If Green Bay Packer fans are fretting over the loss of starting running back Ryan Grant for the season, take a look at what a few recent Super Bowl-caliber teams have done in the absence of a marquee runner.
By Jake McCormick
There’s no question Green Bay Packer running back Ryan Grant was a huge part of the teams’ success since he first started kicking up the Lambeau Field turf in mid-2007. Until this injury, Grant had played in 47 out of 48 games over the past two and a half years as a Packer, while compiling the second most yards on the ground since the middle of 2007 only to Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson.
But of all their offensive playmakers, the Green Bay Packers could most afford to lose Ryan Grant, and Packers GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy know this better than anyone. Here are just a few reasons why the Packers offense should be perfectly fine without the bruising workhorse mentality of Ryan Grant:
1. See: New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints, and Indianapolis Colts
No longer is an elite running back required for success in the increasingly pass-first NFL, and many teams are reliant on more than one feature back to get the job done on the ground. Each one of the teams listed above have made it to the Super Bowl recently without the benefit of an Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, or Maurice Jones-Drew.
Like each team listed above, the Packers are completely loaded at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley all stand to benefit from increased looks from Aaron Rodgers, as McCarthy will most likely dial in more Patriots-like short passes and screens in place of rushing plays as new starter Brandon Jackson gets acclimated to his additional responsibilities.
2. It’s Brandon Jackson’s time to shine
Most people were shaking their heads when Ted Thompson drafted the running back version of Matt Cassell in the 2008 draft. Brandon Jackson was never the starter as a Nebraska Cornhusker, but Thompson has always insisted that he is perfect for the Green Bay zone blocking scheme. Now, after two plus years in the system as a capable back up, Jackson gets the chance to prove his worth.
If anything, Jackson’s increased presence in the backfield could open up McCarthy’s playbook in ways Grant couldn’t. Jackson has always been an above average pass blocker, and has accumulated more receiving yards than Ryan Grant since he was a rookie in 2008. It’s a logical assumption that Brandon Jackson could become a Kevin Faulk-type weapon for the Packers.
3. Packers GM Ted Thompson has a proven track record of landing serviceable, albeit no name, running backs as needed
Samkon Gado, Vernand Morency, Ahman Green and even Ryan Grant were acquired by the Packers without much fanfare, and each went on to contribute in some significant way to the Green and Gold. Like each of the backs listed above, I have no idea what to expect from newcomer Dmitri Nance, but I trust Thompson’s record enough to know that he won’t be completely useless.
People like to poke fun at Ted Thompson for his preference for young, barely used power backs over recognizable veterans that may draw more fan and media attention, but the reality is that quality NFL running backs are a dime a dozen. As long as the offensive line is solid, and the running back in question is intelligent enough for the system, life will go on for pass-first teams like the Packers, Patriots, and Philadelphia Eagles.
4. Buffalo, Chicago, and Detroit
Just as Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre spent early 2009 torching bad defenses as he build chemistry with his new teammates, Brandon Jackson and the Packers have the pleasure of facing three fairly ugly defenses as they adjust their playbook. Three weeks is more than enough time for Green Bay to get a feel for their rushing game identity in the post-Ryan Grant era in 2010.
Green Bay Packer fans should be disappointed in the loss of their workhorse running back, but ultimately the running game is a much less important priority than the paper thin secondary and defensive line depth, non-Clay Matthews pass rush, and the offensive line’s protection of Aaron Rodgers. If the Packers lose games, it most certainly will be because of one of these factors, not the lack of an already secondary prioritized running game.