Grant, Fargas Create Intriguing RB Matchup

It’s a difficult trivia question - ’Name the two backs with the most rushing yards in the NFL since Week 8’ - and the answers will be on opposite sidelines on Sunday. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Raiders Game Center Notebook: Woodson Questionable; Spitz, Coston To Start At G Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Dec. 7


It may not have the appeal of San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson from Week 9, or Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook vs. Washington's Clinton Portis twice annually in the NFC East.

But there's a running back matchup this weekend worth plenty of attention nonetheless. It's a difficult trivia question - 'Name the two running backs with the most rushing yards in the NFL since Week 8' - and the answers will be on opposite sidelines at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

Oakland's Justin Fargas and Green Bay's Ryan Grant are the two hottest running backs in the league, with Fargas rushing for 591 yards in the last six games, and Grant amassing 561. And the similarities don't end with the statistics, or their jersey number 25.

Neither was expected to be his club's feature back in 2007. The Raiders signed free agent Dominic Rhodes from the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts in the offseason and had veteran LaMont Jordan as a capable second option.

But Rhodes was suspended for the first four games of the season, and over the last two months Fargas has taken more and more of the workload from Jordan, who began the season as the starter.

Meanwhile Grant wasn't even with Green Bay until Week 1, having been acquired via trade with the New York Giants at the final roster reduction following training camp. But when rookie DeShawn Wynn, who had replaced early-season starter Brandon Jackson, went down with an injury on Monday Night Football in Denver in Week 8, Grant stepped in and hasn't relinquished the job.

Their running styles mirror one another's as well, and it's probably no coincidence the two are emerging in zone-blocking running schemes. Under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, Oakland's new offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp, and offensive line coach, Tom Cable, both came from Atlanta in 2006, which is also where former Packers offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski came from the year before, bringing the zone scheme with him.

Both Fargas and Grant are described by coaches and teammates as "one-cut" runners, meaning when they see a hole, they plant a foot, surge through and don't look back. They both have a hard-charging, forward-leaning running style that picks up extra yards on contact and minimizes negative plays.

With Fargas a five-year veteran with more than 1,000 yards to his credit heading into this season, Grant is by far the bigger surprise of the two, having come to Green Bay as a relative unknown after one season on the practice squad and one on injured reserve in New York. But Grant has topped 100 yards three times (at Denver, vs. Minnesota, at Detroit) in the last six games, and come close in two others (88 yards vs. Carolina, 94 at Dallas).

"I feel good about Ryan Grant," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "I think he's given us a lot of juice, a lot of production. He could be a lot more productive if he was given more opportunities. I think he's a big part of our success.

"I think our line is playing better. We don't have the continuity that you would like with the same five playing all the time, but I think the group as a whole is improving."

The same can be said for Oakland. The Raiders' five starters on the offensive line are all new to their spots as of this year, but the unit is coming on, having allowed only two sacks during the team's current two-game winning streak. The line also has helped produce four 100-yard games by Fargas (and two by Jordan early in the season).

"In my opinion this is how you build it, you build a team that can run the ball," Kiffin said. "So regardless of any conditions that you go into or whoever you're playing, when you can't win outside (on the perimeter, with the passing attack) ... the game's not over."

That becomes another element adding emphasis to the ground game this week - the weather. With temperatures expected to be in the 20s and wind chills certainly lower, Sunday's game won't be "Ice Bowl" cold but will be the coldest for either team thus far this season.

{sportsad300}Fargas enters chilly Wisconsin on a hot streak. He rushed 22 times for 139 yards and a touchdown in a win at Kansas City two weeks ago, and followed that up with 33 carries for 146 yards and a score in a victory over Denver last week. Of those 285 rushing yards, 156 came in the second halves of those games.

"It was an interesting thing because it was a progression," said Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga, having seen the film of Oakland's games. "It's not like they just came in there right off the bat and, boom, ran it down their throats. It's something that took time and developed and all of a sudden, I don't know if they wore them down, or they started to be able to see or adjust to the defense, but they ran the ball very strong.

"They were able to overpower their opponent, and that's something that obviously we're going to have to address."

Meanwhile the Packers had plenty to address with their running game earlier this season. Back in October, when Chicago and Washington played almost strictly Cover-2 defenses, with two deep safeties to limit the passing game, it wasn't a good sign that the Packers weren't very productive on the ground either.

But Grant was thrust into the spotlight in Denver following the bye week and has given the Packers the type of reliability and productivity that hopefully answers any questions about finding a dependable running attack when the weather turns.

"There was a lot of talk after that (Washington) game that teams are going to play us this way and almost force us to run the ball," quarterback Brett Favre said. "I think now if teams are going to do that, I feel more confident that our running game can either force them out of that Cover-2, or we'll just keep attacking that way.

"I think we're much more advanced with our run game and more comfortable with what we're trying to do."

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