Fragile Ground: Packers Win in Spite of Running Woes

Tom DavisCorrespondent ISeptember 14, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 13: Ryan Grant #25 of the Green Bay Packers is tackled by Kevin Payne #44 of the Chicago Bears on September 13, 2009 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Bears 21-15. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The three most important stats from the Packers-Bears game on Sunday night:

1. The Packers' defense held Chicago's offense to 13 points.

2. The Packers were plus-4 in turnover margin.

3. The Bears' most powerful offensive force, halfback Matt Forte, was held to 55 yards on 25 carries, an average of 2.2 yards a carry.

When those three stats are taken into account, this question arises: why did a team that did so well defensively need a game-winning 50-yard touchdown in the final two minutes?

The answer lies on the offensive end. In my article, I'm going to talk specifically about the ground game, which, with the exception of one quality series in the second half, left much to be desired.

The stat line for Ryan Grant: 16 carries for 61 yards (a 3.8 yards per carry average) and a touchdown. On the surface, not a bad outing, but the stats don't tell the whole story. There are a few positives and a few negatives to take away from this performance.

On the positive side, Ryan Grant is not running like the Ryan Grant of a year ago; he's fighting for extra yards, breaking tackles, and in general seems to have a greater fire for the game. He wasn't able to break the big run in his first game, but he seems poised to, which is good news considering he only had six runs of 20 or more yards last year, as opposed to 11 the year before. Add that John Kuhn is quickly becoming the Packers' most solid blocking fullback since William Henderson, and Grant looks likely to improve on his 1200-yard season the year before.

The main factor holding the running game back is the game plan, which is very pass-heavy. Including quarterback runs and sacks, the offense called 35 passing plays on Sunday night, as opposed to only 19 runs.

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There may be extenuating circumstances: this game was close, so there were fewer runs than there would be in a game in which Green Bay was winning handily. Also, you would expect to see a greater emphasis on the run later on in the season, as the weather in Green Bay and elsewhere slowly deteriorates and passing becomes more difficult.

But there were several plays on third and short where Aaron Rodgers was lined up in the shotgun with an empty backfield. Mike McCarthy's game plan will likely be the main hindrance to Ryan Grant and the running game.

All told, I would expect about a much better looking season for Ryan Grant, even if he doesn't see that large of a corresponding jump in his numbers. I'd expect around 1300-1450 yards and eight to ten touchdowns. Those numbers, however, are highly dependent on him seeing enough carries.

A note of caution to Mike McCarthy: last year's Arizona Cardinals proved that you can make a Super Bowl without running the ball, but no team has ever won a Super Bowl while having the No. 1 quarterback in terms of yardage that season. You aren't going to win games if you're regularly out-gained by more than 125 yards and beaten in time of possession, as was the case last night. To put it simply (and in rhyme), if you want to win it all, you have to run the ball.


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