Let us look way back yonder. The year was 2003. Times were simpler. Cell phones could make calls and text, little more. No Facespace or Tweeter, or whatever they are called, existed yet on the interweb. Men and women courted each other through an ancient art called talking face-to-face. And finally, the Green Bay Packers were a run-based football team.
In this long ago year of lore, a stallion in his prime known as Ahman Green of Omaha was a workhorse for the Packers. He plowed through helpless defenders for nearly 2,000 yards that year. This was a number approaching O.J. territory. (Sadly, Green is shooting for O.J. territory in the criminal justice system these days.) Green Bay, with a Hall of Fame quarterback, was powered by Green and an offensive line that steamrolled over the gridiron for their punishing workhorse. This was football as the founders wanted it to be: Student body right, three yards and a cloud of dust, Lombardi Sweep, etc. The Packers were a run-based team.
Alas, the current futuristic times could bring the Packers into a situation somewhat like the ancient times of 2003. Back in the run-based days, teams with a strong running game had distinct advantages in the red zone, particularly near the goal line. Defenses were forced to respect an effective running game. Naturally, this opened up opportunities for more creativity and flexibility with pass catchers in short yardage scoring situations. In a year dominated by the run game, 17 touchdowns were scored by players of a non-WR position. The graybeards who lived through the 2003 season can recall several catches where defenses were forced to commit to stopping the run, only to see Bubba Franks, David Martin, Tony Fisher, Green, or Wesley Walls peel away for an easy TD catch on well-executed play in the red zone.
The 2017 season could benefit from a similar scenario. Despite losing a consummate Packer in T.J. Lang, they will still have a solid offensive line to pave way for a young stable of running backs led by Ty Montgomery. The running game has potential to demand respect near the goal line. The biggest difference will be the combination of tight ends acquired via the foreign concept of free agency. Marty Bennett and Lance Kendricks are poised to create a number of new options for getting the rock in the end zone: easier options. Bennett is an all-purpose talent that can plow a path with the offensive line or square up using his giant frame against defenders to haul in goal line lobs. Kendricks is a natural mismatch with his combination of size and speed anywhere on the field.
Compared to the 2014 season where the Packers struggled to execute in goal line situations, the 2017 squad has a much better chance on paper. Remember the conservative play calling in the NFC title game at Seattle? That was sensibly based on an entire season of coming up short, literally, in goal line situations. McCarthy made the calls based on previous performance in that game.
SIDE NOTE: We can dwell on the other occurrences from that day, but let’s not give Seattle any more unwarranted credit than that fair weather city, despite literally having crappy weather city, already gets. The whole 12th Man deal is a ripoff from Texas A&M. The Seattle stadium is designed by NASA to be excessively loud. The crowd isn’t special whatsoever. This city suddenly thinks its a hardcore pigskin town once they get a cute stadium and a decent team. No. They can’t even keep a basketball team. Shawn Kemp is fat and doesn’t know anything about birth control. Any legit sports city doesn’t lose a pro team, period. Once the ‘Hawks go 8-8 or worse with Jesus-Boy Wilson at the helm, the Starbucks crowd is going to bail, hard.
Going in to the season, the Packers have a great opportunity to cause headaches for the opposition in the red zone. Ultimately, it comes down to health and execution. From the Packers’ perspective, the possibilities in scoring near the goal line are wide open (for several receivers, hopefully).
________________John Piotrowski is a UW-Eau Claire alum, spending most of his life in western WI. He makes the trek east to Lambeau whenever possible. Follow him on twitter at @piosGBP.