Green's back in running
Packers hope he bolsters attack
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Packers hope he bolsters attack
By TOM SILVERSTEIN
Posted: Oct. 19, 2005
Green Bay - With his offensive line unresponsive and his ground game on life support, Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman quietly made a decision before the New Orleans game to simplify his complex running attack.
Some of it probably had to do with the fact running back Ahman Green (knee) and center Mike Flanagan (hernia) were out and tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher were question marks because of leg injuries, but more than anything Sherman wanted to get back to basics.
Until backup Najeh Davenport suffered a broken ankle in the second quarter, the Packers looked a little bit more like their old selves, gaining 58 yards on 13 carries with their running backs. They struggled to run the ball the rest of the day but were so far ahead, it didn't really matter.
How they run it on Sunday will matter a lot when the Packers return from the bye week to play the rival Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome in a crucial game for both 1-4 teams. The Packers have been most successful in Minnesota when they have run the ball and they need to find a way to do it again.
"If we can't run the ball, we'll be at their mercy," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said.
The Packers will be bolstered by the return of Green, who took part in practice Wednesday and appeared to be 100%. But before Sherman simplified the game plan against the Saints, Green and the entire rushing attack was simply spinning its wheels.
The Packers rank 28th in the National Football League in rushing and their running backs have had just seven rushes (in 208 attempts) of 10 or more yards and just one of 20 or more yards. Quarterback Brett Favre's 20-yard scramble against Cleveland in Week 2 was the longest run of the year until Davenport gained 24 against the Saints.
Concluding that the number of plays and formations the Packers were putting into the game plan each week was affecting the performance of the linemen - particularly first-year starting guards Adrian Klemm and Will Whitticker - Sherman ordered Beightol and offensive coordinator Tom Rossley to scale down the attack.
"We tried to simplify some things through formations and so forth and let the players play," Beightol said. "That comes from coach Sherman. He believes in that. He believes we have to be as simple as we can and let the players get out there and play. That's what it comes down to. When it's all said and done it comes down to players on the field."
In other words, the coaches, who have prided themselves on developing a running attack that other teams often couldn't defend even when they knew what was coming, had to shift their egos into neutral. As several players commented before and after the New Orleans game, the Packers simply don't have a running play that defines them right now.
"You have to hang your hat on something," Beightol said. "For the guys calling the plays, it's difficult. We're out here and you see things you're doing better in practice and then you get out here in a game and you say, 'Holy gosh, I thought this would be an OK play' and we end up going the other way. That's what we're trying to get a little bit better at."
Against the Saints, the Packers seemed to run the ball much better on inside zone plays and draws than they did on their power plays, which require the guards to pull. The Packers might have to come to the conclusion that their best plays are no longer the ones they ran so successfully with Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera in the lineup.
"Going into the games, people know what we're going to do; the Packers do what they do and have been successful doing it," Klemm said. "It's one of those things if you can zone into a couple things during the week and run that until you're comfortable with it, that's when you take a lot of the thinking out of it, the mental errors in terms of plays and penalties because you're focused."
The Packers used their "U-71" formation, which deploys 350-pound tackle Kevin Barry as a second tight end, only nine times against the Saints, a departure from previous strategies. Many of the plays for which Barry is on the field are power plays and the Packers preferred to use a combination of Bubba Franks, David Martin and Donald Lee to man their two-tight end formations, in part because it presents more of a threat to throw the ball.
"We haven't been as good," Beightol said of U-71. "Does that mean we don't use as much U-71 as in the past, I don't know. "I think the game dictates what we do."
With or without U-71, the Packers must find a way to run the ball against the Vikings or face the prospect of Favre being blitzed into submission. The Vikings rank dead last in the league in rushing defense and are giving up 5.0 yards per carry, which ranks tied for last with Atlanta.
The Packers are going to be counting heavily on Green despite the fact he hasn't carried since the third quarter of the Carolina game and hasn't carried more than 19 times in any game this season. Sherman indicated he would still like to spell Green and use a two-back system, but with Davenport gone he'll have a hard time getting big production from backups Tony Fisher and ReShard Lee.
"I do anticipate him carrying the football maybe more so than he has," Sherman said of Green. "That has been the case as we've gotten deeper into the season. But we have to be able to count on our other two backs as well. Fisher has been a role player for us. Lee is an unknown commodity. We'll just have to play that out."
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