'Make it happen' mindset has Packers' run game headed in right direction

Green Bay looks to take another step Sunday in Denver

RB AJ Dillon

GREEN BAY – It takes all 11.

It's a phrase Matt LaFleur has drilled home since he was first hired as the Packers' head coach nearly five years ago, and as it pertains to running the football, there may be no truer idiom.

The first quarter of the season has been a grind on the ground for Green Bay due to a myriad of injuries and inconsistency, but the Packers made significant signs of progress during their recent encounter with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Despite the absence of Aaron Jones due to a hamstring injury, Green Bay's offense registered its best day on the ground this season, racking up 110 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.

Fourth-year running back AJ Dillon handled most of that workload, parlaying a season-high 20 carries into 76 yards and his first touchdown run of the year.

A steady commitment to the run certainly helped, but those in the trenches feel a "make it happen" approach and a few more inside-zone runs yielded the positive results.

"I think the difference last game was just the mindset," Dillon said. "We were tired of not performing. We went out there with the mindset of, 'Make it happen,' whether it's guys stepping up, making key blocks or backs making their own holes. Just try not to be denied. That's really what it is."

It's a style of offense the Packers envisioned heading into the season before injuries began to chip away at their backfield and offensive line depth.

Losing a Pro Bowl running back like Jones for three of the first five games was one thing, but Green Bay also has been banged up on the offensive line dating back to the opener in Chicago.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Elgton Jenkins and right tackle Zach Tom have all battled knee injuries, with Bakhtiari sidelined for the remainder of the season. Starting right guard Jon Runyan also gritted through an ankle injury against the Raiders to maintain his streak of 55 consecutive games played.

While turnovers contributed to a 17-13 loss in Las Vegas, the Packers came away from the game feeling they'd found some answers in the run game heading into the bye week.

"I think the run game as offensive linemen, especially the inside part, inside zone, those downhill gap schemes, it's more of a feel," Runyan said. "The more you commit to the run game, the more you feel it out, the easier it gets later in the game. So, when it's time to lean on that in a short-yardage play, you know it's coming."

Behind a north-and-south offensive gameplan, Dillon felt like he did less thinking and ran more behind his pads. His TD run in the third quarter tied the game at 10 and capped an eight-play, 37-yard drive. Dillon rushed for 34 of those yards on six carries.

The Packers believe there's more out there, too. Film study revealed some decent pickups that had the potential to be explosive plays if one or two things were done differently.

It still was a welcomed response after Green Bay was held to just 27 yards on 12 carries the previous game during a 34-20 home loss to Detroit.

"If you look at a lot of the plays that we run, it's usually just one guy here or there not doing their job and that really messes up the whole play," Tom said. "I feel like within the offense, there's a feeling that we're right there. When you turn on the film, we are right there. We've just got to put it together."

While running the football effectively is critical every week, the Packers are readying for a Denver defense that ranks last in the NFL against the run in both yards per game (172.3) and per carry (5.6).

Getting Jones back would undoubtedly help the Packers build upon what it did against the Raiders. The Packers are 23-2 (including playoffs) when the seventh-year running back registers at least 100 total yards.

Either way, Dillon and a healthier offensive line are determined to prove Green Bay's rushing offense is better than its 27th ranking through the first quarter of the season.

"Stats may be what they are, but I feel that we're going in the right direction," Dillon said. "We're going out there, busting our butts out there at practice. I'm fired up. Whoever in that room is going to be in that starting five, blocking for us, I know all the running backs trust them and trust what they have and what they're bringing to the table."

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