The Green Bay Packers have decided that enough is enough. After three seasons of steady decline from their running backs, they got two in the 2013 NFL Draft – Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, hoping that the promising pair can do much more with the rather steady number of rushing calls over the years than Ryan Grant or Cedric Benson could.
The fact that the Packers chose not to re-sign those two players speaks for itself. Benson, who had three 1000-yard seasons with the Bengals before moving to Green Bay, played in only five games last season, amounting to only 248 yards. Ryan Grant, who had two consecutive seasons of over 1200 yards in 2008 and 2009, hasn’t been able to return to that level. He started last season with the Washington Redsksins but had only one rushing attempt before being released. He was picked up by the Packers, playing in only four games.
The leading rusher for Green Bay was Alex Green with 464 yards. James Starks was supposed to be the number one guy, but he got in to play only six games before ending the season, finishing with 255 yards. The team’s second leading rusher? Aaron Rodgers, with 259 yards on 51 runs, helping the team actually look a little bit better when it comes to the stats, ranking round around the borderline between the bottom third of the NFL.
Despite their lack of success for the past few years, the Packers’ play calling hasn’t changed. They’ve averaged 416.3 carries a season since 2010, the year after their last 1000-yard rusher (2009), when they ran 438 plays on the ground. Their DVOA suffered considerably over the last few years, probably showing the greatest erosion in their RB’s quality, but their numbers were still around the middle of the pack thanks to one thing – their passing game, which allows for some openings despite the mediocre quality of their running backs.
With Lacy (Alabama, second round pick) and Franklin (UCLA), the Packers think they finally have the kind of players they’ve been missing for quite some time; players who can make a short gain into an explosive play, and be guys that run over players in the red zone and especially the goalline. They did terribly when it came to second-level yards (5-10 yards from the line of scrimmage) and open-field yards (beyond 10 yards), finishing 29th and last respectively.
College success doesn’t promise anything in the pros, yet Lacy’s ability with the Crimson Tide, running for 1322 yards last season and scoring 17 touchdowns (second in the SEC), while Franklin’s incredible year with the Bruins (1734 yards, 13 touchdowns), is getting the Packers’ staff excited about what they have in the backfield for the first time in quite a while.
It doesn’t mean we’ll be seeing them calling 30-35 running plays in a game, but it does mean Aaron Rodgers should have a lot less pressure on his shoulders to make plays, while seeing openings and less pressure than he has in the past, giving a different look to the Packers’ offense that might have needed a little change in order to be the number one attack in the NFL once again.