John Kuhn turning touches into touchdowns
When it comes to touching the football in the NFL, there are two camps: those who lobby for more opportunities and those who quietly maximize the limited opportunities they do receive.
Count John Kuhn among the second group. For as little as he is utilized from scrimmage, the Packers fullback has a nose for the end zone.
Kuhn had two touches Sunday, including one for a score in Green Bay’s 17-3 win at San Francisco. He and Eddie Lacy, who has far more carries, are tied for the team lead with one rushing touchdown apiece.
Kuhn has been a patient man since joining the Packers in 2007. He has played in 127 regular-season games, but could be mistaken for a guard or tackle for as infrequently as he touches the ball (not to mention how well he blocks).
He didn’t have one rushing attempt his first year in Green Bay despite playing in all 16 games. He settled for two receptions that covered 7 yards.
After carrying eight times in both 2008 and 2009, Kuhn enjoyed his most productive season. He rushed 84 times for 281 yards in 2010.
In the years since, his workload has ranged from as many as 30 rushing attempts (2011) to as few as 10 (2013). He has caught as many as 15 passes in a season to as few as the two he did starting out.
Through it all, he hasn’t neglected the end zone. His 1-yard run Sunday was the 22nd touchdown of his career.
No back in Packers history — be it a running back, halfback, fullback, blocking back or quarterback — has scored at a more frequent pace from scrimmage (minimum 100 touches) than Kuhn.
The timing of his most recent 6-pointer was excellent. Midway through the third quarter, Kuhn plowed into the end zone to give Green Bay a 14-3 lead.
In a game in which points were at a premium, that score gave the Packers a two-possession lead. With the way the 49ers’ offense was struggling, Kuhn’s work made a San Francisco comeback less than likely.
After capping one drive with a touchdown, Kuhn began the next with an 8-yard reception from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That advance ended with a 31-yard, Mason Crosby field goal and a 14-point lead late in the third quarter.
As a fullback, Kuhn has blocked for some productive Packers runners. He was there for Ahman Green’s final season in 2009, and he cleared the way for Ryan Grant (2007-12).
Lately, of course, he has created daylight for Lacy and James Starks. But based on the frequency with which he touches the ball and reaches the end zone, Kuhn has scored touchdowns at a greater rate than any of those four.
In his Packers’ career, Kuhn has carried 188 times for 574 yards (3.05 average). He has caught 76 passes for 509 yards (6.7).
That’s 22 touchdowns in 264 opportunities. The fullback scores a touchdown on average every 12th time he touches the ball.
That’s a good number to take to the field. Lacy (26.5), Green (32.4), Grant (36.1) and Starks (65.6) can’t compare. Johnny Blood (13.8) comes closest based on the four seasons of his Packers career during the 1930s for which official statistics are available.
It goes without saying that if Kuhn were to tote the ball more often, his average would get worse. Perhaps he might even fall behind Starks or Nate Simpson (170.0) who brings up the rear.
What cannot be assumed is that Lacy, Green or others would better Kuhn’s average given a lighter workload. His situation is unique (so few touches over so many years) that it is difficult to find someone to whom he compares.
William Henderson (23.3 on 443 touches from 1995-2006) might come closest. But Henderson was involved more as a receiver, having caught 320 passes to Kuhn’s 76.
Statistics aside, the two men do have some things in common. Both were fan favorites and both played the position — Henderson at 35 and Kuhn at 33 — longer than most.
Kuhn’s touchdown came on his first carry of the season. Since 1930, 18 Packers have scored a TD on their first run of a season. Kuhn (2009, ’14, ’15) is the only one to have done it more than once.
Eric Goska is a Packers historian. Email him at email@example.com.
Overcoming Low T
Since 1932, Packers backs with the lowest touches per touchdown ratios (minimum 100 touches) on plays from scrimmage.
Ratio ... Player ... Touch ... TD
12.0 ... John Kuhn ... 264 ... 22
13.8 ... Johnny Blood ... 152 ... 11
14.0 ... Tobin Rote ... 420 ... 30
14.3 ... Lynn Dickey ... 129 ... 9
15.1 ... Babe Parilli ... 106 ... 7
16.5 ... Bart Starr ... 247 ... 15
16.5 ... Paul Hornung ... 1,023 ... 62