Packers Need Healthy Grant, Jackson to Power Running Game

Ryan CardarellaCorrespondent IJuly 22, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 28: Ryan Grant #25 of the Green Bay Packers looks for running room against the Detroit Lions on December 28, 2008 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Lions 31-21. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

While the Green Bay Packer offense put up points in bunches behind Aaron Rodgers and a stellar passing attack in 2008, the running game struggled to provide the kind of balance the team will need to be successful in 2009.

The Packers had the No. 17 rushing offense in football last season, and that lack of a running game hurt them as they failed to close out several tight games a year ago.

Green Bay also failed to rush for 100 yards in a game five times, losing each of those contests.

Starter Ryan Grant got off to a rough start in 2008, holding out for the first seven days of training camp before pulling his hamstring, a nagging injury that would hamper him for much of the season.

Lacking the explosiveness that helped drive the Packers to the NFC Championship game in 2007, Grant scored only four touchdowns and saw his yards per carry average drop from a spectacular 5.1 to a pedestrian 3.9 last season.

Finding a quality change-of-pace back wouldn't hurt Grant's production either, as the Packers have struggled to find a second rusher to spell him.

The NFL is trending toward two-back systems, with bruising combo attacks flourishing in Tennessee, New York, and Carolina, and Green Bay needs someone to step up and take some pressure off of Grant.

Backup Brandon Jackson has shown flashes of being that guy, but has been nicked up over most of his short career. Jackson rushed for 5.5 yards per carry last year but had only 45 attempts, 11 fewer than Rodgers.

That number needs to go up significantly if the Packers expect Grant to stay healthy and effective all season.

A factor that should work in Green Bay's favor is the continuing maturation of the  offensive line, long one of the youngest, most inexperience units in the NFL.

Now that the line has been through a few bruising seasons in the NFC North, that continuity and experience should lead to more consistency in 2009.

The addition of Duke Preston through free agency, as well as draft picks T.J. Lang and Jamon Meredith provide the line with some much needed depth as well.

For the Packers to return to prominence in the NFC North and win those critical winter games, they are going to have to run the ball better in 2009.

Behind a healthy Grant, the emergence of a second back, and an improving offensive line, they should boast a more balanced attack this season.