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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, April 19, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Alex Green has received the bulk of the carries since Cedric Benson got hurt. (PHOTO: Jim Biever/Green Bay Packers)

In Sports Commentary

James Stark finally got going against Arizona last week. (PHOTO: Jim Biever/Green Bay Packers)

New attitude creates success for Packers in run game


GREEN BAY – Alex Green called it a "standstill."

Mike McCarthy called it inefficient.

The Green Bay Packers run game was both for three of the last four weeks, with per carry averages of 3.0 against Houston, 2.7 against St. Louis and 2.5 against Jacksonville. Green was the team's individual leading rusher in all three contests, averaging 3.0, 1.8 and 2.5 yards per carry.

Before the Jacksonville game, McCarthy said simply "We need to get better running the football."

It didn't happen, not in that game.

So there was a renewed focus during the week leading into the Cardinals game last week.

"He did critique more on the run game and stuff like that," Packers running back James Starks said of McCarthy. "He did put more emphasis on driving your feet and the line going and driving the running backs. We bought into it, worked on it hard and made sure we busted our tail in practice and it pays off."

Added Green: "It definitely was something we wanted to really get clear that we could run the ball a little bit."

Against the Cardinals, the Packers did just that.

They rushed for 176 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per pop. Starks led the team with 61 yards (3.6 per carry) and was followed by Green with 53 yards (4.8) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers with 33 yards (4.1).

It was the team's most impressive performance of the season and its best since rushing for 141 yards in a Week 5 loss to Indianapolis.

You often hear how running the ball successfully takes a certain attitude, and that attitude can lead to a physical victory. It comes across your television screens as just something an analyst says, or coach-speak.

But to the Packers, it's a real, tangible thing.

"Oh, absolutely," Packers guard Josh Sitton said. "I know I felt it. We played more physically up front and you just felt we were going to be successful running the ball (against Arizona). We could definitely feel that for sure."

The running backs took it to heart, too.

Green and Starks both said they made concerted efforts to make smoother, harder cuts up the line of scrimmage and "finishing" their runs. It was a mental change that led to a physical one.

"Regardless of what the play call might be or the execution is, sometimes you're going to have to turn a dirty run into an effective run," Packers tackle Marshall Newhouse said. "Negative gains, one or two yards runs aren't really effective. I think it's a game of just maximizing the efficient runs and minimizing the negative runs. You saw as we kept pressing we got the best run possible and the four, five, 12 yarders, 29 yarders popped out. That's the way the NFL goes.

"The run game is a steady procedure and then you keep pounding on people and then one squirts through. That's just kind of the mindset; just to grind on people, lean on people a little bit."

This new-found attitude will be important for the Packers going forward this season, but especially as they head into their game Sunday at Detroit.

They will need to grind it out against a talented and surly Lions front seven if the Pack are to win their fifth straight game and keep pace with the Chicago Bears in the NFC North.


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