Packers Missing More Than Just Rodgers' Arm

Tolzien (Elsa - Getty)

Aaron Rodgers' absence has been felt in a big-time way in the run game, and not just because defenses can add an extra defender to the box. What is the issue-within-an-issue, and how can the Packers beat it to save their season on Sunday?

Aaron Rodgers isn't irreplaceable only because of his prolific passing numbers.

It's because of his impact on every play.

That's what the Green Bay Packers have been working against the last two weeks. Not only can't the offense rely on Rodgers to make plays with his right arm, but the running game's impact has been minimized because Rodgers isn't there to make plays with his brain.

The Packers topped 100 rushing yards in seven consecutive games, including six games of at least 139 yards. Moreover, outside of a 3.6-yard average against Cleveland, the Packers averaged at least 4.3 yards per attempt in those games, including four games with at least a 5.5-yard average.

Without Rodgers, however, defenses are free to pour extra resources into stopping the Packers' running game. Green Bay rushed for 99 yards with a 3.3-yard average against Philadelphia and managed just 55 with a 2.8 average against the Giants. Rather than six- and seven-in-the-box defenses with Rodgers, the Packers are facing eight and sometime nine in the box with Scott Tolzien. No matter how well the linemen block in those instances, they're simply outnumbered and there will be an unblocked defender free to hit the running back.

"I think that's something that we're seeing a whole lot more throughout the whole entire game," right guard T.J. Lang said. "Don't really get those looks a whole lot with Aaron being in the game, the way that he can make his adjustments. Defenses, it's dangerous when they want to give you one-(high safety) coverage with Aaron in the game."

What made Rodgers so dangerous was his total command of the offense, which has evolved in parallel with his maturity and experience. Put six in the box? Rodgers would dial up a run. Put eight in the box? Rodgers would call a pass. Whatever a defense wanted to do, Rodgers had the ability to give his team the schematic edge.

"It's amazing. This guy's unbelievable," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, a former NFL quarterback and offensive coordinator, told Packer Report a few weeks ago. "Not just in the pass game but the run game. He's been a key part of how the success of this run game has come about because of his ability to get us in the proper runs. He does a great job — as well as anybody in the business of making sure we have the right angles and the right blocking scheme for the front that's presented."

With Tolzien lacking Rodgers' experience in Mike McCarthy's offense, the Packers don't have that edge. Tolzien on Wednesday said he does have the ability to make calls at the line, but Rodgers has been running this offense for eight seasons compared to a half-season for Tolzien.

"Aaron obviously kind of runs his own offense at times," Lang said. "He seems to always be checking to plays that give us an advantage to a specific look. With Scott in there now, it's not that we don't trust him to make those checks, it's just that he's a guy who's doing everything he can. He's got a lot on his plate. You don't want to make things too complicated for him, which is why everybody else on the offense has to take a bigger role and make sure they're doing their part."

That's left the Packers running into some unfavorable looks and trying to make chicken out of feathers.

"Immediately, you think, ‘We need to check (out of) the play,'" left guard Josh Sitton said of his first thoughts at the line of scrimmage at times. "We really have the mind-set of no matter what they have, we've got to run the ball. That's what we've got to do as a team. We have to be successful. No matter what look they give us, we need to be successful in the run game."

That success has fizzled since the Packers rushed for 199 yards with Rodgers missing all but one series against Chicago. During a five-game stretch, rookie running back Eddie Lacy rushed for 545 yards and a gaudy 4.6 average. Against the Eagles and Giants, he rushed for 100 yards and a 2.6 average. How difficult was it against the Giants? By our count, 26 of Lacy's 27 yards came after contact.

Lacy knows all about wearing a bull's-eye. Last season at Alabama, running into an eight-in-the-box defense was the norm rather than the exception.

"It's real difficult to make a play work in situations like that, but my mind-set is just try to get anything that's positive and just make sure I don't get tackled for like a loss of 1 or 2 because it can put the offense in an even worse situation," Lacy said.

It's not impossible to run the ball when outnumbered at the line of scrimmage. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, who expects to see plenty of eight-in-the-box looks against the Packers on Sunday due to the Vikings' quarterbacking ineptitude, will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in large part because of his ability to burn defenses intent on stopping him.

"You basically have to trust your offensive linemen and try to give those guys time to get up on their blocks," Peterson said during his conference call. "But, obviously, there's only six guys on the offensive line (including a tight end) so you don't have enough heads to block those guys. You just have to be patient and continue to hit it up in there and press and hopefully you catch the defense slipping. Sometimes, those guys overpursue. Sometimes, they have misreads and you can take advantage of those opportunities."

For the Packers, the plan of attack is simple — on paper, anyway. The linemen have to win their blocks to get Lacy a one-on-one matchup with the unblocked defender. And then it will be up to Tolzien to take advantage of defenses daring him to throw the ball.

"We have to find a way to run the ball with an unblocked guy in the box," Sitton said. "Teams are bringing an extra guy in the box, so we have to find a way to still be able to run the ball. There's a few things that you can do. Play-action pass is something that we need to be successful at like we were last week, when we hit four or five big passes on play-actions. We have to find a way to get them to take the extra guy out of the box."

 


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

PackerReport.com Recommended Stories


Up Next


Tweets