Packers confident their lackluster running game will break out soon
GREEN BAY – Ten carries into Sunday night’s game at San Francisco, Aaron Jones was sitting on exactly 30 rushing yards.
His 3-yard average was indicative of the Green Bay Packers' overall struggles running the football this season. The Packers are averaging only 79.7 yards per game on the ground, ranked tied for 29th in the NFL. Their 3.4-yard average on carries is also tied for 29th. For an offense with Jones and AJ Dillon in the backfield, starting this season ranked among the league’s bottom in rushing was not the plan.
The Packers easily could have veered from the run game with how it started out against the 49ers. Instead, they stayed committed to the ground. Jones finished with a season-high 82 rushing yards on 19 carries, increasing his average to 4.3 yards per rush.
Coach Matt LaFleur said the running game is “trending in the right way” as his team prepares for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“We just have to be more consistent,” LaFleur said, “in terms of our run efficiency. Because I think there are some really good moments where we’re able to spring some 10, 12 yarders. We haven’t really hit the home run yet, so we’re still looking for that.”
Jones had his longest run of the season on the final play of Sunday’s third quarter, rushing off the right side for 12 yards. It was his 11th run of the game, and it started a stretch in which he closed with nine carries for 52 yards – a 5.7-yard average.
It was also the only carry of at least 10 yards this season for the Packers.
In time, running backs coach Ben Sirmans said he’s confident there will be more big plays on the ground, if the Packers stay patient with the run game.
“That’s typically sometimes what happens with him,” Sirmans said. “He’ll get three yards, six yards, one yard, no yards, and then all the sudden he rips off a 40-yarder or a 30-yarder. That’s the one thing that hasn’t happened so far this year, but I think we had a little bit of that same thing happen last year.
“It’s just a matter of time before we start ripping off some of the long ones.”
Lazard retains special-teams roots
After the 49ers’ 68-yard kickoff return, a play that led to their first touchdown on the final play of the first half, Allen Lazard had enough.
It didn’t matter that Lazard was a starting receiver, and the starters are limited on special teams. In the halftime locker room, Lazard approached special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton with a request.
“Allen is a very, very, very good special teamer,” Drayton said. “His value to this team is in a lot of folds. So for him to understand the gravity of the situation and want to come back to his roots, as I say, it’s always welcome. So Allen, I can’t say enough good words about him.”
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Lazard played eight special-teams reps in the first two games. He had four special teams snaps Sunday night. It might not have been much of a difference in playing time, but Drayton said Lazard’s willingness to go on special teams is an example for his unit.
Lazard has played 66 percent of the offense’s snaps this season. Among players who do not play offensive line or quarterback, positions that typically never leave the field, only Davante Adams has played more. Only Jon Runyan Jr. and Royce Newman, a pair of linemen, have played more special-teams reps than Lazard.
“I’ve just always been the type of player that I want to be on the field,” Lazard said. “I want to contribute, I want to do whatever I can to help the team win. so when that situation popped up, knowing where our special teams unit is right now and the inconsistency, I guess, we’ve had on some of the units and play out of some individuals, I just felt the need to – knowing how much reps I was getting on offense – I had a few more reps left in me.”
Turner staying put – for now
Veteran Billy Turner is expected to start his fourth straight game at right tackle and if he manages to play all of his snaps at that spot, it will serve as a milestone of sorts.
Turner, who along with Elgton Jenkins has started games in at least three different spots on the offensive line during his time with the Packers, never managed to last that long at one position last year. Injuries resulted in him playing right tackle, right guard and left tackle and while he did start four straight games at right guard, he was moved to right tackle for the final 25 snaps of the last one.
Thus, if he makes it through the Steelers game, it will be the longest he has played at one spot since 2019, when he played all 16 games at right guard.
Despite injuries at left tackle and question marks at both guard positions going into the season, the coaches have left Turner at right tackle. Even when Jenkins missed the 49ers game with an ankle injury, they went with Yosh Nijman at left tackle instead of moving Turner.
But don’t ask him how it feels to stay in one spot because he’s not certain it will continue.
“I mean, I feel like you guys are asking me these questions like we're on Week 17 approaching the playoffs,” Turner told reporters. “We're only rolling into Week 4 so far, there 17 games to go. Anything could happen at any given point during the course of a season.
“I'm always going to be prepared to play a different position and that's just notoriously how my entire career has been. I hope I can stay at right tackle for every single game this year, but the reality of that is in the NFL, you just don't know and you can never bank on that actually happening.”
Injury report: Barnes on the mend
Inside linebacker Krys Barnes (concussion) was given the go-ahead to practice in pads Thursday, a pretty good sign that he will be back in the lineup Sunday.
Barnes suffered the concussion against San Francisco and sat out practice Wednesday. He was listed as a limited participant.
Jenkins, cornerback Kevin King (concussion) and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (hamstring) did not participate in practice. Running back AJ Dillon (back) was added to the injury report as a limited participant.
For the Steelers, outside linebacker T.J. Watt (groin) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (pec) were upgraded to full participant. Starting right tackle Chukuwuma Okorafor (concussion) did not participate for a second straight day.