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Offensive makeover counting on improved running game

Posted May 23, 2013

Packers offense being challenged to be more consistent

GREEN BAY—A good offense is being challenged to be even better in 2013 than it was last season.

“We were inconsistent,” Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said of his unit’s performance last season. “If we’re more consistent in every aspect, we’ll get more plays. We’re not at the number of plays we want to be at.”

The Packers had the league’s fifth-best scoring offense in 2012, but it was an offense that fell dramatically in a lot of categories last season: down 10 ranking spots from third to 13th in total offense; down six spots from first to seventh in yards per pass play; down 12 spots from third to 15th in third-down efficiency.

“We played well in the red zone but we didn’t get there as much as we want to,” Clements said. “Sacks usually result in a possession when you have to punt the ball away.”

Sacks were a major problem for the Packers in 2012. Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the league, was the most sacked quarterback in the league. He went down 51 times.

As a result, Head Coach Mike McCarthy has moved his two best offensive linemen, tackle Bryan Bulaga and guard Josh Sitton, from the right side of the line to the left. Last year’s left tackle and left guard, Marshall Newhouse and T.J. Lang, have been moved into Bulaga’s and Sitton’s former positions.

“We want to be stronger on the left side; get our two most accomplished players on that side … to protect the back side of the quarterback,” Offensive Line Coach James Campen said.

There’s a strong belief that improvement in one area might create improvement in all aspects of the offense. It’s thought that a stronger running game will help decrease sacks and force opposing defenses to commit an extra defender to the line of scrimmage, which would bring the big play back to the passing game and create more trips into the red zone.

Is that what the Packers were thinking when they selected running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in the first four rounds of this year’s draft?

“It had an effect,” Clements said of a running game that was by and large ignored by opposing defenses last season. “In previous years, our action passing game was better.”

Rodgers faced a two-deep safety look that clogged the middle of the field and forced him to throw underneath the coverage in nearly every game last season. That was by and large the result of a running game that was 26th in the league in yards per rushing attempt.

“We want to run the ball better,” Clements said. “If we do run the ball better, we’ll probably run the ball more. It’ll prevent the defense from teeing off on the passer. We have to be effective running the ball.”

Lacy and Franklin combined for more than 3,000 yards rushing last season. They bring gaudy rushing stats to an offense that has been one of the game’s most prolific passing attacks over the previous four seasons. The hope is that Lacy and Franklin will give the Packers a threat of run they haven’t enjoyed since 2009, when Ryan Grant was the last Packers back to rush for a thousand yards in a season.

“They’re going to help us. They add competition to the room,” Running Backs Coach Alex Van Pelt said of Lacy and Franklin. “Get us in a situation against Aaron that they’ll have to close the middle of the field. If we can get them to add a player to the box, that’ll help the pass game.”

It might help everything.

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