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Running Game Earns Attention


From week to week, NFL defenses label stopping the run as one of their utmost priorities.

But there's a difference between trying to stop the run and trying to encourage the pass. And, believe it or not, the Green Bay Packers running game is so strong at the moment that the Detroit Lions are willing to try the latter.

"We're going to try to just manage Ahman Green," Lions cornerback Dré' Bly said this week, "try to keep him at a minimal gain and just force (the Packers) to throw the football."

'Force them to throw.' Those are words the Packers haven't heard much since Brett Favre became the starting quarterback more than a decade ago. But it's the reality now.

Heading into their Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field, the Packers lead the NFL in total rushing yards and average yards per attempt.

And the big gains aren't just coming from Green, whose 1,654 total yards lead the NFL, but also from backups Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher, who are averaging 6.3 and 5.4 yards per carry, respectively.

Increasing the production of the running game has been one of Mike Sherman's goals ever since he became head coach of the Packers prior to the 2000 season. But even he had to admit this week that recent performances -- like Packers' 48-carry, 243-yard pounding of the San Francisco 49ers last weekend -- have gone beyond expectations.

"I don't think you ever envision (being) as efficient as we are," Sherman said. "That's your goal all the time, but we've been fairly efficient."

Fairly? That's like saying Grady Jackson is fairly larger than Antonio Chatman.

So dominant was the Packers rushing attack against San Francisco that Favre attempted only 15 passes, tied for his fewest ever in a regular season game that he both started and finished.

Two of Favre's throws accounted for the Packers' only touchdowns of the game. And for as long as the running game continues to churn up yards and put wins on the scoreboard, Favre is more than happy to make an impact in a more limited role.

"It's enough right now," Favre said. "What are we since the (bye), 3-1? We've rushed the ball off the charts."

In the Packers' last four games, the team is averaging 235 yards a game on the ground.

And if that's more than enough to catch the attention of opponents, Sherman didn't come anywhere close this week to suggesting that the running game is unstoppable.

"The true test is how we are the next week and the next week and the next week," Sherman said. "There are still a lot of games to play and efficiency isn't measured until you finish the season and see how productive you've been."

Eventually, Sherman knows, the passing game will be asked to carry the load for the Packers, whether for a drive, a game or a few weeks.

And although Favre has been more of a guest star since breaking his thumb against the St. Louis Rams (Oct. 19), opponents aren't going to forget about him entirely. Not yet, anyway.

Especially not if the opposing head coach is Steve Mariucci, who was Favre's position coach in Green Bay from 1992-95.

"I think the focus will always be on Brett," Mariucci said. "(The Packers' recent attention to the run is) just a matter of how they're playing around their situation right now. Because I do think Brett's capable of being very productive in the passing game if need be."

It's just that of late, it hasn't been needed.

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