The Lass Word: Time To Run The Ball

Smash mouth is the way to the Super Bowl from here.

Here we go.  The December/January home stretch.  The tradition continues.  Late season home games at Lambeau, played in bitter cold, snow flurries fluttering down.  The frozen tundra, the ultimate home field advantage.   

 

Loyal fans in heavy deer hunting parkas, breathing steam into the crisp winter air.  Opposing players crowded around sideline heaters, desperate to stay warm.  The TV networks showing close up shots of the downtown digital sign which displays the current temperature.  And most importantly, the Packers playing meaningful football games. 

 

The perception, for as long as I can remember, is that Green Bay teams are built for outdoor winter football.  They are built to run the ball down your throat when it gets too cold to throw it.  The legendary Vince Lombardi teams of the 1960’s were the epitome of this.  Of course, Lombardi’s teams ran the ball down your throat all the time, but particularly in December.  Images of ball carriers like Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Elijah Pitts, Donny Anderson, Jim Grabowski and Chuck Mercein rumbling over opponents still warm the hearts of the Packer faithful.   

 

But in this era of high powered and sophisticated offenses, combined with rules that favor the passing game, is it still true?  Do the Packers still switch to the running game when the mercury falls below the freezing mark?  I did some research on Green Bay’s running game in September through November, and compared it to the regular season rushing attack in December and January.  I restricted my study to the Matt LaFleur era, which began in 2019.   

 

What I found was that, under LaFleur, it’s not so much the Packers run the ball that much more in December and January.  But they do tend to run it better.  From September through November of the 2019 season, Green Bay ran the ball an average of 25 times per game, for an average of 103 yards per game.  That works out to 4.1 yards per attempt. 

 

In December of that year, the Packers ran the ball an average of 26 times per game, just one more rushing attempt than in the previous three months.  However, the team averaged 131 yards on the ground per game, increasing their yards per carry to 5.0.  That’s an impressive jump. 

 

The increase was even more prolific in 2020.  From September through November, Green Bay ran an average of 24 times per game, notching 3.8 yards per carry.  In December and January of that season, the rushing attempts increased by just three, to 27 per game.  But the gain per carry ballooned to 5.5.  The totals were a bit inflated by the phenomenal rushing game in the snow against Tennessee, which saw the Pack pile up 234 rushing yards.  That was the breakout game for AJ Dillon, who bulldozed for 124 of that total. 

 

Thus far this season, Green Bay is right on schedule.  Through these first twelve games in September through November, they have run an average of 26 times per game, racking up 4.1 per carry.  You can expect that number of attempts to be roughly the same in these final five contests, but once again, boosting up that per carry average will be critical to the team’s success.  It’s time to run the ball, and run it well. 

 

To that end, the remaining schedule looks favorable. Of the Packers five remaining opponents, only one ranks in the top ten in rushing yards allowed per game.  That would be Baltimore, which ranks number one, allowing just 84.3 yards per outing.  Among the other foes, the Browns rank eleventh, the Bears are 23rd, the Lions are 28th and the Vikings are 29th.   It could also be pointed out that Green Bay has not exactly set the world on fire in the rushing game this season.  They rank just 21st in rushing yards per game. 

 

The offensive line will have much to say about the chances for success on the ground.  With every week that goes by, I become more skeptical that the Packers are going to get any significant help on this unit.  Elgton Jenkins won’t be back.  In the words of Matt LaFleur, center Josh Myers “needs a little bit more time”.  And the drawn out delay for the season debut of David Bakhtiari is starting to make me think his knee is just not responding the way he had hoped.  And even if he does play, how good can we expect him to be?  No, I think Green Bay is going to have to run the ball with the O-line that they’ve got. 

 

The good news is, that makeshift front of Yosh Nijman, Jon Runyan, Lucas Patrick, Royce Newman and Billy Turner is holding up pretty well.  As mentioned, the team is averaging 4.1 yards per carry despite all the shuffling up front.  The tight ends, Marcedes Lewis, Josiah Deguara and Dominique Dafney are going to have to come through in the blocking department, and there’s no reason to think they won’t.  Interestingly, the rushing stats to date for running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are almost identical.  Jones has run for 564 yards in eleven games, while Dillon has motored for 543 in 12 contests.  Both are averaging 4.2 per carry.  Jones should be getting healthy again, and Dillon is having a breakout year.

 

Sunday night’s game against the Bears will be a good test.  Take note of how well the Packers are able to run the ball in this game.  It could be a good indication as to how this stretch run will play out. 

 

 

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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6 points

Comments (10)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Brockrice99's picture

December 09, 2021 at 03:06 pm

I know I am a little young to remember, but my parents recorded every game so I watched every old game from the 90's during the offseason. But Edgar Bennet and Dorsey Levens carried us to a Super Bowl, and I can see us doing that again, ride AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones to the Super Bowl.

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MarkinMadison's picture

December 10, 2021 at 05:32 am

Farve was dealing, and he had a lot of options. Here is a fun play:

https://packerswire.usatoday.com/2017/07/21/favre-fridays-td-pass-to-dor...

The team was banged up, but they had enough weapons to adapt and find ways to make it work. Bringing in Andre Rison down the stretch was a real blessing, but they also used the crap out of what they had. The best year of Don Beebe's career was the Packers' 96 Super Bowl run, and it wasn't even close.

Anyway, the point is this: adapt and use what you have.

2 points
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Hematite's picture

December 09, 2021 at 03:13 pm

Run the ball right down the Bears throats and just keep the pedal to the metal!!!

4 points
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Leatherhead's picture

December 09, 2021 at 03:23 pm

Run more, pass less.

What a great idea.

6 points
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flackcatcher's picture

December 09, 2021 at 04:26 pm

Run the Ball. Run to Daylight. Run to Victory....

1 points
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Starrbrite's picture

December 09, 2021 at 07:44 pm

Poetry flackcatcher—poetry.

-1 points
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NitschkeFromTheGrave's picture

December 09, 2021 at 09:20 pm

Ok, all the Geeky stat monkeys are going to hate this
Exploit their weaknesses.
Amplify our strengths
Run the ball, pass the ball.
Keep them guessing, Keep them guessing, Keep them guessing and grind.
Rinse and repeat

6 points
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CoachDino's picture

December 11, 2021 at 04:23 am

agree totally with your take less the stats comment. the stats help in determineing the game plan that usually incorporates your points. its the emotional crowd that has more trouble with flexing game planes. yes, non optimal weather, cold, snow, wind tilt run but seldom more than strenths, weaknesses and unpredictability. imo, sure id to see more runs,butttt not into stacked boxes and little misdirection. the pacckers have ar, his best attribute is presnap decisions, as much as i think he opts to pass when run is viable too oftjen. run more to burn time down the stretch, inside the 5 on early downs and on later downs, with ajd more no matter field position. game plan over clitches.

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SwedeBayPacker's picture

December 09, 2021 at 11:30 pm

"The frozen tundra, the ultimate home field advantage."

Well yes but actually no. You play yourself warm, you wear extra clothing and on the sidelines those ginormous heat fans are blasting. A few snaps and you're up. Sure, in the 60s playing in the cold was hell, but now? Eh, other teams seem to adapt just fine.

Now playing in sweltering heat, that's hell on earth. I believe it's harder for a cold team to adapt to the heat than vice versa.

Not that any of it matters to the Packers. We could probably play on the moon and win.

4 points
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TXCHEESE's picture

December 10, 2021 at 01:56 pm

Being able to run the ball when you need/want to is vital to championship football, but GB throws and catches better than most teams in the inclement conditions. That is a huge advantage, because most teams, can limit a rushing attack if they know that's the only option for the offense. I know Dillon was a beast in the Tennessee game last year, but the passing game was fantastic as well. Rodgers 21 of 25, 4 TDs. Being able to run up and down the field in those conditions stresses the opposing offense when they're trying to keep pace.

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