Notebook: Running game contends with extra defenders

Nov. 17, 2013
ES_GPG_Packers vs. Giants_11.17.13
Packers running back Eddie Lacy shows his frustration on the sideline late in the fourth quarter Sunday. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Green Bay Packers’ run game is finding out how difficult life can be when Aaron Rodgers isn’t your starting quarterback.

For the second straight week, the Packers saw a defense load the box with extra defenders, and without the threat of the MVP quarterback gashing their secondary, the New York Giants succeeded in taking away what had been a resurgent run game powered by Eddie Lacy and James Starks.

Like last week’s loss to Philadelphia, the result was the same in more ways than just the 27-13 score. The run game was held to a season-low 55 yards on 20 carries. Individually, Lacy managed a mere 27 yards on 14 carries (1.9 yards per rush) with his longest carry going for only 5 yards.

The Packers’ rushing offense ranked third in the NFL as recently as two weeks ago, but the backfield has averaged only 2.6 yards per carry in the two games since Rodgers broke his collarbone against Chicago.

“It’s been two straight weeks now of defenses bringing an extra guy down, whether it’s a safety or a corner,” Packers right guard T.J. Lang said. “They’re bringing one more than we can block, and it’s tough, man. It’s a tough way to get yards when you can’t account for one guy. That’s not an excuse, though. You have to make a guy miss and you have to get north and south. That’s really two weeks in a row where we’ve seen the same things from defenses loading the box and making us one-dimensional with the passing game.”

The Packers tried to run the ball early, but to no avail. The only time the Packers managed to run for more than single digits came on the final play, a 12-yard rush from fullback John Kuhn.

Otherwise, the backfield didn’t have much real estate to work with. The line was playing with swing tackle Marshall Newhouse filling in for an injured Don Barclay at right tackle, but few gaps were open anywhere on the line.

Even on Lacy’s 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Lacy was quickly met by former Packers defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins at the line of scrimmage but powered himself into the end zone to cut the deficit to 20-13.

The Giants came in with an effective but not infallible run defense, allowing 102.8 yards per game, but the absence of Rodgers allowed them to stack the box with as many as nine guys at times.

“We couldn’t really get the running game going today,” Lacy said. “We knew it was going to be tough going into it. They were going to have a lot of people in the box, but we tried the best we could. We went out there and played hard for 60 minutes, but it just didn’t end our way.”

Still swinging

The Packers’ offensive line didn’t allow a sack for the first time all season, but that was of little consolation to Newhouse.

The 24-year-old tackle made his first start of the season in place of Barclay, who missed his first NFL game because of a knee injury sustained last week against Philadelphia.

Unlike the past two weeks when he was forced into the lineup due to injury, Newhouse had a full week to prepare. He wasn’t beaten for a sack like the two relief appearances, but still felt he allowed too much pressure on backup Scott Tolzien.

“Too many pressures today. There’s not much else to say,” said Newhouse, who was limited to primarily sixth offensive lineman duty until the recent rash of injury. “There’s not many excuses to be made, just too many pressures. My play has to come up and I know that. It sucks because I’m harder on myself than anybody on the planet. To play poorly at times, it kind of eats away at you, but I know the ability is there.”

Blooming Boykin

Lost in the Packers’ three-game losing streak has been the maturation of second-year receiver Jarrett Boykin into a legitimate threat downfield.

The 24-year-old Boykin has had at least 89 receiving yards in four of his five starts since Randall Cobb went down with a broken fibula. Against the Giants, he had six catches on eight targets for 91 yards, including a 52-yard reception to start the fourth quarter and set up Lacy’s touchdown.

After having only five catches for 27 yards his rookie season, the former undrafted free agent has 29 catches for 453 yards and a touchdown.

“There’s only one way to make plays on the field and that’s to get your opportunity,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “He’s had his opportunity this year. He’s made some big plays for us and continued to develop like everyone does. It’s all about opportunities. ... You have to have the opportunity and make the most out of it and he’s been doing that.”

Extra points

Finishing wasn’t the problem for the Packers’ defense against Giants, but the start left something to be desired.

New York amassed 212 of its 334 yards of total offense in the first half as the Packers’ defense struggled to find stops, particularly on a pair of fourth-and-short runs.

Once the second half rolled around, the Packers began to generate more pressure in the middle and came through with a three-and-out stop when it needed it the most, down 20-13 near the start of the fourth quarter.

On the first offensive play, however, Tolzien threw the pick six to Giants defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul and sealed the Packers’ fate.

“You just have to look yourself in the mirror at the end of the night and ask yourself, ‘Did you do everything you possibly could to get this win?’ I don’t feel we did that today,” said rookie defensive lineman Datone Jones, who came within inches of two sacks of Manning. “We’re down right now, but we’re going to bounce back. I know we will.”

■ The Packers have managed to turn the tide of many games by executing the occasional fake special teams play, but the Giants were up to the challenge Sunday.

After New York was flagged for running into Packers punter Tim Masthay on fourth-and-12 from the Giants’ 48 in the third quarter, the Packers decided to work a direct snap out of a punting formation to safety M.D. Jennings, who was taken down a yard shy of the first down.

On the ensuing drive, the Giants drove 63 yards to extend their lead to 20-6.

“It’s something we worked on. We didn’t know when we’d run it, but today was the day,” Jennings said. “It was fourth-and-long and after the penalty it was like we’re going to go for it. He called the play.”

■ Johnny Jolly left at halftime with the nagging groin injury that held him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday and did not return. He was replaced by fourth-year veteran C.J. Wilson.

The Packers’ run defense held up OK without Jolly as the Giants rushed for only 27 yards on 11 second-half carries.

Reserve cornerback James Nixon also left at halftime with a knee injury and didn’t return.

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