Green Bay Packers: Run or they’re done


The Green Bay Packer were grossly outplayed from kickoff against the Arizona Cardinals. Unless they can lean on the run early, there’s no playing comeback

It wasn’t close. The Green Bay Packers dropped their Week 16 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals 38-8, but this time around, it wasn’t about one achilles heel failing the Packers. Arizona was inarguably, and in every conceivable phase, better at the game of football.

This produced some cringe-worthy viewing for Packers fans, whose transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and a string of successful seasons since has left failure as a rather distant memory.

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Now staring at a Week 17 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football for the division title, not to mention some daunting potential matchups in the playoffs beyond that, the Packers need to change their ways. Fast.

The most worrying issue here is that Green Bay cannot play comeback. This meshes very poorly with a defense that, under coordinator Dom Capers, has often operated under a “bend but don’t break” mantra. So many times over the past few seasons we’ve seen this Packers defense bend, only to force the timeliest of late-game turnovers. At this point, however, even bending is too much.

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In year’s past, it’s been fine. When the Packers could uncork their passing game at will and stretch the field with Jordy Nelson, scoring points was not an issue. Nor was any deficit too large. Now, against playoff-calibre secondaries’, Green Bay’s passing game hasn’t shown the potential to kick the door down and storm back.

Much of this has to do with the still-bizarre way in which the Packers have run the football. Eddie Lacy led all rushers with 12 carries for 60 yards on Sunday, and given the fumble by James Starks, we could finally see coach Mike McCarthy go all-in on Lacy in terms of the timeshare. It’s the usage of these backs in general, however, that is troubling.

A conscious effort to run the football early not only keeps the game close, thus avoiding the need for said comeback efforts, but it softens an opposing defense for Aaron Rodgers later in the game. Given the struggles these receivers have had to get open in single coverage (it’s been painful at times), Rodgers does need the help of a cheating safety. He also needs the help of a softened pass-rush, because his protection has been an absolute health hazard of late.

This showed itself perfectly on Rodgers’ endzone interception when down 10-0 in the second quarter against Arizona. With Lacy in the backfield, the Cardinals loaded the box with linebackers and safeties. This was bluffed pressure, however. At the time of the snap, Arizona had seven defenders up at the line of scrimmage, three of whom raced immediately back into coverage as the ball was snapped. The run game wasn’t being respected, and it led to a key turnover from smothering blanket coverage.

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At many points in the season, Green Bay has stayed afloat by passing on lesser defenses or, without any level of consistency, deciding to run the football for a week. This won’t work against units such as Arizona (again), Seattle (gulp), or other playoff foes.

Perhaps the primary issue is how counterintuitive this all seems. Leaning on the running game in an offense with Rodgers and Randall Cobb doesn’t make sense on the surface level. But neither does a Rodgers-led football team losing by 30.