While no part of the Green Bay Packers offense is close to where it was in 2011, the running game in particular is struggling to find any consistency.
Despite a 176-yard performance against the Arizona Cardinals, the Packers still rank 23rd in rushing yards per game and 27th in yards per rush.
While the running backs certainly haven’t produced like they should, the ideal running lanes haven’t been there either. According to ProFootballFocus (subscription required), the Packers are the 29th-best team at run blocking. Yikes.
Something has to change if Green Bay wants to establish a consistent, solid running game, and it starts with the line. That change should be to bench Jeff Saturday for Evan Dietrich-Smith.
The veteran Saturday was brought in this past offseason to patch up a hole left by 2011 Pro Bowler Scott Wells. As a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro selection, the 37-year-old was signed to a two-year deal to help in the short term, as Green Bay is in win-now mode.
But Saturday has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season. Instead of patching up an offensive line, he’s hindered its production.
According to ProFootballFocus, Saturday has a run-block rating of -9.8, the worst on Green Bay. To put in perspective how bad that is, anything over 1.0 is good, and anything under -1.0 is bad (zero is considered average).
But it doesn’t take just a website’s rating system to see how bad he’s been this year. Every time I watch a Packers game, it seems just about every defensive tackle pushes around Saturday any way they want.
And as an old man, he’s only going to bet getting worse as time goes on and his body continues to wear down. So with Saturday benched, who should replace him? That’s a no-brainer: Evan Dietrich-Smith.
In his second year as basically the sixth man for the offensive line, Dietrich-Smith has proven he’s ready to be a full-time starter.
Although he’s a center, he started twice at right guard and once at left guard last year to help fill in for injured starters. He did a nice job off the bench and even frustrated Ndamukong Suh so much that Suh purposely stomped on him during that infamous Thanksgiving game and was subsequently ejected for it.
Dietrich-Smith hasn’t started yet this year, but he has entered games as part of a six-lineman formation that has helped create better run-blocking. He also came in against Arizona when Bryan Bulaga left the game with a hip injury.
Participating in 60 snaps so far this year, ProFootballFocus’ numbers put Dietrich-Smith at a 2.3 run-block rating, making him and Josh Sitton as the only two offensive linemen with a positive rating.
Unlike Saturday, Dietrich-Smith is also young (26 years old). He will only get better and will likely be the starting center of the future. I don’t get why the Packers don’t just start him now.
He’s already better, he’s younger and he’s got the future. It’s time for Dietrich-Smith to replace Saturday.