My No. 1 concern entering training camp remains my No. 1 concern entering the regular season – the running game.
Five weeks and four preseason games later, the Green Bay Packers are nowhere closer to improving a running game which ranked 23rd in the NFL last season. Much of this has to do with Vernand Morency missing every preseason game with a knee injury and rookie Brandon Jackson looking like a rookie.
Ten years ago, when Brett Favre was winning MVPs, the Packers could operate successfully on offense, because the passing game was the best in the NFL. However, with Favre now being a game manager and the wide receivers, minus Donald Driver, being young the passing game cannot match Favre's glory days.
So, to offset this the Packers needed the running game to show some signs of life and four preseason games later this unit is on life support. The Packers ranked 21st in rushing average last season and what has this year's team showed us to think it'll be better?
Publicly, coach Mike McCarthy is confident the running game will improve.
"I'm not as concerned about (the run game) because of the way we've gone about it with the first group," McCarthy said after Thursday's preseason finale at Tennessee. "We haven't tried to pound the ball from series one, there's other objectives we've hit.
"We've got a veteran quarterback that's able to take advantage of the best-play-available mind-set, and I think he's doing an excellent job of that right now."
What is surprising is McCarthy said he didn't try to pound the running game. With Jackson being a rookie, you would think the Packers would have wanted to establish the run to get it in a rhythm. I know the injury factor, with Morency out, weighs on this, but how else does a running game improve?
Next week, the Eagles won't be generous defensively, so the time to put work in on the running game was in the preseason. Now you wonder if the Packers are behind because of their approach.
Yes, Favre had to develop chemistry with rookie receiver James Jones, but he's Brett Favre, he'll find a way to get it done. The best way to improve this offense for 2007 was to improve the run and take some pressure off Favre.
We all know what happens when Favre feels pressure these days. He forces balls, which turn into interceptions.
The running game is vital to the success of the offense this season, but it's hard to believe it has made any strides since the end of 2006.
Maybe Morency is the answer. Maybe his experience in the zone-blocking scheme is what Jackson is missing. I do remember watching Morency last season and thinking he could be Ahman Green's successor and do a good job at it.
Maybe this is not a concern at all and Morency will put us at ease next week. Hmm, something tells me no.
Morency hasn't carried the ball in a preseason or regular season game since Dec. 31, 2006, at Chicago. He's going to need to get in football shape, get used to hitting and get used to the daily grind of the NFL again.
The positive in this is he's fresh. Still, I'd prefer we saw 25 carries from him in the preseason, if for not anything else, just to knock the rust off.
Running games are clearly important in the NFL. Last year, the Bears reached the Super Bowl in spite of a bad quarterback, because the running game was good. It kept the defense off the field.
Indianapolis, for all the stuff we hear about Peyton Manning, had a two-headed backfield with Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes combine for 1,722 yards and 12 TDs.
Also, Rhodes could've easily been named Super Bowl MVP after rushing for more than 100 yards against the Bears.
Furthermore, who do you think was the biggest reason the Chargers won 14 games last season? LaDainian Tomlinson was named league MVP after scoring 31 touchdowns and rushing for 1,815 yards.
The running game, even in this passing age of the NFL, is a major reason teams win and lose. You can run, you can win. You can't run, you won't win.
Right now, I'm not thinking the Packers can win enough, because they haven't shown enough. It's up to them to prove me wrong, starting Sept. 9.
Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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