Packers Run Their Way to the Playoffs
Packers’ fans across the nation could smell it in the air. Week 16 was approaching and all the Packers needed to do was beat the feeble Seahawks and have an NFC East foe stumble. But it was that uneasy feeling that fans had felt so many times before, that somehow the Packers and their young squad would find a way to stumble themselves and open the door for other teams to snatch up their playoff spot.
Three hours, 48 points, and a Giants loss later, the Packers were celebrating their first playoff berth under quarterback Aaron Rodgers. With just two weeks to play, the Packers looked like the hottest team in the NFC over the last seven weeks, all culminating in a completely dominating performance over the Seahawks in Lambeau Field.
Leading the attack for the Packers was the run game which looked as good as it had all season, scoring five times from three different backs. In fact, running backs accounted for all six touchdowns on the day, including Brandon Jackson’s 13-yard screen pass for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Jackson finally showed some flashes of greatness the Packers thought they were getting him when they drafted him in the second round in 2007. He scored on the ground twice in the third quarter and also caught two more passes out of the backfield to go along with his excellent blitz pick-up as a third down running back.
Ryan Grant continued to make his case for the last running back slot on the NFC Pro Bowl team, rushing for a team-high 92 yards that included a 56-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach in the second quarter. Grant rushed only 16 times in the blowout win, but made them count as he averaged over six yards per carry.
Ahman Green chipped in 29 yards of his own in mop-up duty and was rewarded with a goal line carry that he took to the endzone from six yards out for the Packers’ final touchdown. The stellar game from the backs and offensive line bumped the Packers up to 13th in the conference in rushing, as well as fifth in touchdowns. Not bad for a quarterback with over 4,000 yards and closing in on 30 touchdowns.
As good as Rodgers has been this season, the team knows all too well that the lack of a run game in January can be the difference between a playoff victory and a ticket back to Green Bay for the year. In 2007, Grant rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns in a playoff win over the Seahawks, but then flopped in the NFC Championship game against New York, rushing for just 29 yards.
Mock drafts all over (including mine) have the Packers addressing running back early in the 2010 Draft, but the numbers suggest that might not be such a concern after all. Grant ranks third in the NFC with 1,202 rushing yards and has averaged more yards per carry this season than Adrian Peterson and Brandon Jacobs. He hasn’t been a go-to back or someone that is going to get 25 carries per game, but he has more than kept defenses honest.
If the Packers are going to succeed in the playoffs, it will take more than Rodgers slinging the ball around 40 times. As the weather has declined, so has Rodgers’ completion percentage (59.3% in December). Their success will correlate directly with how Rodgers plays, but Grant will need to be in the mix as well.
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