Backing into it
Seasons in which Packersí running backs touched the ball fewer than 50 times in the opening two games.
|37||2000||Ahman Green (30)|
|39||2009||Ryan Grant (34)|
|39||1991||Darrell Thompson (21)|
|40||2012||Cedric Benson (33)|
|41||1956||Howie Ferguson (21)|
|41||1989||Brent Fullwood (26)|
|49||1990||Brent Fullwood (23)|
|49||2011||James Starks (24)|
After the season opener, Packers fans could be forgiven for thinking coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements had discovered a new method for rendering a player inactive; i.e., put him in at running back.
On Thursday night, those two members of Green Bayís brain trust, along with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, found multiple ways to involve the men who carry the football for a living.
Cedric Benson, John Kuhn and yes, even Alex Green got touches in the Packersí 23-10 win over the Bears at Lambeau Field. All three figured in plays from scrimmage on Green Bayís three first-half scoring drives.
In the opener, Benson was the only Packers back to run the ball. The former Bear rushed nine times for a meager 18 yards.
Those nine rushing attempts were the fewest ever by the teamís running backs in a season opener. Darrell Thompson (6 tries), Keith Woodside (3) and Vince Workman (2) in 1991 had held the previous record.
As for the passing game, Benson and the backs didnít catch a single throw. Thatís hard to do when a group is not targeted even once.
That lack of catches is news. In Green Bayís previous 1,099 regular-season games dating to 1933, the team failed to get a pass to a running back in just 20 of those contests.
Only twice previously had the teamís backs been shoutout on opening day. In 1949 the club completed four passes in 13 attempts, all to the Bears. In 1957, ends Bill Howton and Gary Knafelc were the only two to shag balls in the first game played at Lambeau Field (then City Stadium).
Backs in Green Bay have always been expected to do more than run. In the Packersí first league game in 1921, Almore (Buff) Wagner turned a throw from Curly Lambeau into a gain of about 20 yards as he set up Art Schmaelís fourth-quarter TD run in Green Bayís 7-6 win over the Minneapolis Marines.
Against the 49ers, no back had an opportunity to earn yards after the catch. No back could slow San Franciscoís pass rush with a well-timed reception on a screen pass.
All that changed against the Bears. Green Bay came out running and continued to move on the ground throughout, especially in the first half. It realized anew that those behind Rodgers can catch as well run.
Benson was the workhorse. In the first half, he rarely came out. He was in on 26 of the Packersí first 35 offensive plays.
On his fifth carry, Benson gained 8 yards giving him more yards rushing (22) than he had against the 49ers.
Then, on Green Bayís fourth drive, Rodgers threw to Benson on back-to-back plays. Bensonís first catch came on the Packersí 77th offensive play of the season. Only in 1957 (77th play) and 1949 (136) had the team not gotten a pass into the hands of a running back earlier.
A challenge gave the team new life, and Rodgers threw a 4-yarder to Kuhn to set up Mason Crosbyís first field goal. Benson and Kuhn caught short passes on the Packersí next drive as well. Green got his first carry of the season, and Tom Crabtree finished the advance with a pass from punter Tim Masthay on a fake field goal.
Defensive back Tramon Williams intercepted Jay Cutler to give Green Bay one last shot before halftime. Kuhn converted a third-and-one and later took a screen pass to the Bearsí 17 to set up a Crosby field goal that put the Pack up 13-0.
Benson, Kuhn and Green combined for 31 touches Thursday. Combined with the nine Benson had against the 49ers, it was enough to avoid setting the team record for fewest touches by a group of running backs in the first two games of a season.
Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of ďGreen Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,Ē a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.