Friday, May 17, 2013

Packers Committing to Running Game

By: Matt Bove

One of the greatest myths about the 2012 Green Bay Packers from the media and fans was that they did not try to run the football.

Over the last 10 games of the season, the Packers averaged 26 rushing attempts per game. It was clear that Mike McCarthy was committing much more to running the ball. However, the issue was that he was getting very little production, as the Packers only averaged 3.9 yards per carry against mostly six man boxes.

The Packers finally got tired of not having a legitimate threat out of the backfield to keep defenses honest and  to get them out of the Cover-2 look that the Packers were seeing all season long. Cedric Benson, James Starks, Alex Green or DuJuan Harris were not the answers that the Packers were looking for.

Ted Thompson selected Alabama running back Eddie Lacy with the 61st overall selection of the NFL Draft, which was the highest pick Thompson has ever spent on a running back. He followed that up by trading up in fourth round to select UCLA running back Jonathan Franklin. Both running backs were considered by different people to be the best running back in this years class and I had Lacy #1 and Franklin #3 in my draft running back rankings on Packer Addicts.

Lacy was bypassed by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos due to concerns about the toe fusion surgery that Lacy had prior to his final season at Alabama. His toe did not hold him back whatsoever last year, as Lacy ran for 1,322 yards on 204 carries (6.5 YPC) and 17 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide. Lacy only had 335 career carries at Alabama, so he has little wear and tear compared to Le'Veon Bell (671 carries) and Montee Ball (924 carries), the two running backs selected ahead of him   He looked to be able to push off the toe and cut just fine, and he was as physical of a back as there was in the country.

The Packers have not had a back with Lacy's bruising style in a very long time. He is a bull running through tackles and some defenders may be reluctant to want to take him on in the frigid temperatures at Lambeau Field late in the season. Lacy should be able to solve many of the 3rd-and-short woes that plagued the Packers last season. While Lacy is more of a pounding runner, he does have some elusiveness to him, including his trademark spin move that made some college defenders look silly.

Franklin is a much different runner from Lacy and he should be a great compliment to him. If Lacy's injuries crop up again Franklin should be able to step him in for him just fine. He set a single season UCLA record by running for 1,734 yards last season.

Franklin should be able to step in right away as the third down back and be dangerous catching balls out of the backfield. He is lethal on the edge turning up the sideline and away from defenders. His cutting ability is excellent and he does not lose much speed while cutting. Franklin's cutting is the key to his tackle breaking because he won't be running many people over at his size. Also, Franklin gets to the line and through the holes very quickly. His biggest issues are fumbles and his lack of bulk.

With so much invested in Lacy and Franklin they will be expected to revamp the Packers' run game right away.

"Obviously, with Lacy being a such a big, strong, powerful back, I think he has a lot better feet than people realize," McCarthy told Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal."He's obviously an accomplished player. And Franklin now, I don't know how you cannot be excited about his film."

As for the Harris, Starks and Green they will be battling just to keep their roster spots. The potential Harris showed will probably keep him on the roster, so that will probably leave Starks and Green to battle for one roster spot. Green has recently stated that he is finally 100% healthy, but it might be too late for him with the new additions. Starks has had many injury issues himself and is just never healthy enough to be relied upon.

Lacy and Franklin should bring stability to the running back position once and for all. McCarthy should no longer have to change running backs on a weekly basis and not know what to expect. The Packers shouldn't have to rely on a mid season pickup like Harris to save their running game ever again.

The Packers had one of the best offenses in the NFL again last season, but it always seemed like they were not living up to their full potential and something was missing. Also, they seemed to have issues against elite defenses like the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers struggled against Cover-2 looks all season and were not able to hit the deep ball that Aaron Rodgers loves so much. Lacy and Franklin should be able to get teams out of those looks more so that Rodgers will have more opportunities for those deep balls.

The Packers will always be a pass heavy team under Rodgers and McCarthy, as they should be. However, a better running game will only make it easier. They found that out the hard way in 2012 and they appear to be learning from that. The Packers' offense will be even more dynamic with Lacy and Franklin and we will finally be able to see what Rodgers is like when he has a capable running game.

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