Think back to two moments from the 2005 NFL Draft: Cedric Benson’s tearful outburst when he was chosen No. 4 pick overall by the Chicago Bears, and Aaron Rodgers sitting in the green room for hours, waiting to hear his name called.
Rodgers did not cry, or at least ESPN did not capture any tears in what had to be a difficult moment. But good things come to those who wait, and Green Bay selecting Rodgers 24th overall was a blessing in disguise.
Seven years later, Rodgers and Benson unite for what will likely be the starting backfield in Green Bay’s offense.
Their first game together last Thursday night in Cincinnati was successful, with Benson carrying the ball six times for 38 yards. However, the Packers’ leading rusher was actually Rodgers with six carries for 52 yards and a pair of touchdowns on scrambles.
When Rodgers recently said the Packers need to show they can run the ball, it is unlikely he had himself in mind. His stance has taken on a much different tone from July when he replied “Do we need to?” when asked about being able to run the ball.
His initial response was the right one. After one of the most prolific offensive seasons in NFL history, why would you start delegating to a player with a checkered past like Benson? Coach Mike McCarthy has history and great results on his side to avoid just that.
Green Bay’s unique QB-driven offense
Quarterbacks want the ball in their hands, and McCarthy puts the ball in Rodgers’ hands often.
Rodgers averages 39.4 drop backs per start (passes, sacks and runs), which is the second highest average in NFL history (min. 60 starts). As shown in Table 1, only Daunte Culpepper has averaged more.
Brett Favre averaged 38.6 drop backs per start in two seasons under McCarthy (2006-07). Running this type of offense in Vince Lombardi's era would have been blasphemy, but football has evolved dramatically.
Packers don’t need no stinkin’ run game
The Packers' rushing issues the last four season aren't a secret. But does this matter in today’s NFL?
If you have an elite quarterback, you can consistently win without a running game. Whether it’s rushing for under 100 yards or not exceeding 30 carries, the teams with the very best quarterbacks are the ones that still win those types of games.
Of course, what separates Rodgers from the other elite quarterbacks is the way he takes matters into his own hands in the running game, scrambling for yards to inflate his team’s rushing statistics. That is why it’s good to remove quarterback carries from a team’s rushing stats to get a better sense of their intended ground game (handoffs only).
When you remove Rodgers from the stats, the results of Green Bay’s rushing offense are not pretty. In his 68 career starts (including playoffs), the Packers only average 21.9 carries for 88.2 yards (4.02 yards per carry). In spite of the running game, their record is 45-23 (.662).
In fact, no matter what Green Bay does on the ground, Rodgers usually plays at a high level, as seen in Table 2.
When Green Bay rushed for a season-high 138 yards against Oakland last year, it was the first game all season where Rodgers did not have a passer rating over 100.0. It was also the first time he did not complete at least 60 percent of his passes. Rodgers was 17 of 30 (56.7 percent) with a 96.7 passer rating.
So much for the “running game opening up the passing game” theory.
If the Packers fail to even average 3.0 YPC (13 games), Rodgers still has a 103.6 passer rating. When they average over 5.0 YPC (11 games), which is supposed to signify great rushing, Rodgers has a 100.8 passer rating.
Initial evidence points to the running game and passing game being independent of each other. If an offense wants to be one-dimensional, it can be successful as long as they have the right talent and mindset for it like Green Bay.
Why do you think many of the best running backs — such as Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Chris Johnson — have been on some of the worst offenses in the league in recent years?
Likewise, we keep seeing teams excel in the passing game without any real threat of the run, such as the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The Packers have been doing it for years under McCarthy.
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