GREEN BAY—Slowly, but surely, the Packers are changing. That high-flying offense that breezed through the 2011 season is now near the top of the NFL's rush rankings. These Packers move the ball the old-fashioned way: They pound it.
"That was big for us. We ran it good today. That set up a lot in the passing game," Aaron Rodgers said.
The words were twinged with pain. You could hear it in his voice. Hey, why not? We're talking about a man who throws the ball effortlessly. He throws the ball into hoops from 60 yards away. He's the quarterback equivalent of "The Natural." Just give him the ball, coach.
On Sunday, however, the ball was given to Eddie Lacy, 23 times. He's the Packers' new pounder, and if Rodgers was speaking through clenched teeth, he also had to acknowledge how he benefited from all of that pounding.
Rodgers was sacked only once, and that's a very good thing for a team whose future success is tied directly to Rodgers. As long as he's their quarterback, the Packers are a Super Bowl contender. Without him? You know the rest.
"We wanted to run it a bunch. It helps to slow their pass rush down. The offensive line did a great job. We had good movement in the run game and a very nice pocket," Rodgers said.
They also had a maddeningly slim lead for most of the game, and it's neither Rodgers' nor his head coach's natural personality to nurse slim leads. They are men of attack, but on this Sunday they were men of patience and resolve, and they are the personality traits of a strong running game, and they are becoming the personality traits of an offense that's changing its identity.
"I don't think that's our identity at this point," Rodgers said, unwilling to acquiesce at this early stage of the season. Makeovers take time, especially when it involves a facelift.
"We are a spread offense. We're a three-receiver offense and we're going to make teams declare what they're going to do, play two-high or tackle a 230-pound running back," Rodgers said.
Truth be known, the Lions never really declared their intentions. They did a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but they didn't do enough of either. They spent much of the game guessing.
"We're going to continue to let the run game set up the pass. That balance is going to help us out come November and December," Rodgers added.
It would especially help this team in January, in places such as San Francisco and Seattle, where they also play football the old-fashioned way: They pound it.
The rest of the league still regards the Packers as a pass-first team. Mystiques die hard. Selling the league on the Packers' new-found commitment to the running game will require much advertising. The league rankings will help, and the Packers were No. 9 in rushing heading into Sunday's game and they'll no doubt have moved up a few spots following Sunday's 180-yard effort.
This personality change will take time to execute. Most of all, it'll require patience, and that's what the Packers expressed on Sunday, in a game that stayed so maddening close for so many tense minutes that it no doubt caused a lot of nervous fans to yell out, "Come on, throw the ball."
They didn't. They just kept running it, and by the time the Lions finally got it, finally understood that these are the new Packers, the issue had been decided.
Slowly, but surely, the Packers wore the Lions down and out. Complete game coverage