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Onus on Packers' line, run game vs. Lions

12/27/2014

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers say they're a different offense with a different running game than they were at Ford Field three months ago, when the Detroit Lions shut them down.

The Lions? They're the same.

What looked like a stout run defense back in Week 3 has proven to be the best in the league. Only one team -- and not a single running back -- has rushed for more than 100 yards against them this season.

And it wasn't the Packers.

They didn't come close in their 19-7 loss Sept. 21.

Running back Eddie Lacy managed just 36 yards (his second-lowest total of the season) on 11 carries, and the Packers totaled just 76 yards on the ground, which is actually more than the Lions' season average of just 63.8 rushing yards allowed per game -- a figure that puts them on pace for the sixth-best total in NFL history.

So what makes the Packers think they will have any success running the ball against the league's No. 1-ranked rushing defense Sunday at Lambeau Field?

"We didn't have an identity Week 3," Packers left guard Josh Sitton said. "It always seems to take us awhile to get going and figure out who we are. Some teams come out right away and have their identity. It always takes us longer. We know who we are now, and we feel confident."

Coming out of the Lions' game, the Packers ranked 26th in rushing yards and 22nd in yards per carry (3.63). In the 12 games since, the Packers rank eighth in the league in rushing yards, and only two teams have bettered their yards-per-carry average of 4.61 in that stretch.

Then again, they haven't faced a run defense like Detroit's in months.

"Obviously they're good," Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "But we didn't play very well. You go back and watch the film, there wasn't enough finish early on in the year there. We just didn't play well. We just didn't play well enough to beat that team, so we're going to need to up our game quite a bit."

It's easy to put the onus Sunday on the offensive line -- and that group has willingly accepted it this week -- but it runs deeper. The Packers' tight ends bear almost as much responsibility in the run game. Consider what happened in the second quarter of the first meeting against the Lions. With the Packers backed up on their own 1-yard line, they tried to run Lacy off right tackle to get some breathing room. Defensive end Jason Jones overpowered rookie tight end Richard Rodgers, and when right guard T.J. Lang tried to help, it left a gaping hole for linebacker DeAndre Levy to dump Lacy for a safety.

With the likes of Jones, Ndamukong Suh, Ziggy Ansah and Nick Fairley controlling the line of scrimmage, it allowed Levy to run free and pile up 10 tackles.

The impact was this: Because the running game failed, it put the Packers in third-and-long situations that Aaron Rodgers could not convert.

"I think we had 54 plays in the game, that's not going to cut it," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We obviously have to be productive in normal [down and distance] to create better third-down situations for ourselves, but I think third down will be a key statistic in the game."