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Improved Ground Game Meets Stout Dallas 'D'

The Packers are coming off one of their top rushing performances as a team this season, and continuing that success on Sunday will be important against a Dallas team that has stepped up their run defense during their current four-game winning streak.


The Packers are coming off one of their top rushing performances as a team this season, and continuing that success on Sunday will be important against a Dallas team that has stepped up its run defense during a current four-game winning streak.

For the first time this season, the Packers had two running backs make notable contributions in the same game, with Ryan Grant posting 96 yards on 21 carries (4.6 avg.) and Ahman Green adding 45 yards on six attempts (7.5 avg.) at Tampa Bay on Sunday.

As a team, Green Bay finished the afternoon with 170 yards on 32 attempts (5.3 avg.), their second-best game on the ground behind only the 202 yards on 41 carries (4.9 avg.) in Week 7 at Cleveland. The last game that Green Bay had two backs eclipse the 45-yard mark in the same game came in the 2008 finale vs. Detroit when Grant and DeShawn Wynn each rushed for 106 yards.

"I think all of those guys are extremely competitive, so when they get opportunities, they want to make the most of those opportunities," running backs coach Edgar Bennett said. "Ahman jumped in there and it was one of those situations where he is trying to make every rush, every attempt count. When Ryan is on the sideline watching that, he wants to get his next crack on it and he wants to make sure that he makes his opportunities count."

The Buccaneers game also featured a couple of explosive gains, with Grant and Green registering two of Green Bay's five 20-plus yard runs this season. Grant posted a 20-yard gain off left tackle into Buccaneers territory on a second-quarter touchdown drive, and Green picked up 26 yards to the Tampa Bay 18 on a shotgun draw play late in the third quarter that set up another touchdown.

Green, who became the Packers' all-time leading rusher in the Buccaneers game and was the featured back during his first stint with the team from 2000-06, said having a backup that can help shoulder some of the load can be a big benefit to the starter and to the offense.

"It would help out a lot because Ryan is the workhorse and he's getting 20 or 25, sometimes close to 30 carries a game," said Green, who re-signed with the team as a free agent on Oct. 21. "If he can still get that and be fresh and I can jump in there for five or maybe 10 carries, and he can still get his 20-25, that just wears a team out. He won't get worn out and he'll be fresh going into the fourth quarter with me and him banging around."

"It felt good when Najeh (Davenport) would go in and pick up 20-30 yards or Fish (Tony Fisher) would do it. When I first got here it was me and Dorsey (Levens). It's a great feeling because it gets you pumped up to go back in there and go get your yardage and your touchdowns because it's all benefiting us. It's all benefiting the team."

Green Bay's rushing attack will be put to the test on Sunday by the Cowboys, who rank 12th in the league against the run but have really come on lately. After allowing opponents to pick up 460 yards on 98 carries (4.7) during a 2-2 start, Dallas has given up just 363 rushing yards on 101 carries (3.6 avg.) since then, which ties them for fourth best in the league over that span.

Dallas is one of just five teams in the NFL that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, and only one back, Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams (97 yards on 13 carries) in Week 1, has even topped the 75-yard mark in a game against them this year.

The Cowboys' run defense is anchored by Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who leads the defensive line with 42 tackles and the team with six tackles for loss. Ratliff also has four sacks, tied for second most among NFL defensive tackles.

"He's a good player," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Excellent get-off, can be very disruptive. He's a good player, a good pass rusher. He's very impressive on film."

With the Cowboys' success over the past four games against the run, that has transferred over to them getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well. After they opened the season with just six sacks in those first four games, Dallas has more than doubled that number with 14 in the past four contests.

Their pass rush is led by three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who leads the team with five sacks this season and ranks first in the NFL with 50 1/2 sacks since 2006. Ware has posted two sacks and four pressures in two games against the Packers the past two seasons.

"He can create some problems," Philbin said. "He's a very fine athlete. He's kind of rubbery and slippery and he's got the good get-off that you're looking for. He can turn the corner and change direction pretty well. He's a handful, no doubt."

{sportsad300}For a Packers team that has allowed a league-high 37 sacks in eight games, staying out of long down-and-distance situations against Ware and the rest of Dallas' front seven will be critical.

"You always strive in a perfect world to have balance and to be unpredictable in your play-calling," Philbin said. "The best way you can do that is be second-and-6, third-and-4, and those type of things. When you get into must situations, it makes it tough.

"Whether the scoreboard puts in a must situation or the down-and-distance puts you in a must situation, you limit yourself a little bit and some of your tendencies come out. They can play to those tendencies and they can devise some new things potentially and create some problems for you."

Although the Packers have started off slowly the past two seasons on the ground, their rushing offense this season is currently ranked 10th in the league at the midway point. Green Bay is averaging 121 yards per game, nearly 20 yards more than in the first half of 2008 and nearly 50 yards more than in the first half of 2007.

Even with some success running the ball thus far, the offense will likely need to build on that starting Sunday as it heads into a crucial stretch of the season.

"It's going to make defenses more honest," Green said. "They're not really blitzing a lot because they have been able to get pressure with the front four, but that will still slow the front four down. They won't be just worrying about getting to the quarterback. They'll be thinking, 'Shoot, I need to help stop the run,' if we've got a couple of backs running all over the place.

"It usually takes the running game some time to come along. The passing game with most offenses starts off first. Not just our team, but you can just look around the league and look back at history, once the November and December months come, either the weather determines it or the guy that is the running back gets in a groove."

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