Running game all but vanished in victory

Posted at 10:47 AM, Dec 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-06 11:47:08-05
The Motown Miracle, as it is now known, was nothing short of a heart-stopping victory. The Packers were behind for every second of the sixty minute matchup against the Detroit Lions, and the game came down to one bomb of a Hail Mary because a game can never end on a defensive penalty.
Yet while quarterback Aaron Rodgers was creating an iconic moment that will be remembered in Packers lore for generations to come, the running game seemed to vanish into the background.
For the first three and an half quarters of the game, the Packers’ offense struggled to find its identity.
The offensive line was a shell of its former self. Crippled by injuries, the starting lineup had, for a big part of the game, been depleted down to Josh Sitton with the entire depth chart for the OL patching the holes as the offense tried to find traction.
As a result, the running game never seemed to get off the ground. Worse yet, when it stalled, offensive play caller Mike Clements seemed to abandon it in favor of trying to find that spark through Aaron Rodgers’ arm.
The Lions seemed to know that they could get to Rodgers by wearing him down and exhausting that line. And one of the ways they accomplished that was quickly neutralizing a tentative run.
The running game never seemed to settle into a rhythm nor did it find a leader among those trying to rush the ball. In fact, the leading rusher for the evening was none other than Aaron Rodgers, whose rushing numbers weren’t exactly stellar--27 yards on 4 carries.
His longest sprint was a 17 yard dash into the end zone.  Sadly, his efforts accounted for nearly half of the yards on the ground.
Starks tried to run one into the end zone but fumbled the ball instead.  Luckily an astute Randall Cobb saw it skitter out and fell on it for the first score of the evening.
The week before, Lacy was unceremoniously benched for a large part of the Thanksgiving game against the Chicago Bears to set up a touchdown for the other side. After all, a team can’t hold on to the ball is one that is just giving away free points to the opponent.
There is no question that Eddie Lacy has had an up and down year. Some games he’ll rush for over a hundred yards like he did last week against the Bears at home and the week before against the Vikings on the road.
Yet there are other games where fans have all but put his face on a milk carton because he has been a nonexistent entity in the game. Thursday night, he rushed for a mere four yards on five carries before he resumed his position in the dog house on the sideline.
Yet there appears to be more than poor performance factoring into Lacy’s limited touches. As ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reported, both Eddie Lacy and rookie running back Alonzo Harris both missed curfew in Detroit on the night before the game.
Curfew is not a new concept for anyone on the team. The days of hung over Johnny “Blood” McNally's or Max McGe'es rolling into the stadium before the big game after painting the town red are long gone.
All players whether they are the league’s reigning MVP or a lowly undrafted free agent straight out of Division III college ball must check into the team’s hotel at a set time in the early evening before any game.
It’s a hard and fast rule with few exceptions. The final meetings and preparations occur at that time, and every player regardless of pay grade is expected to attend.
While no one in the Packers organization is specifically acknowledging that Lacy was benched as a disciplinary measure, McCarthy didn’t deny it either in his press conference.
As Demovsky pointed out, when asked directly if the rule infraction had anything to do with Lacy’s limited reps, the head coach responded, “Could be. But those things we don't discuss in here anyway. It's something that we handled internally, and that was the outcome.”
We may never truly know what transpired. Lacy sat, but Alonzo Harris made the business trip to Detroit only to get cut hours before kickoff. If the Packers had factored Harris into any part of the running game, they had to quickly scrap that as the minutes ticked down toward the start of the game.
In lieu of Harris, the Packers elected to call up John Crockett from the practice squad to put his finger in the leaking dam and hope the rookie could get the job done despite the high chance he had never played a down of football with Rodgers and rest of the starting offense.
At the end of the game, the collective rush amounted to almost nothing. The coaches benched Lacy after his pass reception for minus-three yards.
Instead of leaning on Starks to step it up like has so many times or even handing the ball to John Kuhn is as well-versed in the entire offense as any seasoned veteran, the coaching staff tapped the untested Harris to be champion the run.
Needless to say, Harris only touched the ball five times for 22 yards. In fact if you take out Rodgers’ contribution to the running game, the Packers only ran the ball 20 times for 40 yards.
The running game didn’t just struggle in Detroit. It was completely nonexistent.
Was it because none of the rushers could find any traction and couldn’t get through the Lions’ defense? Or was it because Tom Clements gave up on the run before it could even get off the ground?
Or did the Packers leadership elect to cut its nose to spite its face and chose discipline at the expense of a running game?
The answer could easily be yes to any or all of these questions. And the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter.
The Packers gave up on the run in that last second victory and rely solely on Aaron Rodgers’ leadership, determination and raw talent.
The running game lacks an identity right now, and to muddy the waters even more, it appears that the team has brought in former Broncos running back and Wisconsin alum Montee Ball.
A fellow second round pick with Lacy in the 2013 NFL Draft, Ball has more game day experience than John Crockett and could factor in to either the 53 man roster or the practice squad.
If the Packers decide to ink a deal with him, there’s no way of guessing what role he will play.
There is no question the running game needs a gut check three fourths of the way through the season. Injuries, lack of productivity, mistakes, discipline issues and roster musical chairs have stymied it.
There’s no doubt it is not the same robust threat that it was two years ago when Lacy was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Regardless of its issues, there is still one fourth of the season for the running game to redefine itself and find a way to make an impact on the field.
Whether it is ready to accept that challenge and rise to the occasion is yet to be determined. Hopefully they can sort this issue out soon or it will be a last stretch of the 2015 season.