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Controlling clock, field position key to Packers' offensive turnaround

Running backs need more opportunities, according to Mike McCarthy


GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy's blueprint for the 2016 Green Bay Packers wasn't predicated on leading the NFL in scoring or total yardage.

In reviewing last season with his coaching staff and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers' head coach laid out a vision for his football team that was centered on being more balanced.

To get where the Packers envision, it's going to take a consistent offensive attack, pressure-generating defense and improved coverage units to make that concept a reality.

In the aftermath of Sunday night's 17-14 loss to Minnesota, McCarthy acknowledged during his Monday evening news conference that the Packers have yet to hit that target so far this season.

"This is about being a well-rounded football team," McCarthy said. "It takes all three phases to get this down. We need to win the field position battle every week. We need to win the time of possession battle every week.

"All the variables and factors into that, that's what I'm looking for. That's the team that I'm developing because that's who wins when you need to really win. We haven't gotten that done in two weeks."

The Packers have been even with their opponents in time of possession in the first two weeks of the season, but there has been a stark difference regarding starting field position.

The Packers have yet to score yet on eight meaningful drives where they've started inside their own 20-yard line, including five times against the Vikings on Sunday night.

In addition to not scoring, Green Bay wound up turning the ball over twice on those five series. On the other hand, the Packers have scored a touchdown each time they've started outside of their own 25.

Unfortunately, that's only happened twice this season, with the second coming on Ty Montgomery's first-quarter blocked punt in Minnesota.

After generating only 65 total yards in the first half against the Vikings, the Packers started to establish more rhythm in the second half. They converted 5-of-8 third downs after succeeding on only 1-of-5 in the first half.

However, turnovers on the final two possessions proved to be Green Bay's undoing.

"Really, our inefficiency on third down this past game in the first half got us a little behind," McCarthy said. "We went to some more basic things in the second half. I thought with the turnovers in the second half obviously we didn't overcome them. That was really the downfall there."

On the other hand, the Packers have pinned their first two opponents, Jacksonville and Minnesota, inside their 20-yard line only twice on 20 meaningful series this year.

As McCarthy illustrates, it's on all three phases of the team to win that battle. The Packers' offense needs to move the ball better and generate more first downs, while the defense and special-teams need to find ways to change field position.

Both defensive coordinator Dom Capers and special-teams coordinator Ron Zook mentioned the importance of field position when they addressed the media on Monday.

New punter Jake Schum, who was claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay last month, has a net average of 40.3 yards per punt, but Green Bay still feels it can do better.

"He hit two punts really well and two punts not as well," Zook said. "In the National Football League, it's about field position and that's something we feel we can use as a weapon."

Offensively, the Packers feel they need to run the ball more consistently than they have in the first two games of the year, which can be a challenge when you're trying to get the passing game in rhythm.

Eddie Lacy and James Starks have combined for 121 yards on 37 carries (3.3 yards per carry). They're averaging roughly five fewer touches than last season through the first two games.

A consistent rushing offense not only could help open up the offense, but it also would allow the Packers to get back to controlling the time of possession.

"Eddie and James, they're a tremendous one-two combo," offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. "We definitely need to get those two guys more involved. We have a plan in place and it'll work itself out."

While Green Bay works to ramp up its rushing attack, it's still looking to establish rhythm with Rodgers and the rest of the passing offense, which has been held to 379 yards in the first two games.

McCarthy acknowledged the execution isn't where it needs to be, reiterating to his team the importance of fundamentals after fumbling four times against Minnesota.

"Our execution, we need to improve that whether it's playing with a quicker tempo, not reacting to the disguise of the defense," McCarthy said.

"Whether you want to call it sloppy, consistency, rhythm, flow … it wasn't good enough (Sunday) night. We have a clear understanding of what we need to do and a clear understanding of what we're going to do. Those are the facts and that's the approach that we'll take.

"Mindset is important. We're going to stay on the balls of our feet and punch like hell and we'll improve."

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