The Green Bay Packers have the best quarterback in the National Football League. Problem is, Aaron Rodgers won’t be the quarterback for much longer if he keeps being the most hit quarterback in the league. Rodgers was sacked 51 times last year, which lead the NFL. He also tied for the Packers lead in rushing touchdowns, and was second on the team in rushing yards. Through previous drafts, the Packers front office has tried to fix that problem by drafting offensive linemen Derek Sherrod and Bryan Bulaga. While Bulaga has been a constant starter in the Packers lineup, and Sherrod is a favorite to start this year with the retirement of Chad Clifton, the offensive line can’t protect Rodgers forever without the help of a running game.
In this year’s NFL draft, the Packers drafted running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin to help solve that problem. The Packers have not had a 1,000 yard rusher since Ryan Grant in 2009, and have not had a 100 yard rusher since Brandon Jackson, 43 games ago. While the Packers did win the Super Bowl in 2010, it would not have been without the help of running back James Starks. Starks rushed for over 100 yards in the Wild Card playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles and had 315 total rushing yards during that playoff run.
The recent lack of a running game is why Lacy and Franklin were drafted. Lacy was a two time national champion at Alabama and was the Offensive MVP of the championship game. The major concern about Lacy is his durability. He suffered a turf toe injury in 2011, which is why he dropped all the way to the second round. That turf toe is also the reason why the Packers drafted Johnathan Franklin of UCLA. Franklin might be the biggest steal from the Packers draft class. Franklin rushed over 1,000 his sophomore and senior college seasons, and is the speed back that will complement Lacy’s power running style. The plan with these two running backs is that Lacy’s power running style will tire down the defense, and when Lacy is taken out, a fresh Franklin will come and race past the defense. If Franklin wins the starting job, the roles will be reversed. Franklin will tire down the defense with his speed, and a powerful Lacy will come and run over the exhausted defense. These two rookies will battle it out for the starting running back job and will attempt to return the Packers running game back to days of Dorsey Levens and Ahman Green, where a 1,000 yard rusher was a common thing in Green Bay.
No matter who wins the starting job between Lacy and Franklin, the offensive philosophy is the same for the Packers; protect the franchise quarterback. With a more efficient running game, it will allow one of the Packers’ and Aaron Rodgers’ favorite plays, the play action, to be more effective. If the running game is effective, the opposing defenses will bring more defenders into the box to try to stop the run. With more defenders focused on the run instead of the pass, it allows the best quarterback in the game to do what he does best, throw the deep play action bomb. Over the past few years, opposing defenses have been able to rush four defensive linemen and stop whoever the Packers running back was. Now, the expectation is the running game will make defenders focus a little more on the run and free up the passing game.
Now, I know, and the Packers staff knows, that the defenses won’t forget who the opposing quarterback is. But, a good running game will lighten the pass rush on Rodgers and keep him from enduring some of the vicious hits he has taken the past few years. With Rodgers being beaten up less, it will allow him to move through the pocket and tear apart defenses with his arm. That is when the Packers offense is at its best, and with a good running game, the Packers will be set for another Super Bowl run.