Analysis: Packers need more support for Ty Montgomery in run game

Eric Baranczyk and Pete Dougherty
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Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery (88) rushes against the Cincinnati Bengals in the third quarter on Sunday, September 24, 2017 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

The Green Bay Packers have to find a way to pick up their run game if they’re going to be a top-scoring offense and keep their quarterback upright the rest of the season.

Through three games, the Packers haven’t been the point-producing powerhouse they appeared they would be coming into the season. And one reason is that Ty Montgomery isn’t keeping defenses honest and slowing down the pass rush as a running back.

So it might be time for coach Mike McCarthy to start working in rookie running backs Jamaal Williams, Devante Mays and Aaron Jones to see if one of them runs well enough to warrant sharing time with Montgomery.

Montgomery showed last year that he can be a real NFL running back even though the Packers drafted him as a receiver. But it seems like he was a more natural and instinctive runner last season when injuries forced his move to the backfield and he was new to the position.

This year as a full-time back he seems to be indecisive and thinking more rather than running on instinct. He’s getting the yards that are blocked but nothing more. He’s not making tacklers miss or running by anybody.

In the Packers’ 27-24 overtime win over Cincinnati on Sunday, Montgomery averaged only 2.9 yards on 12 carries. That’s about his season average (3 yards a carry).

That isn’t the kind of run game that will help protect quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Even accounting for Rodgers’ two sacks when he scrambled and ran out of bounds for no gain, he still was sacked four times by the Bengals. That makes 11 sacks (not counting the two scrambles) in three games. That’s too many hits. If that continues, Rodgers eventually will end up on the injured list.

Montgomery brings an attractive element to the offense because of the match-up problems he creates as a receiver out of the backfield. Defenses can’t treat him as an afterthought in the passing game. But he hasn't punished them as a running back.

A couple runs in the fourth quarter are illustrative. On a first-down draw play early in the quarter he had a big hole to his left but danced momentarily and picked up only four yards. If he’d just exploded to the sideline he could have had more.

Three plays later, he took another handoff, danced again and picked up only two yards when a decisive cut would have gained a few more.

Through three games, Montgomery has played 204 of the Packers’ 228 offensive snaps. Fourth-round pick Williams has played 22, and the two other drafted backs, Jones (fifth round) and Mays (seventh), haven’t played on offense.

McCarthy no doubt is reluctant to play the rookies because backs play a key role in blitz pickup, and a mistake of inexperience there can lead to a sack or hit on Rodgers. Williams is clearly the most advanced of the three as a pass protector, and that explains why he has played a few snaps, whereas the others haven’t seen the field except for special teams.

Williams is averaging 4.2 yards on his five carries, which is too small a sample to know whether he should be playing more. And based on the preseason, Mays (230 pounds) might be the best runner of the three.

Don’t be surprised if one or both gets a look Thursday against the Chicago Bears.

Martinez’s big day

Blake Martinez had the best game of his relatively short NFL career Sunday.

The second-year linebacker finished second on the team in tackles (11), and his play against the run as the lone standard linebacker in the Packers’ nitro defense helped make the six-defensive-back personnel group work against a team with talented running backs.

Though the Bengals ran the ball well at times, overall Joe Mixon (3.4-yard average on 18 carries) and Jeremy Hill (3.3 yards on seven carries) didn’t control the game on the ground against the Packers’ undersized defense. Martinez played fast, and was all over the field.

Martinez also made one of the game’s big plays, on the first snap of overtime, when he knifed through the line and dropped Mixon for a two-yard loss. That set the tone for overtime and put the Bengals in an unfavorable down and distance (second and 12). Two plays later the Packers’ defense got a third-down stop and off the field.

Not much has separated Martinez from Jake Ryan, who didn’t play Sunday because of a hamstring injury and concussion. But with more play like Sunday, Martinez rarely will come off the field.

Extra points

» Based on the offseason signings of Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, it looked like the Packers’ two tight-end set would be one of their best personnel groups. But it hasn’t been so far. Bennett is a couple levels better as a blocker than any tight end the team has had in the last several years, but at age 30 he’s not the threat down the seam that he was as a younger player.

Kendricks actually looks like the better downfield threat. In the first quarter he drew a 33-yard pass interference penalty on a throw downfield. And he has a second big play on the first snap of the second half, when a scrambling Rodgers found him 17 yards downfield, and Kendricks broke cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick’s tackle and turned it into a 51-yard gain that set up a touchdown.

» Ahmad Brooks returned after missing last week because of a concussion and gave the Packers a little more pass rush than they had at Atlanta.

With Nick Perry (broken hand) inactive, the 33-year-old Brooks played 32 snaps at outside linebacker, some in rotation with Clay Matthews (49 snaps) and Kyler Fackrell (41), and others on obvious passing downs with all three on the field.  Brooks finished with two quarterback hits and a big sack.

The sack came on a power rush when he pushed through right tackle Jake Fisher and dropped quarterback Andy Dalton for an eight-yard loss. With about five more plays like that this season, his signing will have been a good one.

Grade card

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers’ feet saved the day with injuries at tackle and shaky pass protection. Grade: A-

Running backs: Ty Montgomery carried a heavy workload again (65 of 70 offensive snaps), but the production isn’t matching the volume. Grade: C

Wide receivers: Geronimo Allison (six catches, 20.3-yard average) shows tremendous potential, but this group is having trouble creating separation against man coverage. Grade: B-

Tight ends: Lance Kendricks (two catches, 52 yards) showed some big-play ability, but Martellus Bennett had another drop, his fifth in two games. Grade: B-

Offensive line: With right tackle Bryan Bulaga back for a little more than half the game, this group was better than last week. But Rodgers took four hard sacks, which is too many significant hits. Grade: C

Defensive line: Kenny Clark and Co. held up well in the the run game without injured Mike Daniels, but the inside pass rush still was lacking. Grade: B-

Linebackers: Solid play from Blake Martinez (11 tackles) and Ahmad Brooks (one sack, two quarterback hits) made up for a quiet day from Clay Matthews as a rusher. Grade: B+

Cornerbacks: Rookie Kevin King played well enough while matched against the ultra-talented A.J. Green to stay in the starting lineup, but Green’s day (111 yards, 10 catches) showed King still has work to do. Grade: C

Safeties: Rookie Josh Jones (three tackles for loss, two sacks) and veteran Morgan Burnett (five tackles, one tackle for loss) were the defensive stars of the day. Grade: A

Special teams: A bounce-back day, Justin Vogel had one shank but five big punts (49.3-yard average overall), and Trevor Davis averaged 14 yards on five punt returns. Grade: B


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