The Crescent and Cheese

where east meets the midwest

Please Stop Complaining About the Running Game

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It’s a common refrain. Even during yesterday’s incredible win, it was a common refrain: “Hey Mike, run the ball!” If McCarthy called a drive with one or two running plays in it, my twitter feed would blow up with calls to run the ball. You know what? I get it. I know why fans want McCarthy to run the ball: it’s incredibly important to suck the defense in and “keep them honest.” The play action is an incredibly important part of this offense, but that’s what the running game is. It’s a means to an end, not an end itself. The assumption that the Packers have to run the ball functions on the following assumption: there is some sort of monolithic running game, and there is some sort of homogeneous passing game. NFL football, with the brilliant minds that run it, is not like that.

This post is predicated on the following assumption: for the Packers, the running game is a pretense to set up the passing game

Passing in the NFL has become a refined art. There are many kinds of passing games. The route combination one calls is extremely important. Short slants and outs are not the same as deep comebacks and sevens. Each route combo attacks another facet of the defense. Thus, there are also route combos and pass plays designed to do what the running game does. That’s what the West Coast Offense is designed to do. We saw it last week on the interception. The whole situation was caused by the defense getting “sucked in”; that is, the safety came running to the line of scrimmage to stop Jordy’s route. It would have been a huge play had Jones simply completed his route instead of being a gentleman and giving way to the safety (it would have become an undesigned pick play).

We saw it today again, when the quick pass to Nelson was very aggressively attacked by the cornerback and stopped for a one yard loss. The defense starts playing closer to the line of scrimmage. When you start running short slants, digs, ins and outs, etc against the defense from all kinds of formations and all sorts of packages, it will suck the defense in. The corners and safeties will begin reacting to the first cut, will be ready to attack the route and make a tackle. Most importantly, they’ll be expecting the play to end in three steps. Mike used this incredibly well last week. Coupled with the run, the New England defense was ready to get beat deep, and the opportunity was there more than once.

This kind of passing attack also has an effect on the pass rush. We saw it last week in the Giants/Eagles game. The linemen stopped rushing. They gave a push and got in the passing lane. Everyone expected the ball to get out in three steps, and so they made it their primary goal to block passing lanes. The West Coast Offense and its derivative offenses are designed to do what the running game does when the running game is stalled. And let’s not kid ourselves: yeah, this wasn’t Detroit or Atlanta by any means, but B-Jax averaged 2.2 ypc, Nance 3.6, and Kuhn 3.7. The longest gains for both Jackson and Nance came in “garbage” time. The line played ok in the running game, but it wasn’t the decisive factor.

What we should get upset about is not Mike abandoning the run but rather what I call his “too cute” syndrome. McCarthy often calls plays against himself. He ends up thinking too much about things. The numerous runs from the shotgun near the goal line is one example. We shouldn’t be upset about him moving away from the run; we should be upset when he gives up on the goals of sucking the defense in and keeping them honest. There were times in the game when McCarthy became too aggressive too fast. When one hits a big play down the field, one sometimes need to reset. The defense drifts away from the line and the linemen start rushing again. In those situations, one needs to start throwing short and running again. There was a particular drive in the second quarter (the first one, in fact) when this was particularly true. McCarthy got too cute. When his first deep attempt failed, he should have gone back to the running game/short routes. Instead, he probably thought that was the conventional thing to do and winged it deep again.

In summary, please stop complaining about the running game. The running game is a means to an end; it is not an end in and of itself. It is the most sure way of reaching that end and is preferable to be sure, but with the current Packers offensive line, one is never sure what one will get. With the great receivers and MVP candidate at QB, however, short, quick routes are another good way to go. We should also note that the same thing that enables McCarthy to run the ball (the belief that Rodgers can convert any down and distance) is what leads him to call three straight passes. I am not saying we shouldn’t run at all, but that the running itself is not good enough. We shouldn’t complain if McCarthy runs once or twice on a drive. If, however, he abandons the idea behind the run, the very important roles of the running game, then we should complain.


Written by AdmiralPrice

December 27, 2010 at 9:02 am

One Response

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ashu Siralis, Ashu Siralis. Ashu Siralis said: Freshly posted on The Crescent and Cheese: Please Stop Complaining About the Running Game #packers […]

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