which allows TT to use the regular picks to trade *UP* in 4 of the last 5 drafts.

          2. Scott Wells re-run? Let’s see how EDS plays the rest of the year. You make two solid points (marpag).

          1. Well as opposed to Wells, EDS is younger and could be around awile longer than Wells was gonna be. I don’t think it would take a contract near what Wells got either. I think there’s a pretty good chance EDS gets re-signed. EDS is just coming into his own as a Center and will continue to get better for another year or so. That certainly wasn’t likely w/ Wells.

            I remember in the offseason all the angst and frustration that Thompson didn’t make a move to draft a Center to start or sign any number of FA. Now everyone is happy that EDS is here… Hate to say it, but I told you EDS would be significantly better this year. He got a full offseason and training camp of playing nothing but Center, instead of OG and Center.

            1. I agree, EDS has been better I thought he’d be. With that said, I believe Thompson has a number in his head and won’t go past it. Especially with so many becoming FA in next year or two.

              1. No doubt he has a figure in mind. And he’s shown that if it goes much beyond that, he will move on rather than pay more than that figure. That’s pretty much the case w/ any player not named Rodgers or maybe Matthews.

    2. Some good thoughts marpag…Do any of you think Barclay stays at RT (assuming he continues to improve) and Bulaga moves inside?…after this season on IR, he (Bulaga) essentially will have been out for about one-and-a-half seasons…Also, does anyone have any insight on Sherrod? Or is he done in the NFL, somewhat like Justin Harrell?

      1. Bulaga wont move. Barclay is more of a natural guard.

        Sherrod’s injury is a bit like Mike Flanigan’s was. It took Flanigan 2 years to see the field and then he was a solid contributor for a good long time. Don’t know if Sherrod is actually that good, so we will see.

        1. Well he WAS a 1st round talent. So the potential was there initially. What remains to be seen is if Sherrod still has that level of talent and if he can recapture it. Will the injury have ruined his talent or will he still be able to tap into it like Flanigan was able to.

    3. I think Baktiari has outperformed expectations, but I still think Barclay has outplayed him so far this year. I see Bulaga filling in at LT w/ Barclay at RT. It’s true that Barclay probably has more utility than Baktiari on the interior OL if the thinking is to get both on the field, but I don’t see him beating out the more experienced Sitton and Lang, who have both been playing very well. Barclay did not look good when given reps at center and EDS has played well so I don’t think he’d win a position battle there either.

      1. Interesting comment. Barclay seems (to me) to have played much better in the second half each week than in the first half. It is amazing to see two guys starting (and doing so well!) that came from such humble origins in terms of their draft status – particularly Barclay.

      2. Bulaga has not proven he can play LT (at a high level) in the NFL. I keep reading he “has short arms”. That being said, if Bakhtiari continues improving, why move him to another position. If our run and pass game are superior to last year, why replace them (Bakhtiari and Barclay) either with Bulaga? By the way, when is his contract up? He keeps getting injured. Just maybe, because of serious injuries, Bulaga cannot beat-out either Barclay or Bakhtiari. That may be the case come next season. Also, understanding we now have Lacy and Franklin, why is the run game so much better without Bulaga. Am playing the devil’s advocate, but, I will be interested to see how things sort-out next season. Bulaga just may be the odd man out. Also, have not mentioned Sherrod. Maybe he finally is healed and can play (and maybe start) LT. Bulaga will be a question mark at the beginning of next season. Some players are never the same after a serious knee operation.

    4. According to the “experts”, EDS is one of the top centers in the league right now. I don’t see him getting unseated. That said, for Barclay to spend his career as a rotational player isn’t at all bad considering that he was an UDFA coming into the league. Also, don’t forget about Tretter, as it sounded like he is a very athletic guy that plays with violence, and this year of recovery may give him the time he needs to get his strength up to where it has to be.

  6. EDS is a surprise rated that high, good for him. Im curious to see how they run game looks this week against the Ravens. I hope they can keep up the good work.

  7. This upcoming Ravens game is a good test for the Packers and their O-line. If the offense can stay on the field and control the game as we did against the Lions that will be a good sign. The defense needs to step up without CM3 and hopefully, if we have a lead in the 4th Qtr., not let it slip away to Flacco and his receivers. This may be the toughest road game remaining on the schedule unless the NY Giants come back to form. This would be a nice road win to get. Go Pack Go! Thanks, Since ’61

    1. You make a good point in that a schedule that looked tough on paper in June, now is not nearly as daunting.

      1. Don’t forget, the Bears are always tough at home vs. the Packers, including when they are underdogs and written-off…I seem to recall a few games in Chicago late in the season when we had Brett…big favorites and we got beat and totally out-played…Hope that doesn’t recur this season.

    2. I am really excited to see how the Packers D performs this week without Mathews. If they can hold up on the road, which I think they can, and at least split the games in his absence, then I expect this team will be an incredible force to end the season and into the playoffs.

      CM3 is truly incredible, his time off should allow him to get healthy for when he will be needed most. Players such as Perry, Jones, and Neal will need to progress to keep opposing offenses from scoring, but I see this as their opportunity to do just that.

      luckily this year the running game will help these guys have a little more time to catch their breath and regroup in between series.

      Go Pack!

      1. People seem to forget that the OLBs are playing better because the big guys up front are collapsing the pocket better than the Pack was doing last year. I think that Neal and Perry will do great since the big guys are doing great. With Burnett back there, it should be even better.

      2. I would be disappointed if they went 2-2 during Matthews absence. If he misses 4 game I expect them to win 3 of 4. IMO all the games are winnable. 2-2 would be poor outcome and I would be unhappy w/ anything less than 3 of 4.

        2 home games and 2 road. Gotta win the home and split on the road at minimum. I think your expectations a too low!

        1. Geez, Stroh, its still at Baltimore and a division game away. I would have been happy if they went 3-1 WITH Matthews!

          1. Gotta win some road games to deserve to be a playoff team. The time to start is now… They’ve already lost 2 road games. If they go 2-2 we’ll be .500 at midseason, that’s not good enough IMO. 5-3 I can live with at that point. 11-5 is my season prediction, if they’re going to get there, 4-4 isn’t going to do it.

            1. Which 2 games out of the last 8 would you expect them to lose?

              My feeling is the schedule gets easier going forward and even 4-4 at mid season gives a make-able 11-5 for the year. Granted 5-3 would be better.

              That said I don’t expect their ‘division away’ loss will be at Minnesota this year, with or without Matthews. But that’s a function of how crappy the Vikes are.

              1. @ Detroit, @ Dallas and @ Chicago are all going to be difficult. They have the ability to win any or all of the games on the schedule but being 4-4 at mid season could cost them tiebreakers especially if they lose conference or division games.

                I think we will win the division but that goal gets a lot more difficult if they are .500 at midseason.

    3. I would say that this is THE test – the Baltimore D front seven is their strength. If we can get the job done, I think that we will have made a statement, and barring further injury (I know, you can’t predict these things, and it is a long season) we should be looking good the rest of the way through. GO PACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. It’s probably the ghost of Scott or someone who hates themselves a lot. At first, it was irritating but at this point, it has almost become entertaining.

    2. I think some one almost always does this. Maybe it is a computer that is generally against the idea of opinions.

  8. Just started posting to this blog a few days ago, and am relatively impressed with the variety and quality of the various opinions. The like and dislike ‘sign’ IMHO should be removed. It seems tantamount to an intellectual beauty contest…
    By the way, won’t we have a couple free agents on the O-Line next year, counting EDS?…Also, if EDS continues improving, he may be the sort-of-player TT signs to an extension during the season. Lastly, no one has mentioned Lane Taylor…any thoughts on him fighting for a position next season or this, if someone inside goes down?

    1. I agree… I would say there’s a very strong possibility EDS gets extended. He’s just coming into his own as a starting NFL Center and has another 4 years ahead of him at the position.

      I think Taylor will be a good backup OG for a couple years. I don’t see a starter anytime soon tho. First Lang and Sitton are signed thru ’16 and there’s Tretter, Barclay and possibly Bahktiari that might be ahead of him for a starting job if/when Lang and Sitton move on (assuming Bulaga and Sherrod are the OT which isn’t a given but probably what the Packers want to happen). If he sticks around another couple years he might get a shot at starting down the road, but it won’t be for a couple years. He’ll be in the mix for a roster spot tho, that much is certain.

      1. The Free Agents on the O-line are EDS and Newhouse. I think they let Newhouse test the market. Then they have Bulaga, Bakhtiari, Barclay and Sherrod at tackle, Sitton, Lang and Taylor at G and Van Roten and Tretter at C. If they can extend EDS and add a decent draft pick the line can be very strong in 2014. TT has been working to this since 2010 (Bulaga pick).

        1. I’m sure they’ll let Newhouse go. I still think Barclay will be a better OG than OT in the long run.

          OT – Bulaga, Sherrod, Bahktiari
          OG – Sitton, Lang, Barclay, Taylor
          C – EDS

          Tretter might supplant Taylor and swing between OG/C.
          Barclay could be a swing OG/OT, but I think OG is his best position.

          If they keep 8 OL Taylor would be hard pressed to make the roster if everyone is healthy.
          If EDS leaves it would open a spot for Taylor for sure.

          1. Actually Tretter would supplant Taylor. Should have said if EDS leaves then Tretter at Center and Taylor at backup OG.

            1. Agreed. Keep EDS and add a draft pick for depth at tackle (keep 9) and I would call that very strong.

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