The Green Bay Packers are out to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2011, and while that’s the most important number attached to their name, it certainly isn’t the most surprising.
The Packers are playing a different style than the last time they arrived at the season’s quarter pole undefeated, and that’s most clearly seen with their rushing offense. The Packers rank third in the NFL with 136.3 rushing yards per game, behind only the Washington Redskins (139.5) and Minnesota Vikings (136.5).
In 2011, the Packers finished 27th in the NFL with 97.4 rushing yards per game.
“We’re definitely doing great this year,” running back Eddie Lacy said. “We started out fast, just like coach wanted us to. We just have to keep it up. It’s still the beginning of the season, we have a long way to go, but I think everybody likes the way we’re starting off the running game this year.”
How rare is the Packers’ current success on the ground?
Since 2005, the Packers’ rushing offense has finished in the league’s top 10 only once. That was 2013, when the Packers finished seventh in the NFL with 133.5 rushing yards per game. The Packers had to reinvent themselves midway through that season, becoming a rush-oriented offense out of necessity when quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed eight weeks with a broken collarbone.
Now, Rodgers is back to his MVP form, and the running game is still producing. It may be the biggest reason the Packers rank sixth in the NFL with 28.3 points per game despite losing top receiver Jordy Nelson for the season with a torn ACL.
Running backs coach Sam Gash still said the entire offense — even its success running the football — starts with Rodgers.
“I think it’s very important to have a balanced team,” Gash said. “With as great of a quarterback as we have, we realize as runners you have to be great as well. So there is an elevated play, or an elevated thought process, that you have to have because he’s not just a normal quarterback. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it. Not that you have to have a great quarterback to play great, because you have to go out and play the way you play every day.
“I think having him, and the guys being comfortable and able to communicate with him, and giving him a comfort level obviously helps the whole flow of things.”
The Packers could especially benefit from that balance this week when they host the St. Louis Rams. They’ll face arguably the best defensive line in football. The Rams defense knows how to pressure the quarterback, but they rank 26th in the NFL with 120.3 rushing yards per game.
So there could be some holes for Lacy, who has 230 rushing yards in his first four games.
“They’re active,” Lacy said of the Rams’ defensive front. “They’re good with their hands. They get off blocks, and they rally to the ball. But that’s when we have to trust our course, trust our landmarks, and we’re going to definitely have to break tackles.
“We set goals to try to get 15 broken tackles for the team, everybody who gets the ball. So this is definitely going to be a game when that counts.”
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