Green Bay Packers Could Become a Top Five Running Team

Packers Running Backs James Starks and Eddie Lacy

The Green Bay Packers have been known primarily as a passing team for the greater part of the last decade. Led by Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre, Green Bay’s passing offense has been ranked in the top ten in the NFL in each of the last 11 seasons.

But the same cannot be said of the Packers’ rushing offense. Over that same timeframe, Green Bay has had a top-ten running game just three times, including just once since 2004. The team has often ranked in the bottom half of the league in recent history, and has been ranked 20th or worse six times in the past 11 seasons.

The Packers started to address the struggling run game by drafting Eddie Lacy in 2013. That year, Green Bay finished with the seventh best running game in football, and followed that up by posting the eleventh most rushing yards last season. As Lacy enters his third year in the league, he could help make the Packers a top-five running team in addition to being a passing powerhouse.

The last time the Packers finished with a running game that was ranked that high was in 2003, when Ahman Green rushed for nearly 1900 yards. Based on the number of carries that Lacy gets, it is unrealistic to expect that much yardage from him. But nonetheless, the team as a whole could find itself with both a passing and rushing attack that rank in the top five.

Such a feat is not impossible, though it is difficult to accomplish. The last team to have both its rushing and passing offenses in the top five was the 2004 Kansas City Chiefs. While the odds are against them, the 2015 Green Bay Packers could succeed in doing so.

The passing attack has the potential to be top five every year. Rodgers is currently the best quarterback in the league, and the wide receiver corps can make a case that it is also the most potent in the NFL.

The rushing attack will need a little more work to be one of the five best in football. But Lacy leading the ground game gives the Packers a legitimate shot. He has been a model of consistency in his first two seasons, rushing for over 1100 yards and averaging ten rushing touchdowns a year.

The Packers have one of the better second string running backs in the league as well. James Starks has proven in the past that he can be a successful runner, and provided a nice complement of agility last season to Lacy’s bruising running style. If he can put up between 400 and 500 yards, the Packers would have a solid chance.

The improved play of the offensive line could also help the Packers accomplish this feat. Green Bay returns all five of its linemen from last season, and the line appears poised to be one of the best units that the Packers have had since Mike McCarthy took over as head coach. With them opening up lanes for Lacy and Starks, it is completely possible for the Packers’ yards per carry to increase.

Finally, the Packers have one of the most skillful scrambling quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers. Excluding 2013 when Rodgers missed eight games, he has rushed for at least 200 yards in every season that he has been a starter, including a career-high 356 yards in 2010.

Once extra yards from fullback John Kuhn and whoever wins the third-string running back spot are factored in, it is not unreasonable for the Packers to eclipse 2100 rushing yards as a team. If Green Bay can hit that number, they would likely be in the conversation of the top five running teams.

The Packers need a lot of things to go their way to become the first team since the 2004 Chiefs to accomplish this. With Rodgers at the helm, Green Bay will still likely have significantly more passing attempts than rushes. But McCarthy and the Packers have expressed a desire to maintain a balanced offense, so Green Bay could have more than the 435 rushing attempts they had in 2014.

Either way, the Packers will have one of the best overall offenses in the league. Rodgers’ continued dominance and Lacy’s development into one of the top young running backs in the league will give defenses a lot to worry about in the upcoming season. It will be difficult to have both dimensions of the offense rank in the NFL’s top five, but it is something that the 2015 Packers are capable of.

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Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .

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5 thoughts on “Green Bay Packers Could Become a Top Five Running Team

  1. Won’t happen for 2 reasons. First, with Rodgers at QB the Packers should remain very much a passing team. You simply don’t want to take the ball out of his hands, since he rarely throws INT’s unlike his predecessor. Second, Lacy isn’t capable of ripping off really big runs. He simply isn’t fast enough, like Ahman Green was. So instead of busting long TD runs like Ahman was likely to do, Lacy will get tackled. At his best, Ahman could probably be counted on for more than a few long TD runs. Lacy doesn’t have that in his arsenal, and could lose as many as 300 yds in a season because of it.

    1. Definitely agree that this will be incredibly difficult for Green Bay (or any team for that matter) to accomplish. Lacy by himself wouldn’t be able to lift the team to this level, but the team as a whole could do it. When the 2004 Chiefs accomplished this, their leading rusher had less than 900 yards. Lacy did get Green Bay’s running game as close as seventh in 2013 (albeit when Rodgers missed half the year). Highly unlikely, yes. But still not impossible.

  2. Now why does Green Bay need a top five running team? With Rodgers throwing the ball I don’t think the Pack ought to strive for both running and passing. When you have the best quarterback, you go for 3 yards on the run? Really?

    1. The Packers obviously don’t want to take the ball out of Rodgers’ hands more than necessary, but it is necessary to have balance. The 2011 season proved that. That year, the Packers had 157 more passes than rushes. This past year, Green Bay had 101 more passes than rushes. The 2014 team was a much more well-rounded team, and it’s not a coincidence that they went further in the playoffs. The team will continue to pass more as long as Rodgers is around, but it’s still important to run the ball. A top five running team isn’t necessary, but the team can’t survive on passing alone.

      1. I agree with balance to keep opposing defenses honest. But a top5 running team? I’d be satisfied with a top ten running team, let Rodgers work the offense to his advantage.

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