As the Green Bay Packers welcome the best running back in the NFL back to Lambeau Field on Sunday, the home team will trot out Alex Green (pictured), James Starks, Johnny White, and DuJuan Harris.
That’s not entirely fair. Starks has some lingering name recognition from his performance in the 2010 postseason. But the running game in recent years has been more of a weakness than a strength in Green Bay, something the Packers win with not because of but in spite of.
So why is the running game so bad? Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette blames G.M. Ted Thompson for not making the position a priority. But recent history has proven that good running backs can be obtained even when running back isn’t a priority, with mid-round and low-round and no-round picks becoming great tailbacks.
The truth could be that it’s more about the scheme the Packers run, with short passes used as the equivalent of running plays and running backs relied on more heavily to pick up blitzers than pick up yards.
It’s impossible to blame the failures of the run game on Thompson without delving completely into whether and to what extent coach Mike McCarthy is developing the running backs that Thompson provides. Also, how much time and effort is devoted to run blocking? With one of the best quarterbacks in the league running the passing game, are the Packers spending too much time working on ways to protect him and not enough on opening running lanes?
Regardless, looking at the ways Thompson has acquired running backs is only part of the story. Every year, college programs produce dozens of men who can move the chains, if they are given good blocking — and if they can hold on to the football.