How to Boost the Packers’ Run Game
The Green Bay Packers have seldom had a strong rushing attack during Mike McCarthy’s previous 11 years as a head coach – and this year isn’t getting off to a good start either. The recent high points have been Eddie Lacy’s first two pro years, when he gained over 1,100 yards on the ground each season.
Going further back, Ryan Grant gained 1,203 yards in 2008 and 1,253 yards the following year. Then in the Super Bowl season, Grant was struck down with an ankle injury after only eight carries, which effectively ended his career. No McCarthy team has ever rushed for 2,000 yards in a season.
You say that a team built around a strong pass attack is bound to be a weak rushing team. I say that when the opposition is geared to holding down Aaron Rodgers, the run game should be all the more effective – maybe not in net yardage but at least in efficiency: rushing yards per carry.
The lack of a strong run game over such a long period suggests there are inherent flaws in Big Mike’s approach to the run game. I have a modest proposal that might bring about an instant – and needed – improvement this year.
Have you noticed that McCarthy’s offensive linemen never get a rest? I’ll grant you that around the league offensive line players are considered the iron men of pro football, but McCarthy takes the custom to extremes. I’ll also concede that it’s hard to bring in subs when the offensive line is depleted with injuries, as they were against the Falcons, but that is hopefully a temporary condition.
As is Big Mike’s custom, four out of the five starting offensive linemen have played every offensive snap so far this year – it would be five out of five if not for David Bakhtiari’s sore hammy. The practice makes no sense to me.
These are 300-plus pound bodies. Why would we think they wouldn’t get tired when they are sometimes on the field for 80 or more plays? And unlike receivers, for instance, they don’t get to dog it on a third or more of the snaps. They are engaged in heavy combat on every single play.
Do their opponents have to play every down? Not at all. The Packers, and most other NFL teams, regularly platoon their defensive linemen and linebackers. For example, in the first two games of the year, Kenny Clark has played the most snaps of the defensive linemen, but even this youngster has been pulled for 18.5 percent of them.
As for the linebackers, outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry have each been rested 11 percent of the time so far this year. The inside linebackers have it even easier. Blake Martinez has been on the field for only three-quarters of the defensive snaps, and both Jake Ryan and Joe Thomas have been on the field on only about a fifth of the snaps. I don’t think we can count Morgan Burnett as a lineman, but he has played all 107 of the team’s defensive snaps to date. The same is true for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Why Are Offensive Linemen Overworked?
How heavily does McCarthy work his team’s blockers? Well, in 2012 Josh Sitton and Marshall Newhouse (not a misprint) each played every offensive snap of the regular season. In 2013, Sitton repeated the feat. In 2014, Corey Linsley did so. Over the past two years, it is only injuries that have prevented others from achieving the 100 percent mark.
You might feel that playing in hot and humid environments would change McCarthy’s thinking, but it hasn’t.
Nor does it matter whether one is 24 or 34 years old.
You’d think offensive line players would get some relief during blowout games, but not so. From 2012 through 2014, the Packers had blowout wins of 42-10, 55-14, 53-20, and 55-7 – and yet Sitton, Newhouse, or Linsley never once got a blow on the sideline.
McCarthy would at least want to guard his most valuable assets against unnecessary injuries, right? Nope, superb left tackle David Bakhtiari is out there every play, even if the team is down by 30 (loss to Detroit in 2013) or up by 40 or more.
There’s also the fact that most linemen, defensive and offensive, are either better on run plays or pass plays. Pro Football Focus scrupulously gives every NFL offensive lineman one rating for pass blocking and another for run blocking. For instance, it’s routine, on the defensive side, for the better pass rushers to take the field on third-down-and-long plays. And yet Green Bay never inserts its best run blockers on likely running plays, or its best pass protectors in passing situations.
I don’t have an answer as to why Green Bay offensive linemen never get a breather. But if they did, don’t you think more holes might open up for Ty Montgomery and his fellow running backs?