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The numbers were modest. Eddie Lacy finished with just 63 yards on 12 carries. James Starks, just 36 yards on seven carries.

Together, Green Bay Packers running backs fell short of the century mark against the Carolina Panthers. But Packers coach Mike McCarthy wasn't discouraged Monday afternoon.

Actually, quite the opposite.

"There's a couple of runs there (Sunday) that we'll be using on our teaching tape," McCarthy said. "You're seeing things come together, you're seeing the fits of the run blocking unit. I thought our receivers did an outstanding job handling the force defender in their defensive schemes.

"So yes, I thought we got better running the football."

The reason goes beyond raw numbers.

Yes, Lacy faced high expectations when the season began. Probably too high. The Packers don't require a workhorse running back who exceeds 100 yards every Sunday, which is good since Lacy hasn't shown to be that kind of tailback this season.

What Green Bay needs is more punch in its running game than it got in 2011, when it ranked 27th in the league with 97.4 rushing yards per game. That season, the Packers were one of seven teams in the NFL to average fewer than 100 yards per game.

Green Bay's running game remains a work in progress this season. It ranks 22nd in the league with 98.7 rushing yards per game – better than 2011, but barely. The Packers are one of 12 NFL teams averaging fewer than 100 rushing yards per game.

So why was McCarthy pleased? Sunday represented the production Green Bay needs from its running game. Lacy and Starks averaged more than 5 yards per carry apiece. Both had a touchdown, and a run of more than 10 yards. There were 10 rushing first downs, nine with a pass.

After a slow start, the Packers running game is also getting better. Green Bay has finished with more than 100 yards as a team three times this season. They've come in the past three games. It's an important streak the Packers need to continue.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," left guard Josh Sitton said. "Eddie averaged over 4 yards a carry and so did James, I think. Anytime you can do that, you're doing well."

-rwood@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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