Have at It: Packers running game

Mike McCarthy's staunch defense of the Green Bay Packers' running game this week gives us a slam-dunk "Have at It" topic this week. Even in a passing league, can the Packers get where they want to go with a backfield as currently constituted? Or do they need to add a veteran tailback to join Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn?

First, let's absorb McCarthy's full answers to a pair of questions posed Tuesday, a day after Jackson and Kuhn totaled 43 yards on 13 carries in a 20-17 loss to the Chicago Bears. Courtesy of the Packers' web site:

When you went back and watched the tape, how did you evaluate the run game?

Mike McCarthy: The run game? Well, I think you have to look at what's the definition of the run game. I looked at this particular game going into it, the production of the running backs, and I felt that our running backs were productive. I thought Brandon and John played well with the opportunities that they were given with the ball in their hands and what was put in front of them. Productivity doesn't always just come from the backfield. We went into the game with a specific run plan, they played us a certain way and we went to a little different direction, and I felt the ability to spread them out and deal the football, I thought Aaron Rodgers played very well in the football game. The attempts is not always the most important factor as far as running the football. I thought the running back production was a positive in the game.

Are Jackson and Kuhn good enough to take this team where they want to go?

MM: Yes. You ask me that every week. I like our running backs. We are going to use them accordingly to get the ball down the field. I'm not trying to sell something that is not true. Just because you don't line up and run it 25 times from the 'I' doesn't mean you are not committed to being productive with your running backs. If you look at the dynamics of our offensive personnel, we have the ability to play in a box offense. We have the ability to play in a spread offense. That is to our credit, and we're going to utilize that the best we can to score points. We didn't score enough points against Chicago. That's my biggest disappointment in our offensive performance because I thought our quarterback play was definitely there to have a lot more point production than we came out of that game, and really the failure was the penalties.

Now, let's look at the numbers. The first chart shows you where the Packers rank among NFL teams in the key rushing categories. What you see is they are a little below average, mostly in line with their number of attempts.

Most notable is their lack of explosive plays; all but seven teams have a run longer than the Packers' high of 18 yards.

The second chart shows where Jackson and Kuhn rank among NFL tailbacks, as well as how Rodgers is not far behind in rushing productivity.

So among the issues you must consider:

  • Do you think there is some untapped potential in Jackson and/or Kuhn as they grow more comfortable in their roles?

  • Can the Packers do a better job of utilizing them or prioritizing the run game?

  • Is anyone available to help? There still is no confirmation that the Buffalo Bills will make Marshawn Lynch available.

  • Can the Packers win the way they played Monday night, in essence using Rodgers' short-passing game as long handoffs? I counted 23 completions against the Bears of eight or less yards, all but one of which came after the second quarter.

  • If you were a defender, would you be fooled by a play-action pass out of this offense?

As always, leave your thoughts in the comment section below. I'll publish a representative sample, along with my own thoughts, by the end of the week. Have at It.