Green’s wish: A hot December
Monday, December 3, 2001
Green Bay Press Gazette
By Christopher Walsh
While most people associate December with cold and snow, for the Green Bay Packers it also means something else.
It’s when the team usually turns the offense over to the ground game.
“Overall, we have that attitude,” running back Ahman Green said. “I think everyone knows what we have to do. We wrap December up, and we’ll be sitting where we want, in the playoffs.
“Pound the run, pound the pass.”
If history is any indication, the key will be much more of the former than the latter. Traditionally, the longer the season and the worse the weather, the less teams should be able to throw — although games in Florida, like tonight’s at Jacksonville, and at domes are obvious exceptions, but three of Green Bay’s final six games will be at Lambeau Field, a fourth at Giants Stadium against the New York Giants.
“It’s more of a mental part of the year,” guard Marco Rivera said. “We feel it gives us a slight advantage.”
So should Green. Heading into this weekend’s games, his 938 rushing yards led the NFC, and the 1,333 yards from scrimmage topped the league.
Yet, while the Packers boasted the No. 6 offense in total yards, Green Bay’s running game only was ranked 18th overall, tied for 29th in rushing first downs and 13th in yards per carry.
While the Packers can point to Green’s average of 5.0 yards per carry and claim success, the disparity is somewhat confusing, especially with few injuries on the offensive line and a three-time MVP at quarterback.
“I’ve wondered about that myself,” Brett Favre said. “Our philosophy is to run the ball. Maybe at times we abandon the run quicker than maybe we said that we would.
“Ahman’s one of those guys that will get 10 carries in a row for 10 yards, and then break one for 80 yards. I think he does get better as the game goes on.”
This season, Green has averaged 18.8 rushes, and 23.3 touches (carries and receptions). The three games he took the fewest handoffs — 11 carries at Minnesota, 15 at Tampa and 17 vs. Atlanta — were losses.
In the seven wins, Green averaged 20.7 carries for 106.3 yards, which is on par with the best running backs in the league. Last year, he was also Green Bay’s leading receiver and, last week at Detroit, turned a short pass into a 35-yard touchdown.
“I think if we can give him 25-30 touches, which includes passes, two or three could be huge for us,” Favre said.
The last three times Green Bay went undefeated in December were last season and the last two Super Bowl seasons (1996 and 1997).
During the 1996 season, Green Bay running backs averaged 27.5 carries per game in December, along with 3.25 catches, a slight increase from the first 12 games.
In 1997, led mainly by Dorsey Levens, they averaged 30.25 carries in December, and 5.5 catches, for nearly 36 touches per game. The rest of the season, Green Bay running backs averaged 22.6 carries and 6.2 receptions, for 28.8 touches.
During last year’s perfect December, when the Packers went 4-0 in sweeping the division, Green averaged 24.8 carries per game for 105.5 rushing yards. He also made 20 receptions, giving him an average of just under 30 touches per game.
Before that, Green averaged 13.6 carries and 62.75 rushing yards per game, to go with 4.4 catches, for 18.0 touches.
“One of the things initially was that we didn’t want to overload him because he was never asked to be a pass receiver at Nebraska, and obviously at Seattle he wasn’t,” Favre said. “It was a new thing for him, and I still think he’s feeling his way through. I don’t know if he realizes how good he could be. I don’t know if any of us realize how good he could be.
“He shows flashes of being as good as anyone in the league.”
Or in team history. Green needs only 62 rushing yards to become the first Packer since John Brockington (1971-73), and third all-time (Jim Taylor, 1960-64), with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
He’s also on pace for 1,501 rushing yards, which would break Taylor’s club record of 1,474 yards (1962), the longest standing record of its type in the NFL.
Should Green approach that number, he and the rest of the Packers could be playing well into January.
“It’s very important that we are successful with our run game, particularly here at home where some of the other parts of your game are taken away,” coach Mike Sherman said. “We’re fortunate, with our running backs, that we have guys, that are successful on the muddy and not-so-great type surfaces.
“I think our guys can smell the finish line a little bit. It’s time to turn it into high gear.”
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