Before the start of the regular season, there were two things that the Green Bay Packers had to address to verify themselves as a Super Bowl contender. They had to find a much-needed running game and had to improve a defense that has gotten torched the last few seasons. Through five games of this NFL season, both areas seem to be on the rise and a dangerous sign for the rest of the league.
As I said numerous times before, the Packers’ biggest weakness was their running game. They had not had a 100-yard rusher since the 2010 season. On top of that, whoever the starting running back was could not stay healthy for the whole season.
It seemed like there was a new starting running back every eight games. With that in mind, the Packers drafted Eddie Lacy in last year’s NFL draft. Sure enough, Lacy was the starting running back in week one this season, but got hurt the next week against the Washington Redskins.
Continuing on with the Packers philosophy, James Starks was the “next man up.” Starks showed why he was a valuable backup, becoming the first Packers running back in 44 games to rush for over 100 yards. Considering how bad the Redskins’ defense was, I personally thought it was a fluke.
The following week against the Cincinnati Bengals, Starks got hurt and rookie Johnathan Franklin was inserted into the lineup. Like Starks, Franklin made the most of his opportunity and also rushed for over 100 yards. After resting for two games, Lacy was all healed up and ready to extend this newly efficient running game. After rushing for 99 yards against the Detroit Lions, Lacy had his first 100-yard rushing effort last week against the Baltimore Ravens.
Besides the poor running game, the Packers also had to fix their defense. Last year, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson rushed for a combined 409 yards during the two regular season meetings between the two teams. The Packers did improve their rushing effort in the postseason against Peterson, holding him to 99 yards. In the Divisional Round against the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards in the 49ers’ 14-point victory.
To try and fix the defensive woes, the Packers drafted defensive end Datone Jones with their first round pick in last year’s draft. Even with injuries to linebackers Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, and Brad Jones, the Packers now have the number one rushing defense in the NFL. This is a big step up from last season, where they ranked 17th in rush defense.
While the rush defense has been great, the pass defense still needs to improve as they are currently ranked 20th. Granted, the defense did look in trouble after giving up 412 yards to Kaepernick during their matchup last month. But against the Bengals’ Andy Dalton and the Lions’ Matthew Stafford, they started to show improvement by holding both teams to less than 300 yards passing.
With all of the recent injuries to the Packers passing game, they will need to rely on the running game to help take pressure off of Aaron Rodgers. If Lacy can effectively tear through the opposing defenses and have another 100-yard rushing game, it will allow Rodgers shots down the field with the play action pass. Also, with an effective running game, it will keep the Packers offense on the field longer and allow the defense to stay fresh. If the Packers want to contend in the playoffs, they will need the running game and defense to continue to impress.
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