Packers seeking more 'explosive' runs from young RBs
DENVER – Patience, patience, patience.
That’s what it’s going to require for everyone to get comfortable with the Green Bay Packers’ running game.
This much was evident after the Packers’ 20-17 loss to the Denver Broncos on Saturday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:
Ty Montgomery has a great deal more of it than he did when he first broke into the profession and showed it on a 25-yard run on his first carry in more than seven quarters of exhibition football.
Aaron Jones showed more of it than fellow rookies Jamaal Williams and Devante Mays and may have vaulted himself into the race for playing time early in the season.
Anyone who has more than a passing interest in how the Packers run the ball this season is going to need a lot of it because this thing is not going to be a smooth operation right out of the gate.
With one game left before the cutdown to 53, there are only a few nuggets of truth to go on when it comes to assessing the live-action running game.
Most of what the Packers know comes from their practices because coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t run the ball in exhibition games near what he wanted or needed to.
“I’m confident with what we’ve been able to put out there in practice and what we were able to put out in a game,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said after the game. “I’m not worried one bit about our run game.
“I think just timing, we were able to show what we’re able to do. When called upon today, I think that’s in a very positive light.”
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The run game did show some signs of life, albeit in a sample size McCarthy said he would have preferred to be bigger. Take away quarterback and wide receiver runs and the backs carried a combined 19 times for 96 yards (5.05 average) and a touchdown.
Most importantly, Montgomery and Jones each had an explosive run, defined by the Packers as 12 yards or more and in this case both 25 yards or more.
The most impressive came on the very first carry of the game when Montgomery waited for guard Lane Taylor to pull around center Corey Linsley, guard Jahri Evans and tackle Kyle Murphy and throw a key block.
Montgomery missed a week of practice with a leg injury and came into the game with just three carries for zero yards, but he blasted through the hole Taylor created, broke one tackle and dragged two other tacklers 8 yards on his way to a 25-yard gain
“He’s an explosive player with his speed,” Bakhtiari said. “And his patience is really nice. He’s really able to turn on the jets. The guy can run. He’s a wide receiver. With that you’re going to get some explosive gains from him, which is something that’s imperative.”
If the Packers are going to be a prolific offense, they’re going to need to make teams respect their running game. Knowing they’re going to pass it a lot more than they run it, the only way they’ll be able to accomplish that is with a few long runs each game.
Montgomery, who made the transition from receiver to running back in the middle of last year, came into training camp with a pumped-up body and a desire to learn the finer points of the position. The three biggest obstacles he has faced are the leg injury, a lack of carries and lax ball security.
None of the three appeared to be an issue Saturday night. Montgomery said he felt confident after just two days of practice last week, one in which he took only a few snaps in team drills.
“We work on this, we have walk-throughs,” Montgomery said. “When we do get reps we’re talking them out and make them count.”
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Still, it had to be a surprise even to Montgomery that his first live carry since the first quarter of the Philadelphia exhibition was a 25-yard run. The longest gain the backs had produced in the first two games was a 10-yard run by undrafted rookie Kalif Phillips.
“For sure,” Montgomery said when asked if 25-yard runs can be hard to come by. “But I expect that every time I touch the ball. Realistically, is that going to happen? No. But do I expect it? Yeah. I’m not surprised.”
In addition to his long run, Montgomery also had an impressive 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He plowed over the right side and reached the ball to the goal line just as the defense dropped him short of the end zone.
After three series and four touches, Montgomery was done for the night and probably the exhibition season. It’s likely he’ll be held out with a bunch of other starters in the finale against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night at Lambeau Field.
The Packers have other evaluations to make and at the top of the list are the three rookie running backs.
If the Broncos game is an indication of the way things are headed, Williams, up until this week the No. 2 back, would be destined for a third-down role and Jones would be Montgomery’s main backup.
Whether it’s his doing or just circumstance, Williams has not been able to get anything going on the ground in three games. He has carried a team-high 14 times for 30 yards, a 2.14 per carry average. He managed just 4 yards on three carries against the Broncos.
“I just look at it like my time is coming,” said Williams, a fourth-round pick out of BYU. “Once I start going and going then I’ll get my groove and go from there.
“I think I did great today, especially just the passing game, catching the ball out of the backfield, getting first downs and keeping the chains moving.”
Williams led the team in receiving with three catches for 46 yards, all on checkdowns. Twice it looked like the Broncos lost track of him because he was wide open when he got the ball.
Jones, who along with Mays had just five carries coming into the game, made the best of his most extensive playing time thus far. Entering the game last of the three picks, Jones busted off a 28-yard run on his first carry, a perfectly read inside zone play.
Jones headed left and then cut back to the right when the offensive line caved in the left side of the Broncos' defense and found himself running free into the secondary.
“When you’re patient you can see things open up,” Jones said. “That’s one key. You always want to get to things faster, but we have to learn to slow down a little bit. It’s complicated because it seems like it opens and closes a little bit faster (in the NFL) as well, so when you see the hole you have to hit it.”
In addition to that run, Jones had a 9-yard run up the middle that might have sprung for a much bigger gain had he not been pulled down by his facemask. The ensuing penalty resulted in a 24-yard advance.
Jones also had a 6-yard run wiped out when the Packers accepted an offsides penalty on the Broncos. He finished the night with six carries for 43 yards, a 7.2 average. He had no receptions.
“I felt like I got in a little rhythm and was able to show what I can do,” Jones said.
Mays and Phillips had the least success. Mays carried five times for 12 yards and Phillips twice for 6.