How the Green Bay Packers Running Game Can Be Effective in 2012

Matt SmithContributor IIIJuly 20, 2012

How the Green Bay Packers Running Game Can Be Effective in 2012

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    Last year, the Green Bay Packers had one of the most dominant passing attacks, but one of the worst rushing attacks.

    The Packers only ran the ball 395 times (26th in the the league) for 1,558 yards (27th in the league) and an average of 3.9 yards per attempt (tied with 3 other teams for 26th in the league). They could've done much better.

    But 2012 is a new year. The Packers failed to bring back Ryan Grant and instead decided to roll the dice on sophomore running back Alex Green, who is currently recovering from a torn ACL, which is perhaps the most threatening injury a running back could indure.

    James Starks should be the main man running the show, and Green and fellow second-year running back Brandon Saine are behind him. UDFA Marc Tyler is on the outside looking in.

    With a different look to the backfield, Green Bay hopes to have a lot more success on the ground in 2012. Here's how it can happen.

Let Brandon Saine or Alex Green Handle Third-Down Duties

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    Although Starks is the lead back for Green Bay, he's had durability issues in the past. 

    To help ensure that he stays healthy throughout the season, the Packers could opt to take Starks off the field for some third downs.

    As ESPN suggests, that's a very real possibility, as Saine is already in the lead for third-down duties due to his skills as a pass-protector. The report also notes that FB John Kuhn should see some third-down snaps due to his blocking capabilities.

    Starks would certainly be able to handle the majority of third-down snaps if necessary, but it'd be best if the team keeps him fresh as a runner and gives him the majority of early-down work.

Be Patient with Alex Green

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    After having surgery in mid-November on his knee, the training staff will have to make sure that Green is fully healed before throwing him into heavy duty action.

    Green is only eight months into his recovery and while timetables vary with the person, a running back risks losing pre-injury explosiveness if he comes back too soon.

    While it would be great to have Green practicing with the rest of the team for all of training camp, it doesn't look like it's going to happen.

    It would behoove the Packers to ease the former third-round pick back into camp and have him split No. 2 duties with Saine if they aren't comfortable with his progress.

Not Sign Cedric Benson....

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    Likely the only reason Benson isn't on a team already is that he won't sign for the minimum.

    It's also been reported a number of other times that both the Packers and Raiders have "contacted him" or have made "check-ins."

    While the Packers could have just been doing their due-diligence on a player that's shown to be fairly durable and rushed for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, we'll know a little bit more about their true interest level as the season approaches.

    The Packers don't exactly have a great running back group, but they shouldn't sign Benson....

....But Use Him as Motivation

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    Benson's had a quality career so far, and even though he's 29 with plenty of mileage, he could still help a few teams out for one or two more seasons.

    If some combination of Starks, Green and Saine start to perform poorly, Ted Thompson might want to fly Benson in for a visit, let the team know that at any moment they could sign Benson and give him a quality workload.

    Sometimes you have to dangle the carrot.

Run Blocking

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    Last year, Bryan Bulaga evolved into one of the game's premier right tackles while Josh Sitton followed up his dominant 2010 campaign with a slightly less impressive but still impressive 2011 season.

    New center Jeff Saturday is getting old at 37 years of age but should still provide a veteran presence.

    T.J. Lang is a solid left guard who filled in fine after the Packers lost the inconsistent Daryn Colledge.

    The big question on this unit is left tackle Marshall Newhouse, who showed glimpses of great play, but an equal if not greater number of glimpses of horrible play.

    Fullback John Kuhn is a fan favorite and great blocker as well.

    The right side of the line should be fine, but the left side is a bigger question.

    This unit should be one of the top in the country and should have no problem opening holes for the running backs if they perform as good as they look on paper.

Build off the High-Powered Passing Attack

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    Considering that unlike the Jets, Titans and Browns behind them in yards per attempt, the Packers had a stellar passing offense that teams had to respect, an average of 3.9 yards per attempt seems even worse.

    The only team behind the Packers in yards per attempt that had an above-average passing attack was the New York Giants.

    With teams expected to load the field with defensive backs at a time and basically set up to defend the aerial attack like last year, there will be plenty of holes for the running backs to find.