Upon being hired as head football coach of the Green Bay Packers, Mike McCarthy insisted he would field a physical football team that ran the football and played good defense.
Well, here we sit several years later still citing the lack of a running game as one of Green Bay's major flaws when compared to their NFL peers. Not only do those words McCarthy spoke ring hollow, it essentially sounds like a blatant lie.
In this fan's opinion, whats troubling is not so much that the Packers "cannot" run the football. It's simply that they do not run the football. Suggesting this is squarely in the hands of the playcaller versus actual shortcomings in personnel.
If you watch the Packers on a regular basis, it's no secret McCarthy firmly believes in spreading teams out, creating mismatches and mixing up his personnel groupings in an effort to out-scheme his opponents.
But what happens when you need one yard on the goal line? Or that yard needed to convert third down and a yard? Many teams are able to get back to Football 101, line up and plow ahead for that one yard.
Not the Packers. This finesse team doesn't know how to run the football, and that is McCarthy's fault. The Packers' Achilles heel this year has been short yardage situations. Whether it's on the goal line or in the middle of the field, the Packers look confused and at their worst in these situations.
Who/What Do You Blame for the Lack of Running Game?
When many teams would be happy to have short conversions for first downs, the Packers seem lost.
Too often a pass falls incomplete (many times a deep throw), a back gets stuffed in the backfield or a quarterback sneak goes nowhere.
We can also connect the dots a bit here too. Considering how often the Packers use a shotgun or spread-type of formation, one must assume it gets a great deal of attention in practice.
Their inability to just line up in an I-formation and run ahead for a yard also tells me they do NOT work on that very much in practice.
I do not believe the Packers are lacking the players to run the football. The Packers of the late 1990's that dominated many opponents were never known for their running game or stout offensive line. But their coach, Mike Holmgren, was a very disciplined playcaller that always found time to run the ball.
Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens were never considered "premier backs," but you could tell Holmgren thought enough of the running game that the Packers were able to use it just enough to convert short yardage and keep the defense respectful of run calls.
Until Mike McCarthy is willing to pay serious attention to the running game, it's difficult to envision a scenario where this finesse team will ever bring the ultimate prize back to Green Bay. They will continue to be out-muscled by more physical teams in crunch time.
Just imagine what Rodgers and company would be capable of if there was any threat of a running attack posed by Green Bay? You could keep your defense better rested and not leave points on the board, when two failed QB sneaks resulted in a fumble and a field goal versus possible touchdowns.
Again, if it were emphasized, Green Bay could run the ball. But will they? Similar to a passing game, the linemen and backs need adequate work to achieve a certain timing and rhythm to the running game, and just a few token carries here and there throughout the game are not allowing that to happen.
Other thoughts on Sunday's game vs. the Falcons
Face Mask Penalty: Matt Wilhem's critical face mask penalty may have saved a TD, but it essentially gave the Falcons the win. Postgame, Wilhelm seemed to rationalize the penalty by saying he saved a TD. At that point, he may have been better off letting them have their TD. Fifteen additional yards gave Atlanta the ball at midfield, where it ran out the clock and kicked the winning field goal.
A TD return may have allowed Green Bay a fighting chance to tie the game again versus having Rodgers watch another game slip away from the sidelines. Sure its hindsight, but Wilhelm seemed to think he was somewhat of a hero for saving a TD and I don't see it that way.
Poor Special Teams Coaching: Rookie Sam Shields fielded his first kick return about five yards deep in the end-zone and got stuffed at the 11-yard line. He proceeded to take every kick out of the end zone throughout the game. Someone needs to tell the rookie to take a knee. Not a huge impact on the game, but it indicates poor coaching.
Ghosts of Packers Past: Just when I thought the Packers had really taken a step forward as an elite team during their four-game winning streak, penalties, poor tackling and a lackluster running game were on display again in Atlanta. It makes one wonder if this team will ever take the next step and play mistake-free football on a big stage against a good opponent.
Starks To The Rescue?: When Nance was stuffed on short yardage and later reported to have a concussion, it made me immediately think that it's time to see what rookie RB James Starks can do. The Packers apparently seem to think he has something to offer by activating from the PUP list.
A home game against San Francisco would be a great opportunity to finally give Starks some game action before crunch time. We'll see what McCarthy does (if anything) to get a running game going with four of five remaining games to be played outdoors in the elements.
Playoffs? You Want To Talk About Playoffs!: Interestingly enough, the Packers are currently on the outside looking into the NFC Playoff picture. They'll need to go 4-1 down the stretch, in my opinion, to solidify a playoff position. I expect their one loss to be at New England, but the Packers need to come through in the other games.