On Sunday the Green Bay Packers handed the ball to James Starks on five consecutive plays, gaining 55 yards. Why is that so extraordinary? Well, first off, the pass-centric Packer offense never runs the ball that many plays in a row. But more importantly, those five plays occurred on the final Packer possession of the day, meaning they were actually able to run the ball, control the clock, force an opponent to burn all their time outs and ensure the win. There was no three-and-out, no last-gasp interception, no high drama. Mike McCarthy knew he wanted to grind out some first downs and keep the Viking offense sitting on the bench. And with a lead, he almost always tries to run the ball, but opponents stack eight or nine men in the box, stop the run, force the third-down throw and make a tackle, forcing a Packer punt. It’s a familiar storyline. But this week, Starks was the happy beneficiary of some exemplary blocking and took advantage.
We all know the Packers are not a running team: they are built to feast upon opposing defenses through the merciless attacks of Aaron Rodgers and his merry band of pass-catching assassins. But McCarthy has an overriding philosophy of making teams honor the rushing game. He doesn’t care how many yards he gets, he just wants to make sure opposing defenses can’t tee-off on Rodgers down after down. And it works, too. Play-action is a staple in this offense and the sight of Rodgers making the fake and rolling out should make any defensive back’s blood run cold.
But that series on Sunday was an eye-opener: The Vikings knew the run was coming, had the right personnel in place and were highly motivated to make the stop, get the ball back and try to win the game, trailing only by six points. But the combination of multiple TE sets, Kuhn leading the way and Starks running was simply too much for the Vikings to overcome.
I would be as happy as anybody to see the Packer running game start making some impact. The passing game would need to start scoring TD’s from the locker room to get any better. The special teams have been solid and in some areas (like Mason Crosby on field goals) has been spectacular. The defense is still struggling to get off the field on third downs and needs to regain some of their 2010 pass-rushing mojo. But if anything could help ensure Packer dominance in 2011, it would be some explosive runs and some ground dominance. Take some pressure off of Rodgers and the defense, shorten up some games and finish off lesser opponents. I’m not saying we will ever win a game based solely on our running attack but all you fans out there dreaming of a perfect season should be pulling for Starks and Grant to kick it into high gear in the second half of the year.