The Green Bay Packers rushing attack was effective in 2018 but often forgotten about for long stretches of time. Mike McCarthy’s offense placed a strong emphasis on the passing game while running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams rarely got enough touches to find a rhythm.
With the hiring of new head coach Matt LaFleur, this equation will likely change in 2019. If you look at the history of LaFleur’s offenses, he values the running game more than McCarthy did which should mean more touches for the Packers running backs.
LaFleur recently explained his philosophy on running the football in an interview with ESPN Radio. “I think anytime you can take as much off the quarterback as possible that only helps them out in the long run,” LaFleur explained. “Certainly, Aaron’s got incredible talent and we’re going to definitely showcase that talent.”
“But I just think in your early downs the more you can stay balanced and keep the defense off-balance and keep them guessing whether we’re going to run the ball or pass the ball, I think that it opens up opportunities for big plays down the field and then when you get to the known passing situations, whether it’s a third down or a two-minute drive, then you’ve got to let the guy go play. I’m certainly excited because you’re talking about one of the greatest ever and his talent just speaks for himself.”
History shows that LaFleur doesn’t just talk about running the football, he really runs the football often and effectively.
In 2016, LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta finished the season first in points scored, second in total yards gained and fifth in rushing yards. Devonta Freeman went to the Pro Bowl and topped 1,000 yards for the season while Tevin Coleman added 520 more yards as a complimentary back.
The following season with the Los Angeles Rams, LaFleur’s offense again had a strong and consistent rushing attack. Todd Gurley led the way for the Rams eighth-ranked rushing offense. He finished the season with 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns.
This season, LaFleur called plays for the Tennessee Titans. The team finished sixth in the league in rushing yards, a statistic that was even more impressive when you consider the passing attack was limited by injuries to starter Marcus Mariota who had difficulty throwing the ball downfield for much of the season. Derrick Henry led the way for the Titans with 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns. It was Henry’s late-season explosion that helped Tennessee finish the season strong and make a late run for a playoff berth.
The Packers haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Eddie Lacy in 2014. This season, the Pack finished dead last in the league in rushing attempts although they finished second in the league in average yards per carry.
Jones averaged only 11.1 attempts per game this season while Williams averaged 7.6. Both running backs should be getting more chances to carry the ball in 2019.
LaFleur has also prominently featured his running backs in the passing game. While both Packers RBs showed flashes of pass catching ability, neither established themselves as an elite weapon catching the ball. Both players should see more chances to catch the football in 2019. The Pack may also add a pass catching specialist at running back during the offseason to add another dimension to the offensive attack.
Aaron Rodgers is now in his mid-30s. While he isn’t slowing down much physically, a strong rushing attack can make him even more effective than last year’s one-dimensional offense.
Packers fans don’t have to think too far back to remember how a strong running game helped an elite quarterback later in his career. When Brett Favre reached his mid-30s, the offense quietly switched its emphasis to the running game and Ahman Green became a bigger part of the team’s attack than ever before. Favre’s career enjoyed a renaissance and the Packers remained a consistent playoff team.
Fans and members of the media complained often in 2018 about the Packers lack of dedication to the rushing attack. With the addition of Matt LaFleur, that complaint should be a thing of the past in 2019.