Tag Archives: Packers running backs

The Packers Have a Running Game!?!

It’s a wrap. The 2013 NFL Draft is over. And the Packers made significant strides on offense, may have found Cullen Jenkins’ replacement, and added quality (hopefully) depth to the offensive line and a number of positions on defense.

But, perhaps the most important improvement from this draft will come from the Packers’ selections of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. For the first time since Ahman Green (and, yes, I’m overlooking Ryan’s Grant’s short stint), the Packers should field a dangerous rushing attack. After falling into the consensus top-RB in Eddie Lacy in the second round, the Packers traded back into the end of the fourth to grab Johnathan Franklin.

Franklin's selection was surprising, but also very smart by TT. Now, the Packers have a legitimate running game that goes three-deep.

Franklin’s selection was surprising, but also very smart by TT. Now, the Packers have a legitimate running game that goes three-deep.

Out of UCLA, Franklin is 5’10” and 210 lbs. Powerful in his own right, Franklin is more the elusive, scat-back type. He’s a capable receiver out of the backfield and has just enough speed to break a long one. And he’s a high-character individual, aspiring to be the Mayor of Los Angeles after his playing career.

So, heading into training camp, the Packers will field three-headed backfield that should finally force teams to honor the run game. Eddie Lacy should be the starter and player to get most of the carriers. He’s built for delivering punishment and getting the hard yards; yet, he’s quick and blessed with a devastating spin-move. Franklin should ascend to the third-down role because he’s a good pass-catcher, can pick up the blitz, and good in the open field. And, we can’t forget DuJuan Harris, the breakout player over the last several games. He’s a bowling ball that runs as hard as he can every time he touches the ball. He showed burst, vision, and some good moves in limited playing time.

The importance of fielding a legitimate run game cannot be understated. It’s been 43 games since the Packers last had a 100-yard rusher. In the last three years, Packers’ running backs have 12-total rushing touchdowns and averaged the lowest yards-per-carry in the league.

Because a run game was nonexistent, teams regularly played some form of a cover-2, taking away the big-play threat that defined the 2011 season. The once-dangerous play-action game became nonexistent. And, as you might expect, the Packers offense was stagnant throughout the season. It is just too difficult to sustain long drives relying almost solely on the passing game. This leads to short drives – meaning the defense is on the field more – and inconsistent production on offense.

With all the excitement about Lacy and Franklin, we can't forget about DuJuan. He's the wild-card in this three-headed backfield.

With all the excitement about Lacy and Franklin, we can’t forget about DuJuan. He’s the wild-card in this three-headed backfield.

But now, the three-headed backfield will force teams to honor a run game. This brings the defenders closer to the box and the defensive line has to consider the run game before getting after the passer. To put it differently, guys like Jared Allen, Peppers, and Suh can’t just pin their ears back and get after it. A legitimate run games makes them play honest. In turn, that provides more time for Rodgers, opens up the field for the deep ball, and reinvigorates the play-action game. So, in a roundabout way, TT did protect his $110M man.

Of course, the key a successful run game is an offensive line that can open up holes. Not exactly our line’s strong point. Remember, though, the Packers will get back Bulaga at RT (or LT) and Lang will be fully healthy. EDS is an upgrade over Saturday. And it appears evident that the Packers are going to do whatever it takes to get better production out of the LT spot. So there is hope that the line-play will be better next season. And you can’t overlook the fact that talented running backs can take advantage of what the line does give them with better vision than the hesitant Starks and Green.

By all accounts, Datone Jones appears to be a great fit for the DE spot – a critical piece to the success of our defense. But, the additions of Lacy and Franklin should excite Packers Nation. An already dangerous offense just got significantly better. September 8 can’t get here soon enough!

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Cedric Benson… Yep, Cedric Benson

By now, you know that the Packers added former Bears first-round bust, Cedric Benson. With his hand somewhat forced by Starks’ latest injury, TT felt that he could “never have enough horses” and added the veteran to the stable of young backs. Many around Packers nation are wondering why Benson over former Packer, Ryan Grant. Frankly, the question should be, why even bother with Benson in the first place?

The reason why I am skeptical about Benson is that I simply do not see him as a good fit for the Packers’ system. The Packers offense obviously runs through Rodgers. The backs are asked to (1) pick-up the blitz, (2) get the yards that are available, and (3)  be adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. Focusing on the latter two, it is clear that Benson is a curious fit.

Although Benson has surpassed the 1,000 milestone the last three seasons, he’s accomplished this averaging 20 carries per game, resulting in under 4 yards per carry. To put this in perspective, here’s a list of notable runners that averaged less than 4 yards per carry last season: Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jacobs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Michael Bush. Bush and Benson were the only backs last year to receive 200+ carries and average less than 4-yards per carry. Additionally, Benson has a career “long” carry of 46 yards. Essentially, Benson is the modern-day Leroy Hoard, who famously said: “if you need 1 yard, I’ll get you 3 yards. If you need 5 yards, I’ll get you 3 yards.”

Benson is best fitted for running between the tackles. There is hope that this attribute can result in Benson becoming the “closer” to ice close games. But, I’m not sure this closer role is merited. After all, he has 12 fumbles in the last two seasons. More to the point, though, is Benson’s fit in the Packers’ scheme. Something that has gone overlooked is that Benson comes from a smash-mouth team. The Packers, on the other hand, still have zone blocking principles in the run game. In a zone blocking scheme, the back is asked to stretch the field until he finds the hole, and then get into it and beyond before that hole closes. Successful running backs in zone schemes are built like Terrell Davis (sorry to bring his name up), not bulky and lumbering like Benson.

Benson is also not known for his hands out of the backfield. Over his career, he averages 6.9 yards per catch, with only 1 receiving touchdown. Outside of one 79-yard reception, his next longest reception is 24 yards. And he averages fewer than 2 catches a game. In such a pass-heavy offense, this becomes a liability. With Benson on the field, defenses likely will be able to narrow the play selection by ruling out screen passes and stretch runs.

The right fit for the Packers offense is James Starks, circa 2011 playoffs. He was perfect in that he got the yardage that was available and, as a bonus, he even made a few people miss. He was reliable enough in pass protection and he caught the ball out of the backfield well. For example, in the Super Bowl, Starks ran for a modest 52 yards, but did so on 11 carries. Even this little production kept the defense honest enough to allow Rodgers to utilize the play-action with a high degree of success. When Starks was offering this, the offense was clicking.

Unfortunately, Starks has been unreliable since that Super Bowl performance. And with his recent injury and Alex Green on a snap-count following last season’s knee injury, the Packers hand may have been forced in adding Benson. Thankfully for Packers fans, today’s NFL does not require a strong rushing attack in order to get to the Super Bowl. Just take a look at this list of starting Super Bowl running backs: Ahmad Bradshaw, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Pierre Thomas, Joseph Addai, Willie Parker, Tim Hightower, Brandon Jacobs, Laurence Maroney, Thomas Jones, and Cedric Benson. Yep, Cedric Benson.