Searching For Rhythm On The Run

Offensive linemen take the most pride in being able to do two things - protect their quarterback, and pound defenses with the running game. The Packers’ linemen improved dramatically in the first of those two aspects from Week 1 to Week 2. So now, it’s time to get that running game going. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Chargers Game Center Notebook: Injuries Healing Up In Time


Offensive linemen take the most pride in being able to do two things - protect their quarterback, and pound defenses with the running game.

The Green Bay Packers' linemen improved dramatically in the first of those two aspects from Week 1 to Week 2. After giving up four sacks and 11 quarterback hits on Brett Favre in the season opener against the Eagles, the numbers were cut down to one sack and two quarterback hits last week against the Giants.

So now, it's time to get that running game going.

Taking away three Favre kneel-downs in the two games, the Packers have rushed for 133 yards on 43 carries in the first two weeks, a 3.1-yard average. The fact that it took DeShawn Wynn's 38-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter last week to top 100 yards on the season only highlighted how much of a struggle it has been to run the ball.

Of those 43 carries by running backs, 26 have gained 2 or fewer yards, and 13 have been for zero or negative yardage. But Wynn's big play also provides some validity to the linemen's comments this week, which have emphasized that they feel they're not as far away as the statistics might indicate from finding meaningful production on the ground.

"The negative plays and the plays that are 1- or 2-yard gains, on film, they're close," center Scott Wells said. "That's what I see. You get frustrated when you watch it and you see how close they are."

Roughly two-thirds of those bad runs from the first two games came last week at New York, when three times defensive linemen came unblocked into the backfield to get easy tackles for loss.

Those plays are as ugly as it gets for a ground game, to be sure, but those mistakes were essentially mental, assignment errors and are no more difficult to fix than anything else that might go wrong.

"Really, that's what gives me hope, seeing those are all things that are correctible," Wells said. "You can coach those up, correct those things, and when you do, you can have explosive gains.

"There were several in the game where if everybody is on the same page, and you get that one step corrected, it's the running back against the safety, which always generates a large gain. Everybody on our team sees that and that keeps us confident in the running attack."

{sportsad300}That's how Wynn broke his late TD run, getting one-on-one with the safety and juking past him for the long gain. Those plays will be even harder to come by against a defense like San Diego's on Sunday, with run-plugger Jamal Williams in the middle, and ends Luis Castillo and Igor Olshansky rounding out the stout front three in the Chargers' 3-4 scheme, and Pro Bowler and 2006 NFL sack leader Shawne Merriman highlighting an active group of linebackers.

But as the Packers have said all season thus far, they're far more focused on how they play than what their opponent does, and they feel their chemistry as a run-blocking unit is coming along.

"It's always just little margins of differences," lineman Daryn Colledge said. "We're still moving the ball all right, we just not moving the ball the way we want. If the back makes one more cut, he springs it. Or if we make one more block, he springs it. It's just a matter of getting all 11 guys on the same page and good things are going to happen."

Even more valuable than the occasional big play would be a consistent push on the ground, and things went so sour for the running game last Sunday it's easy to forget how it started. On the Packers' opening drive of the game, the first five running plays by Brandon Jackson and Wynn gained 8, 4, 5, 3 and 7 yards, or 5.4 per rush.

That helped get the offense going, though the drive stalled and ended with a missed field goal. With the ground game scuffling after that, Favre took over and got the offense into a rhythm with a lot of short passes that picked up yards and moved the chains.

The offense ended up scoring four touchdowns in five possessions in the second half, and five in eight drives going back to the second quarter.

Favre said this week he definitely senses when the offense is in rhythm like that, and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin added that, from the coaches' box above Giants Stadium, he could see it in the little things that aren't obvious to everyone watching.

"The guys were getting in and out, they were covering the ball, helping their teammates up off the ground, getting back in the huddle," Philbin said. "Those are things we preach on a consistent basis, and that's the type of team we'd like to be every Sunday.

"How you play the game is at times more important than exactly what play you're running or what you're doing. We've really stressed that you have to play the game the right way -- play it fast, play it confidently, and tempo is a huge part of it."

The offensive line would just as soon establish that tempo with the ground game, because the short passing game won't necessarily be available against every defense. And the linemen know Head Coach Mike McCarthy would prefer to run the ball, if the results are there.

"He wants us to be known as a smash-mouth hard-nosed football team, and you have to run the ball to do that, to fit into that category," Wells said. "When you run the ball, it's physical. Those are your most physical plays on offense.

"He's definitely into the run, he's pressing that. He wants us to improve that aspect so we can really open up bigger plays in the passing game, because you can't run checkdowns the whole year. You have to be able to get the ball further down the field, and in order to do that you have to be able to open up the defense with the rushing attack."

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