McCarthy wants to rely more on run game

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
View Comments
  • James Starks underwent minor knee surgery Sunday
  • McCarthy pleased with Montgomery except for fumbles
Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy leaps over Dallas Cowboys safety Byron Jones in the first quarter at Lambeau Field.

GREEN BAY – At the same time his passing game has gone in the dumper, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy must now deal with the possibility that the one consistent producer he does have on offense, running back Eddie Lacy (ankle), won’t be able to help him much four days from now when the Chicago Bears come to town.

To make matters worse, Lacy’s backup, James Starks, underwent surgery Sunday for what a source said was an arthroscopic procedure on his knee, making it a long shot that he’ll be able to help out Thursday night. The source said his recovery may take several weeks but he was being considered "week to week" and a lot would depend on how the injury responded to physical therapy.

Though Starks might be back soon, McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson have decided not to take any chances this week and will sign practice squad running back Don Jackson to the 53-man roster, a source said Monday. McCarthy didn't have a true halfback available beyond Lacy in the 30-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night and had to rely on receiver Ty Montgomery to fill in as the backup.

MCGINNRodgers falls from ranks of greats

RELATEDHard for Packers to ignore their offensive mess

DOUGHERTYA new book on stopping Rodgers

It’s too early to tell whether Lacy will be able to rebound quickly enough from the pounding he put on his sprained left ankle to be a factor against the Bears. so Jackson will be signed.

“We’re working through the process, frankly,” McCarthy said of evaluating Lacy. “There’s a number of things going on still — testing and so forth and so forth. I really don’t have all the information. I think obviously the stress points of our game-day roster for Thursday will be the running back position and the corner position.

“Any time you’re dealing with your 53-man roster, how you’re going to forecast how you’re going to line up with the 46, you’ve got two positions that need attention and, frankly, these injuries that we have, they’re not of long-term IR (injured reserve) nature.”

From the offensive standpoint, there couldn’t be a worse time for the running game to come up short.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing possibly the worst football of his career and was responsible for two of the four turnovers the offense committed against the Cowboys. His final passing numbers might have looked fine — 31 of 42 for 294 yards and a touchdown with an interception (90.8 rating) — but they don’t reflect the number of off-target throws, poor decisions and general ineffectiveness of his game.

The only thing the Packers are doing well offensively is run the ball with Lacy, who carried seven times for 45 yards in the first half against the Cowboys and finished with 65 yards on 17 carries after wearing down in the second half. Starks had been completely ineffective until injuring his knee against the New York Giants (24 carries for 42 yards, 1.8 average) and Montgomery and Randall Cobb have a combined 10 carries for 18 yards this season.

Given the way the Cowboys played Rodgers — keeping both safeties back and sometimes dropping eight into coverage — the Packers desperately needed an effective run game. At this point, McCarthy’s best bet for helping Rodgers get back on track is to take pressure off him with running yards and Jackson could give him an option if Lacy's ankle doesn't hold up.

“The best way to make a quarterback successful is to start with the run game,” McCarthy said Sunday night. “And through the run game we have the ability to play-action pass and that carries into the drop backs. “So, hey, it’s not working as clean as we’d like.”

D’AMATO: Packers are in a real fix

INSIDERThumbs down to LaDarius Gunter

Thompson had the option of adding Jackson to the roster prior to the Cowboys game, but chose not to risk taking another player off the 53-man roster to make room. McCarthy was angry, a source said, after the team decided to create a roster spot for cornerback Demetri Goodson by releasing quarterback Joe Callahan.

McCarthy was under the impression that Callahan would clear waivers and be able to return to the practice squad, but that didn’t happen and he lost a player he was high on.

Signing the 5-10, 208-pound Jackson to the 53-man roster means the Packers will have to make a roster move, either by releasing a player or putting one on injured reserve. They can’t afford to cut a cornerback because of how many injuries they have there and they still have the belief that they’ll need all seven of their wide receivers at some point this season.

Thompson could risk cutting wide receiver Jared Abbrederis or rookie tackle Kyle Murphy or safety Marwin Evans to make room for Jackson. They also could put Starks on injured reserve, but since he isn't likely to be out more than a couple weeks, they probably won't take that chance.

“It’s a long year,” McCarthy said. “If you start making roster moves, it’s just really never one factor that factors other positions, because, frankly, you have players that you may have to jeopardize putting out there.

“Joe Callahan, the plan with Joe was to be here, and you take that chance, you accept that risk, and that’s what happens. So those are things that you have to weigh in. We had an ongoing three- or four-day conversation last week, and it’ll be the same here. We’ve just got less time to do it.

“It’s never, ‘Give me another running back.’ Or, ‘Give me another corner.’ Because it’s a long year. You have 53, plus you’re counting practice squad guys. That is the chess match right there. If you’re talking about chess match in the game of football, it’s managing your roster.”

Jackson's agent, Gary Leibowitz, did not return a phone call seeking comment, but prior to Jackson being signed after training camp, he said the Packers had been impressed with his client. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Nevada on May 6, Jackson spent six weeks in the team's offseason program, but suffered a broken jaw while away in July and was released before training camp started.

After the Packers put John Crockett on injured reserve and released Brandon Burks after camp, they re-signed Jackson. In three seasons at Nevada, Jackson carried 520 times for 2,318 yards.

Another consideration in the running game is that Montgomery did some good things on offense working both out of the backfield and as a fifth wide receiver. Montgomery was the offense’s most productive player, catching 10 of 12 targeted passes for 98 yards, several of which came with him starting in the backfield.

McCarthy has had Montgomery working with the running backs in practice and thinks the 6-0, 216-pound receiver can help him carrying the ball. But playing running back means being to consistently find holes, pass protect and hang onto the ball. Montgomery is meeting with the other backs and trying to pick up whatever he can.

"There’s a lot that comes from experience but we have some good running backs in the room, where I can learn from them, watch what they do, see what they’ve done, pick their brains a little bit about how they read things," Montgomery said.

Coughing the ball up twice, including one that was lost, doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, but McCarthy saw enough that he thinks Montgomery can help him in some capacity.  Whether it's as a back or a fifth receiver remains to be seen.

“I thought he did some good things coming out of the backfield,” McCarthy said. “To do the whole thing, that’s what we’re working toward because any time you can create more flexibility for a playmaker, especially with the state of our running back situation, that’s part of it. It will definitely help us.

“I was pleased with his performance, outside of he needs to take care of the football, which is No. 1. Obviously, he lost a fumble and had the other fumble on the sideline, but he did a lot of good things yesterday afternoon.”

View Comments