Packers work to cure ailing run game during bye week
GREEN BAY (AP) -- The Green Bay Packers enter their bye week with one goal above all others: fix what ails the running game. While their surprising 5-1 record has them tied with Dallas for the best record in the NFC, the fact that the Packers' gr...
GREEN BAY (AP) -- The Green Bay Packers enter their bye week with one goal above all others: fix what ails the running game.
While their surprising 5-1 record has them tied with Dallas for the best record in the NFC, the fact that the Packers' ground game has gone next to nowhere is a source of major consternation for coach Mike McCarthy, who planned to spend Tuesday and Wednesday focusing on the problem.
''We'll look at every part of our offense, defense and special teams over this period,'' McCarthy said Monday.
So far this season, the Green Bay rushing offense ranks dead last in the 32-team league in yards per game (65.7), 29th in yards per attempt (3.3) and 31st in attempts per game (20.2).
''It's safe to say we've got a lot of work to do,'' offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said a day after the Packers managed just 56 yards on 20 attempts (2.8 yards per carry) in a 17-14 victory over Washington at Lambeau Field.
''There's a couple teams in the league that are averaging less yards per carry -- believe it or not -- than us, but not many,'' he said. ''So we've got to get the run game going. No doubt about it.''
The question is how?
McCarthy said the failure is shared by the offensive line, which hasn't blocked effectively; the backs, who haven't gotten the most of what running room there has been; and his own play-calling, which hasn't been committed to the run. Instead, he has chosen to throw on 68 percent of the team's offensive plays.
''We talked about it this morning with the offensive staff,'' McCarthy said. ''It's just more fundamentals, technique, pad level. I think going with one back in certain situations will help us get some rhythm there. And the play-caller needs to have more confidence at times. I'm being critical of myself.''
McCarthy's reference to ''going with one back'' is essentially an admission that the team's running-back-by-committee approach isn't working.
Thus, between now and the team's next game, Oct. 29 at Denver, the Packers will have to decide whether rookie seventh-round pick DeShawn Wynn or rookie second-round pick Brandon Jackson is their go-to guy, with Vernand Morency serving as the third-down back.
Jackson took over the starting job when Morency suffered a knee injury on the first day of training camp and started the first three games, rushing 38 times for 97 yards (2.6-yard average) and one touchdown before suffering a shin injury.
While Jackson has been inactive the last three weeks, Wynn has started and been the most productive of the three, rushing for 202 yards and four touchdowns on 49 attempts (4.1-yard average).
But Wynn also has had durability issues. He left the Sept. 23 game against San Diego with an ankle injury, came out of the Oct. 7 game against Chicago with dehydration-related cramps after one series and had to leave Sunday's game with a hand injury.
Although McCarthy said ''auditions are over'' at this point in the season, Wynn's inability to stay healthy could give Jackson another shot at starting.
McCarthy indicated he'll use the extra days of practice next week to evaluate which back should be the primary ball carrier on first and second downs. Morency figures to remain in the third-down role.
''You could make the case that (Jackson) has been the most consistent back as far as doing everything that's asked at that position,'' McCarthy said. ''DeShawn has done some really good things running the football (but) he gets nicked a couple times during the course of the game, comes in and out. I'd like to see him fight through that. And I think Vernand has been solid for us in his situational play. That's tough to find the right formula there with those guys.''
Even more troubling has been the line's inconsistent play.
Last year, there were growing pains during the installation of a new zone-blocking system, but the Packers gained at least 100 yards in half of their games, including 203 yards against Arizona last Oct. 29 and a three-week stretch late in the season when they averaged 142.3 yards per game.
''I wouldn't say we've regressed. We have not improved,'' McCarthy said. ''The things that bother you more are the common mistakes.''
McCarthy acknowledged that the struggling ground game is affecting the passing game as well, limiting play-action opportunities and allowing defenses to sit back in alignments that prevent deeper passes.
''The benefit of the run game is not (only) the actual back carrying the ball and achieving yards. It's what it creates,'' he said.
''To me, when you don't run the football, it compounds itself and your problems are ahead. That's what we're focused on, because you want to have all your horses. You want to be able to get in and out of the number of concepts you have in your offense so you don't become one-dimensional.''