The Green Bay Packers’ makeshift running game is making history.
Green Bay’s run-by-committee approach entered its third week in a 31-26 loss Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts at Lambeau Field. While yards were there for the taking, the team’s lack of a go-to back again was on display for all to see.
Hit hard by injuries, the Packers have had to get creative in the backfield. Having lost Eddie Lacy to an ankle injury and minus James Starks (knee), the team has become more diversified when toting the ball.
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Against the Bears, receivers Ty Montgomery (60 yards) and Randall Cobb (21) produced the majority of the team’s 103 rushing yards. In Atlanta, Aaron Rodgers (60) and Aaron Ripkowski (34) accounted for most of Green Bay’s 108.
Sunday, Montgomery (53) and Rodgers (43) led the way against the Colts. The two gained 96 of the Packers’ 116 yards on the ground.
It was Green Bay’s third straight game with more than 100 yards rushing. The team surpassed that mark only twice in its first five games.
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Rodgers and Montgomery each had a pair of long runs against the Colts. Rodgers had scrambles of 12 and 23 yards on Green Bay’s first and last touchdown drives. Montgomery had dashes of 24 and 17 yards in the first and second quarters.
Neither player, however, ran often. It was the third straight game in which no Packer had even 10 carries. That hasn’t happened since Weeks 4-7 of the 1991 season.
More intriguing: For a third straight game, the team’s busiest back had no more carries than the team’s busiest receiver had catches.
That’s a first in Packers’ history.
Here’s how that has happened. Montgomery had a team-high seven rushes against the Colts. Jordy Nelson paced the Packers with seven catches.
In Atlanta, Rodgers and Ripkowski tied for the lead with six carries apiece. In snagging 12 passes, Devante Adams had as many catches as the Aarons had rushing attempts combined.
Against the Bears, Montgomery led the team with nine rushing attempts. Three players — Adams (13), Cobb (11) and Montgomery (10) — each had more pass receptions.
Rare is the day when Green Bay’s busiest runner has a lighter workload on the ground than one or more of its receivers does through the air. It has happened just 37 times since 1932.
Runners seemingly always have gotten their mitts on the ball more often than receivers. Terdell Middleton’s franchise record for carries in a game (39) is more than twice that of Don Hutson’s record for most receptions (14).
But that’s not always the case. On occasion, the top wideout carries the day.
Sometimes this happens because of talent at the receiver position. In 1942, Hutson caught 10 or more passes in three games, each time outworking any Packers back on the ground.
Sometimes this results because of an ineffective running game. Packers coach Lindy Infante presided over more of these receiver-friendly games (nine) than any other coach in team history in part because his club rushed for fewer yards than all but the Browns and Dolphins in his four years (1988-91) in Green Bay.
Sometimes it’s a combination of both. The Packers of 2016 have gifted receivers but they lack a back who can take over a game.
McCarthy has coached 168 regular-season games. He has had at least one player carry 10 or more times in 154 of them.
Fifteen players have carried 10 or more times in a game since McCarthy arrived in 2006. Those who did it most often were Ryan Grant (46), Lacy (46), Starks (26), Brandon Jackson (16) and Ahman Green (15).
Grant (2008) and Lacy (2014) were the only players under McCarthy to do so in all 16 games of a season. Grant (4,143 yards) and Lacy (3,435) are the team’s leading rushers since 2006.
For all the passing that goes on in the league today, having a dependable back remains important. Under McCarthy, the Packers are a middling 8-6 in games in which a player fails to carry at least 10 times.
Four of those victories occurred in 2011 when Rodgers compiled an NFL-record 122.4 passer rating. When operating at that level, inadequacies elsewhere can be overcome.
But this team, the one that trailed for all but the first 13 seconds against the Colts, doesn’t measure up to that offensive juggernaut. That’s as easy to spot as the team’s lack of a dominant runner.
The Packers ran no more than twice in succession against the Colts. Ty Montgomery ran on Green Bay’s first two plays from scrimmage and Don Jackson carried consecutively to start the team’s third drive. Sunday was the 12th regular-season game under McCarthy in which the Packers failed to produce at least one string of three consecutive running plays. The team is 3-9 in those games.
pro-football-reference.com was used as a resource for this article.
Packers seasons that featured the most games in which Green Bay’s leading receiver (number of receptions) had as many or more catches than any Green Bay runner had rushing attempts.
No. Year W-L-T
4 1988 0-4
3 2016 1-2
3 1942 1-1-1
3 1990 1-2
3 1994 0-3