Let me put on my Captain Obvious pants on. The Green Bay Packers aren’t going to win football games by running the ball. If they are going to win, it is going to be because of Aaron Rodgers. But having some type of run game will only benefit Rodgers and the Packers potent passing attack. So, heading into this season, the Packers running game will be worth keeping an eye on.
Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst opened some eyes when he kept only two running backs when the Packers cut down to a 53-man roster. After the dust settled, only Jamaal Williams and oft injured Ty Montgomery were the only two players left on the Packers active roster. You can add second year running back Aaron Jones to that list, but he will be sitting out the first two games due to a suspension. Gutekunst did add former Eastern Michigan running back Darius Jackson later in the week. But in all probability, Jackson will lose his roster spot once Jones comes off his suspension.
Going into the season opener with an oft-injured running back (Montgomery) and another that has been with the team less than a week seems pretty risky. Even Williams, who appears to be the best option of the three, battled some injuries last season.
The Packers are a pass first offensive team. There is good reason for that with having arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. Yet, even with having arguably the best quarterback, a great passing attack can still be helped out by having some type of ground game. Williams isn’t the type of home run hitter that Jones is, but he does grind out the hard yards needed. When Jones gets back in week three, the Packers will have the best of both worlds. But until then, Mike McCarthy will be hoping that Williams can carry the load and most importantly, stay healthy.
Although Montgomery has shown glimpses after moving from wide receiver to running back, but he is still a relative unknown. The reason for that is his penchant for being injured. Going into last season, Montgomery was expected to be the Packers lead running back. But once again he went down with an injury, a wrist injury, which forced him to miss most of the season. The label “injury prone” will follow Montgomery into this season and he will need to show that he can stay healthy. If he were to get injured in the first two weeks, the unknown Jackson will need to step up. That is something McCarthy and the Packers offense really don’t want to see.
Something else to keep an eye on is the Packers no longer have a fullback on their active roster. Gutekunst decided to part ways with former sixth round draft pick Aaron Ripkowski during this year’s final cut downs. Ripkowski took over for former folk hero John Kuhn at fullback when the Packers cut ties with Kuhn after the 2015 season.
Ripkowski wasn’t a vital part of the Packers standard offense, but he did play a big role in short yardage packages. McCarthy, which drew the ire of Packers fans, loved utilizing the fullback in short yardage packages. When Kuhn was the starting fullback, he would get his number called frequently in short yardage situations. But now that the Packers no longer have a fullback, it will be interesting to see how McCarthy calls formations in those situations. Just to note, the Packers do have Joe Kerridge on their practice squad, so there is a strong chance he could be promoted during the season.
A lot of NFL teams that don’t carry a fullback on their roster line up tight ends in the backfield in short yardage situations. But it appears that the Packers don’t have the personnel to do that. The Packers are currently carrying four tight ends on their roster, Jimmy Graham, Lance Kendricks, Marcedes Lewis, and rookie Robert Tonyan. Lewis is the best blocker of the bunch, but he is best used as an inline blocker, not a moving one. Kendricks is the most capable of lining up in the backfield, but blocking isn’t one of his strong suits. Tonyan will be asked to step up on special teams with Ripkowski now gone, but his blocking ability is pretty unknown.
There is a possibility that McCarthy could utilize one of the backup offensive linemen as a fullback in short yardage situations. The most probable player to do that is backup guard Lucas Patrick. Still, utilizing an offensive lineman as a fullback doesn’t guarantee success. If the Packers face any short yardage situations, it will be very interesting to see how McCarthy’s handles it.
When it comes to their red zone offense, the unknown running game really shouldn’t come into play. Rodgers is one of the best red zone quarterbacks in NFL history. When the Packers get down into the red zone, the best chance to score should be placed in the hands (or in this case on the arm) of Rodgers. With Graham now in the fold, the Packers shouldn’t be too worried about running the ball in when they get near the end zone.
Still, with so much change and carrying just two running backs that have experience in the Packers offense, it will be worth watching how the Packers do in the run game. Williams might very well be able to step up and carry the load, but if he gets dinged, things will get interesting. If the Packers are put in that situation, the best thing to do would be just let 12 take control and do what he does best.