Green, Offensive Line Carry Run Game Burden

RB Alex Green (Dilip Vishwanat/USP)

Over the last three weeks, the Packers rank 30th in yards per carry, and the lack of first-down success could be a major issue against Arizona. For Alex Green, the issue is finding the right tempo; for the offensive line, it's about fundamentals.

For Green Bay Packers running back Alex Green, it's all about the Goldilocks approach to running the football.

Not too fast, not too slow.

Just right.

During Sunday's game against Jacksonville, Green carried the ball 22 times for 54 yards. His average was a meager 2.5 yards and his long run was a pitiful 7 yards.

The day after the game, offensive coordinator Tom Clements said most of the running plays were downhill runs, which require Green to "get to the line quicker" than on a zone play, in which Green would have to run with patience to wait for a crease to develop.

Later this week, with the Packers preparing for Sunday's game against Arizona, Green and position coach Alex Van Pelt said a touch more patience is required.

"We have a tight end, we have a fullback, so I have to slow my tempo down and let them set their blocks up first rather than hitting the hole as fast as I want," Green said this week. "That's the problem with where I'm at right now — slowing down and letting them set up their blocks first, and at the same time, exploding into the hole."

Green got off to a promising start. Thrust into action after Cedric Benson's injury at Indianapolis, Green ripped off an ankle-turning 41-yard run. Against Houston, Green carried 22 times for 65 yards — a respectable 3.0-yard average against a rugged Texans defense that allowed Aaron Rodgers to have a monster game.

The last two games, however, have been horrendous. Against St. Louis (20 carries, 35 yards) and Jacksonville (22 for 54), Green has carried 42 times for 89 yards.

At the season's midpoint, the Packers rank 28th with a per-carry average of 3.7 yards. Over the last three games — Green's three starts — only two teams have posted a worse average than Green Bay's 2.8 yards.

"The thing that we've talked about with him is slowing it down," Van Pelt said. "He's such a quick-twitch, fast-twitch guy, that a lot of times the blocks haven't quite developed yet before he gets in there. So, slow his pace down, slow his track down, and then once he sees it, then accelerate and explode through the hole."

That's not to say the blame falls solely on Green. Offensive line coach James Campen said his unit is shouldering its share of the blame. As always with Campen, the focus is on fundamentals.

"We're working on it and we're going to continue to work on it," Campen said. "It has to be better. Those guys in the locker room will tell you: We have to be more consistent. Speaking of our group, we need to be more consistent, get more movement and finish better. That's what it's going to take. We're going to continue to press our guys to be better at it."

Guard T.J. Lang said the focus isn't so much on yards per carry as it is winning the down. Taking first-and-10 as the ultimate example, the Packers have run the ball 104 times and passed it 104 times. On those running plays, the Packers are averaging just 3.3 yards, according to the NFL's media-only statistics site. That ranks just 28th in the league, meaning the Packers are facing a lot of second-and-long situations — a possible trouble spot against Arizona's superb pass rush and pass coverage.

"We just have to be more consistent," fellow guard Josh Sitton said. "Sometimes, we're creating holes and they're not hitting them; sometimes, we're just getting stuffed in the middle. It's a group effort and it hasn't been as consistent as it needs to be. We need to be able to be successful in the run game, especially toward the end of the year. There's going to come games where we have to close out games with the run game. We need to be more consistent, for sure."

Campen wouldn't get into specifics about what's gone wrong with his line and how he was going to get it fixed. The unit's struggles are a surprise given the experience and health. The line has bounced back every time after bad games in pass protection. Campen is expecting the same with the run game.

"They're working their tails off to get it done, I can promise you that," Campen said. "Their motivation will come from within because they're tired of hearing about it."

For Green, the clock might be ticking on his time as the clear top dog in the backfield. Coach Mike McCarthy has voiced unequivocal support for Green, despite the subpar production, but James Starks is ready to get more playing time. Starks averaged 4.3 yards per carry last season.

"It's going to make me stronger, keep me eager to get better," Green said. "It's something I've seen a lot of guys go though – even last year when I wasn't playing. People are going to say what they say. I've been through a lot worse things than having low production in the run game. It's nothing I'm going to lose sleep over. I'm my worst critic. Nobody's going to be harder on me than myself."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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