Off and running
But ground game is a work in progress
Tuesday, September 11, 2001
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
But ground game is a work in progress
By TOM SILVERSTEIN
of the Journal Sentinel staff
Green Bay - You certainly can't argue with the numbers.
Twenty-nine rushes, 179 yards, 6.2 average, two touchdowns.
But the day after the Green Bay Packers accomplished all that in a 28-6 demolishing of the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field, the performance was being regarded with some temperance.
What the Packers accomplished was due largely to the tremendous effort of running back Ahman Green, who scored on touchdown runs of 31 and 83 yards. The second run, in particular, had less to do with the blocking than with Green's ability to break tackles and reverse field.
Take away those two runs and the Packers gained 65 yards rushing in 27 carries, an average of 2.4 yards per carry. Include the 31-yarder, a play on which the blocking was as good as on any play all day, and the Packers still gained only 96 yards in 28 carries, an average of 3.4.
"We're thankful that we had the two big runs," offensive line coach Larry Beightol said. "But we're certainly not hitting on all cylinders. There were a lot of positive things that happened during the ball game. Obviously, in every football game there's going to be mistakes. We continue to work to correct those things.
"All in all it was a good first game. We realize and have pointed out to the players that if we don't fix these things, we're not going to be a well-oiled machine. But I would much rather have the two long runs, however we got them, than not to have them."
Indeed, coach Mike Sherman wasn't about to ask the National Football League to rescind the Packers' No. 1 ranking in rushing offense heading into the Monday night game between Denver and the New York Giants. Nor was he about to deprive Green of his status as the leading rusher in the NFL.
Still, the Packers know that their running game is a work in progress. One only has to look at the two times Green muffed pitches from quarterback Brett Favre or the time Green fumbled late in the first half.
Aside from the 83-yard run, the Packers rushed 10 times on first down for 24 total yards. Both of the muffed pitches occurred on first down and each counted for zero yards rushing even though 14 yards were lost.
"I think a 2-yard and 3-yard run on first down in the National Football League, I look at that as a positive run," Sherman said. "We had some of those, we had some 5-yard runs, we had some 8-yard runs and we had some long runs.
"I take out the long runs and then I figure it also. Forget the big plays, how was it from there? It was still pretty good in my mind."
The Packers have had their moments against the Lions in recent years, but in the seven previous meetings they had managed 100 yards or more rushing twice and averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry three times.
It might be harder to gauge the performance Sunday because the Lions are playing a new defensive system and received a limited contribution from star defensive tackle Luther Elliss. The best thing the offensive line might have done all day was protect quarterback Brett Favre. Though he was sacked three times, only one can be attributed to the offensive line. The others came when end Robert Porcher blew past tight end Bubba Franks and when Favre rolled out of the pocket and had nowhere to go.
"Overall, the pass protection was very good, although we had three sacks," Beightol said. "Conditions and everything else were a part of it. It was a good first outing for us to start the season. Hopefully, we'll grow from here and get better as we go down the road."
Ultimately, the coaches want to feature the running game this year because they have a young, athletic offensive line and a talented backfield tandem in Green and veteran Dorsey Levens.
31-yarder a gem
Green's 31-yard touchdown run was an example of how good the running game can be. Tackle Mark Tauscher and guard Marco Rivera caved in the middle, Franks held the point, guard Mike Wahle pulled perfectly and Green broke a tackle on his way to the end zone.
Sherman admitted that he had concerns about the running game going into the season, but felt better after Sunday.
"We do have youth in that group," Sherman said. "But I'm also cognizant of the fact they're very athletic, tough and physical guys that enjoy being offensive linemen and running the football. But I had concerns that we weren't going to mature.
"We have a big test this week. This will be a huge test for us against the Giants."
New York comes off a season in which it finished second in the league in rushing defense and tied for ninth in sacks. The addition of veteran free agent Kenny Holmes at right end and the insertion of talented tackle Cornelius Griffin into the starting lineup gives the Giants one of the best front fours in the NFL.
"They're defending champions and I know they put a lot of pressure on the quarterback," Tauscher said. "We have to go into their place. It's going to be a good measuring stick for where we're at. We can kind of gauge where we're at compared to where the top team is."
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