Notebook: Continuing Rushing Success Will Be Key

With the Packers playing four of their final five games in potentially cold weather, the ability to run the ball in less-than-ideal conditions will no doubt factor into the team’s success down the stretch. That challenge starts on Monday night against Baltimore, one of the stingiest defenses against the run this year and over the past couple of seasons. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Dec. 3

With the Packers playing four of their final five games in potentially cold weather, the ability to run the ball in less-than-ideal conditions will no doubt factor into the team's success down the stretch.

That challenge starts on Monday night against Baltimore, one of the stingiest defenses against the run this year and over the past couple of seasons.

Since 2006, the Ravens defense ranks No. 2 in the league in rushing yards allowed per game at 82.3 and No. 2 in yards per carry at 3.3. They are giving up slightly more yards on the ground this season compared to years past, with an average of 97.6 per contest (No. 6 in the league), but they still lead the league in yards allowed per carry at 3.5.

"They've got extremely talented guys up front," guard Daryn Colledge said. "They've got technicians, they've got guys that do their job every single down and allow the guys around them to make plays. That's phenomenal. You see a smart defense like that that hustles and is physical, that pops up right away.

"We believe we are a physical team. We think we are doing a lot of good things. Everybody is going to talk about them and their physicality because they are the Ravens. Obviously that is what they are known for, but we feel like we have got some punches ourselves and we're not going to lie down. We know how important this game is."

Each of the last two seasons, the Packers have seen noticeable improvement in their rushing attack as the temperatures turned colder. In 2007, Green Bay averaged 71.3 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry in September/October games before improving to 122.0 yards a game and 4.6 yards per carry in the final two months of the season.

Last season featured the same trend with an average of 101.0/3.7 in the first two months before the numbers jumped to 122.0/4.5 in November and December.

"That's the way it has got to be played," wide receiver Greg Jennings said. "The weather changes, especially here up north. It gets colder, and you've got to rely moreso on the running game because you never know what the weather is going to be like.

"You put a huge emphasis on the trench area. You've got to out-physical your opponent and it's from the inside out, from the interior to the perimeter. We've just got to beat our man in front of us and handle business."

After a slower start this season, Green Bay's running game has seen a jump even sooner than the past two years. After the Packers averaged 99.8 yards per game in the first four contests, No. 22 in the NFL, that number improved to 130.3 yards per game over the next seven games, good for No. 9 in the league over that span.

Baltimore entered this season having not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 35 straight games, a streak that went all the way back to Week 14 of 2006 when Chiefs running back Larry Johnson rushed for 120 yards against them.

That impressive streak was snapped at 39 games when Cincinnati's Cedric Benson put up 120 yards on the ground at Baltimore in Week 5. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson posted 143 yards the next week against the Ravens, and three weeks later Benson eclipsed the 100-yard mark again with 117 yards against Baltimore at Cincinnati. The Ravens lost all three of those games.

Going up against a physical 3-4 defense with a reputation for stopping the run is something the Packers experienced just two weeks ago when San Francisco came to Lambeau Field with the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFC and No. 3 in the league. Entering the Week 12 contest, San Francisco was allowing opponents to run for just 87.7 yards a game, with a league-low average of 3.3 yards per carry.

Green Bay responded with 158 yards on 32 carries (4.9 avg.) in the 30-24 win over the 49ers, including 129 yards on 21 carries (6.1 avg.) from running back Ryan Grant. The team-yardage total is the most allowed by San Francisco all season and Grant is one of only two backs (Chris Johnson, Tennessee) to post 100 yards against the 49ers in 2009.

"You just kind of know mentally what you are going to get yourself into," said Grant, who ranks seventh in the NFL with 890 rushing yards. "They have been a physical defense for the last couple of years, and that's what they bring to the table. I think that is one of their strengths, and we need to exceed that. We feel we're a physical team, and I think we match up well."

Uncertain status

Left tackle Chad Clifton, who sustained a hamstring injury early in the third quarter of Green Bay's win at Detroit in Week 12, participated only in the jog-through portion of Thursday's practice.

"Chad Clifton practiced today in a limited fashion, and we'll probably take the week," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'm not sure if Chad will go this week."

The Packers have been forced to use six different starting combinations on the offensive line this season, but have started the same five the last two weeks with veteran Mark Tauscher back at right tackle.

{sportsad300}If Clifton is unable to play on Monday night, rookie T.J. Lang is expected to start in his place. Lang started two games earlier this season at left tackle and has filled in at other times when Clifton left with injuries, including the contest at Detroit.

"We've had some opportunities to play a number of different players on the offensive line, and we'll continue to work our way through it," McCarthy said. "I definitely feel that T.J. Lang has had an opportunity to play more at the left tackle, so that will definitely help him, with him taking the reps over there (Thursday).

"The unfortunate is you still have injuries, and you have to fight through them. But the reality is we've had an opportunity to work a bunch of different combinations, so I think that will definitely help us as we move forward."

Injury/participation update

Linebacker Aaron Kampman (knee) is out for Monday. McCarthy said Kampman is scheduled to have season-ending surgery this week.

Clifton, Grant (shoulder) and cornerback Charles Woodson (shoulder) were limited participants.

Tackle/guard Allen Barbre, linebacker Brandon Chillar (hand), running back Ahman Green (groin), fullback John Kuhn (hand) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (ribs) all participated fully.

Chillar broke his hand in Week 8 vs. Minnesota, and has been played in just one game since then, seeing time on special teams vs. San Francisco. He has been active for each of the last three games, wearing a club cast to protect the injury, but the 49ers game was the only time he has been on the field.

"I think we are getting more and more comfortable as he is getting more comfortable," McCarthy said. "I don't know if you noticed that the cast is getting smaller. They are working different types of braces and things inside of the cast just to try to get him more comfortable and more confident with it.

"So as that goes; he wants to play more, there is no doubt about it. He was playing at a very high level before he was injured, but we are definitely working through that."

For Baltimore, linebackers Prescott Burgess (thigh) and Terrell Suggs (knee), tackle Jared Gaither (illness), safety K.J. Gerard (thigh), fullback Le'Ron McClain (chest), safety Ed Reed (ankle and hip), tight end L.J. Smith (ankle) and wide receiver Kelly Washington (illness) did not participate in Thursday's practice.

Linebacker Ray Lewis (foot) was a limited participant. Quarterback Joe Flacco (ankle), linebacker Jarret Johnson (shoulder) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (ankle) all participated fully.

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