The Green Bay Packers have been searching all season for their offensive identity. In the last few weeks, they’ve taken a huge step toward finding it thanks to the evolving running skills of converted receiver Ty Montgomery.
Remember Kordell Stewart when he was nicknamed “Slash” with the Pittsburgh Steelers? Montgomery is the Packers’ slash. He doesn’t throw the ball, which the former college quarterback Stewart did. But the videotape of the Packers’ 38-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday shows that Montgomery has become a real running back to go with his skill set as a wide receiver.
That makes him an uncommonly versatile weapon for the Packers’ offense. He’s a player that coach Mike McCarthy can build his offense around for the rest of the season.
When Montgomery first moved to running back about a month into the season, it looked like a stopgap move because of injuries. He basically was a slightly bigger and stronger Randall Cobb lining up in the backfield. But McCarthy revealed this week that Montgomery has been practicing exclusively at running back for weeks now. And the Packers really need to consider making that his permanent position not just this season, but going forward.
Against the Seahawks, Montgomery had nine carries (for 41 yards) and four receptions (for 45 yards), a total of 13 touches. It’s easy to see that expanding to 20 touches or more in the coming weeks.
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What stood out Sunday was that Montgomery now is running like a real running back, which puts great stress on a defense. Defensive coordinators have to decide how to match up when he’s on the field. They know he’s probably going to line up at running back, but before the ball is snapped he's just as likely to motion out to receiver as to stay put. And he's a legitimate player at both positions.
Should the defense go to its dime personnel so it can cover him with a defensive back if he splits out? If it does that, it’s vulnerable to the inside run. If it goes nickel, it has a second linebacker to play the run. But then it will have to cover him or another receiver with a linebacker. That’s the kind of mismatch offenses look for in the passing game.
The play that really caught the eye Sunday was Montgomery’s one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. It wasn’t blocked especially well, and with the way James Starks has been running, he might have just barreled into the line and not scored.
But Montgomery did what a running back is supposed to do. After he planted his foot and turned up field, he lowered his shoulders and kept his feet moving on contact. That got him into the end zone even though there wasn’t a hole there. That’s a real running back run.
Montgomery also had a 17-yard run in the first quarter when he showed speed as he turned up field on the outside and a strong stiff arm that knocked safety Steven Terrell to the ground as he finished the run. That’s a running back move all the way.
McCarthy didn’t need to keep playing Montgomery on Sunday (30 snaps, 51 percent of the offensive total) because the Packers built a big lead. But if Montgomery had 20 runs, he might have hit 100 yards.
We saw some of this athleticism in Montgomery’s rookie training camp as a receiver in 2015, but then he hurt his ankle early in the regular season and it ended up wrecking his season. We saw another glimpse in the preseason this year when he blocked a punt at Kansas City.
He also returns kickoffs. He’s a guy who can make some plays and stress a defense with his versatility. Sunday’s game suggests we’ll be seeing a lot more of him before this season is finished.
Falling in line
Mike Pennel’s four-game drug suspension has cleared a lot of playing time for rookies Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry on the defensive line. The two came through in Pennel’s first game out.
Lowry, a fourth-round pick, actually played more than the first-rounder Clark (34 snaps to 25). But both played regularly, mainly as defensive tackles in the Packers’ nickel/dime personnel groups, and combined for six tackles.
Lowry had their biggest play when he sacked Russell Wilson on a third down in the second quarter on a stunt with outside rusher Clay Matthews. Lowry’s priority was to keep Wilson from breaking outside the pocket, and he got far enough up field to do that. Then when Mike Daniels pushed in the pocket from the middle, Wilson tried to duck out of the back end of the pocket, and Lowry was there to drop him for the loss and force the punt.
Lowry also shed a block and made the stop on a run play in the second quarter, something he hadn’t shown earlier in the season. It’s a sign the rookie has improved since September and October.
» Defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ game plan was to use Joe Thomas and safety Morgan Burnett as his inside linebackers most of the game. Jake Ryan, who normally is a starter there, played only 11 snaps. It was the right call. It allowed Capers to use Thomas as an occasional spy against Wilson’s scrambling, and for Burnett to match up more often against Jimmy Graham, who’s one of the most talented tight ends in the league. Capers basically was willing to give up some run defense to prevent Wilson and Graham from making big plays.
» Aaron Rodgers’ 66-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams was a great improvisation. If you look at the replay, all four receivers at or near the line of scrimmage ran short dig routes, and Montgomery from the backfield ran a short route over the middle. That sucked up all the defensive backs toward the line of scrimmage. But when Rodgers drifted out of the pocket to his right, Adams turned up field along the sidelines and was wide open behind cornerback Jeremy Lane. Rodgers’ throw was on the money, and the Packers had a quick 7-0 lead.
Former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offers his analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week during the season. Follow him on Twitter @EricBaranczyk1