Have The Packers Forsaken the Run Game?
I applaud the Green Bay Packers’ decision to let Eddie Lacy go. Even though I think Lacy’s main fault was lack of maturity — and I won’t be a bit surprised if he has a great year in Seattle — Lacy wore out his welcome in Green Bay. Too much baggage and history with this team.
Ty Montgomery is firmly in place to be the Packers’ lead running back. Though he’s largely unproven in the position (77 rushes for 457 yards in 2016), Montgomery seems to rise to every challenge. He’s been a fine receiver, a very good kick returner and when thrust into his new role the middle of last year, he averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
Montgomery is the anti-Lacy, in that he showed up at training camp incredibly ripped, which made it easier to make the transition to running back. He has the right mix of power and speed, plus receiving ability, to be an all-purpose back. A 1,000-yard season for the Stanford standout isn’t out of the question.
I’m equally high on fullback Aaron Ripkowski. He’s a good blocker (on rushes and pass protection), he can pick up 3rd-and-short first downs and he shows signs of developing into an all-around rusher.
Many speculate that the Packers will select another running back in one of the first three rounds of the draft. I have my doubts, but I do think they’ll come up with a reserve running back in the later rounds.
Green Bay’s Run-Blockers
My premise here is that to have a strong running game, 50 percent depends on the abilities of the running backs and the other 50 percent on their blockers. Here’s why the Packers should be expected to flounder on the ground in 2017.
The Packers had a great five-man line for several years. In the past two years, they’ve very willingly allowed guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang to depart. I support those moves on the basis of salary cap strategy, but the loss of Lang is especially going to hurt the running game. Lane Taylor was ready to step into Sitton’s shoes, but there’s no such ready-made replacement for Lang.
Even with a premier offensive line, the Packers were a mediocre run-blocking unit. Rather, they were known for their pass-protection skills. With center J.C. Tretter also leaving, the clear starter in the middle is now Corey Linsley — who, according to PFF, is slightly less effective at run-blocking than Tretter. Linsley ranked 12th overall among centers, compared to Tretter’s ninth place. While the Packers will surely draft a guard, I wouldn’t expect him to be a starter until 2018 at the earliest.
In 2016, Pro Football Focus ranked the team’s tackles as fourth (David Bakhtiari) and 15th (Bryan Bulaga) overall out of 78. However, their run-blocking rankings were 32nd for Bakhtiari and 52nd for Bulaga.
PFF’s statistics for guards were a shock: Lane Taylor, only 41st overall, was ranked 58th of 61 at run blocking. Though Don Barclay didn’t have enough snaps to be numbered, his run blocking score was tied for 60th. The Packers are going to pay a price in the running game for jettisoning their All-Pro and Pro Bowl guards.
Is there some hope amid all this gloom? PFF, which rates just about everything, also compiles run-blocking scores for tight ends. Of 61 tight ends ranked as run blockers last year, Martellus Bennet (playing for the Patriots) came in 30th, Richard Rodgers 51st, and Lance Kendricks (playing for the Rams) 60th – average, poor and deplorable. Kendricks is top-five, however, in the pass-blocking rankings.
The departed Jared Cook actually didn’t have enough run-blocking snaps to be ranked numerically, though his score was equivalent to 13th. In other words, a very good run blocking tight end has been exchanged for an average one. If you believe in the PFF scoring system, I was incorrect when I once described Bennett as an upgrade as a blocker.
Memo to Ty Montgomery: you might consider switching back to receiver.