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Passing fancy: Packers disinterest in run game a mystery

"How much we spread out and how much we don't spread out, the coaches coach, and the players play."

Those were Mike McCarthy's words to the media last week, in response to Aaron Rodgers' notion that the Packers should spread the field more on offense, utilizing their athletic wide receivers and tight end with more frequency.

It appears as though McCarthy let the player coach a little on Sunday against the Redskins. If you saw any of Green Bay's 16-13 loss at Washington, you saw an offense that would make Graham Harrell and Colt Brennan jump in the air like Rocky and Apollo did in the ocean. The Packers spread the field and threw ... and threw ... and threw.

Evan Vucci / Associated Press
Brandon Jackson had an early 71-yard run, but the Packers continued to air it out against the Redskins.
Packers' play selection vs. Redskins
  Plays Yds/play Turnovers
Pass plays* 53 5.66 2
Run plays 14 9.07 0
*Includes sacks and quarterback scrambles

By game's end, they had called 53 pass plays and only 14 runs. While Rodgers threw for almost 300 yards, calling a pass on 53 out of 67 plays has its downside:

a) The offense is slightly one-dimensional. The dudes out in front of Abercrombie have more layers than that.

b) No time is burned off the clock when protecting a lead (Green Bay led by at least a touchdown for a good portion of the second half).

c)The quarterback is susceptible to getting killed.

Let's start with the last point. Rodgers is tough, but passing or attempting to pass on nearly every down has its risks. That risk was realized on Sunday when Rodgers suffered a concussion late in the game on a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Quarterbacks don't suffer helmet-to-helmet blows, much less injuries, when they hand off the ball. Brett Favre might get tennis elbow from one of those ridiculous throwing fakes on running plays, but that's about it.

The other thing injured from constantly passing was Green Bay's chance of winning, which brings us to the first two points. Due to the one-dimensional attack, the Packers only scored 13 points against a defense they should've riddled for twice that many. Personnel-wise, Jim Haslett's defensive unit doesn't match up against McCarthy's offense. Even without running back Ryan Grant, Green Bay had favorable matchups running the ball; Washington was constantly spread out trying to defend the pass, and Albert Haynesworth, the team's best defensive lineman (in theory), wasn't playing.

And still, the Packers had a comfortable 13-3 lead when they took over the ball with 6:42 left in the third quarter. Time to run some clock. So what did McCarthy order up on the next two series with a two-score advantage? Seven passes, three runs. One of those passes came on a third-and-1.

Let's review: 10-point second-half lead, third-and-1, on the road ... and they pass the ball! They had to stay on the ground in that situation. Why? Even if they don't get the first down, more clock gets chewed in the process of running the ball.

It wasn't just during the second half that McCarthy abandoned the run. The Packers ran Brandon Jackson out of a three-receiver set on their third offensive play of the game. Jackson, starting in place of the injured Grant, navigated his way through the front line maelstrom, made a brilliant cut, and wasn't caught until he was 71 yards down the field. Jackson's scamper led to Green Bay's only touchdown.

So how many times did Jackson get to run the ball the rest of the half after getting 71 yards on his first carry? Two -- two! In fact, the drive after his big run the Packers ran six plays: Pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, punt.

Fox analyst Troy Aikman said during the broadcast that McCarthy had mentioned in a pregame production meeting that "we want to maintain some type of balance," and he didn't want to go through another season where his quarterback got hit all the time (Green Bay allowed the most sacks in the NFL in 2009 with 51). That's what makes McCarthy's play-calling in this particular game all the more puzzling, because maintaining any type of balance is precisely what the Packers didn't do.

So, was he ignoring the ground game because tight ends Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee were both injured in the first quarter? That's doubtful because both are of the pass-catching variety, and it's notable that neither was on the field for Jackson's big run anyway. Then maybe McCarthy abandoned the running attack because his backs were unproductive when they did get carries? Nope. Jackson and John Kuhn ran a combined 12 times for 56 yards after that initial 71-yarder. That's a 4.7-yard average. Take away a 4-yard loss by Jackson and the average gets boosted to 5.5. That's pretty effective, considering the NFL is a 4.0-yards-per-carry league.

For his part, McCarthy said after the game that he got away from the run because of matchups. That could be translated this way: "Our receivers are good, Bandon Jackson not so much."

Okay, then at least give Jackson a chance. If the Packers want to be a Super Bowl contender, as well as keep Rodgers upright, McCarthy would be better served if he let the players play and the coaches call more runs.

Numbers game

» Green Bay gained only 21 net yards on 13 third-down plays against Washington. That's 1.6 yards per play.

» Jake Delhomme's fourth-quarter passer rating this season is 22.7. He's thrown no touchdowns, while tossing three interceptions. His yards per attempt is an awful 4.07.

» The once high-powered Saints have only 13 plays of 20-plus yards through five games. The Chargers have 37.

» Carolina has gone three-and-out on 34.4 percent of its drives this season. Yes, that's last in the NFL.

» Dallas and San Diego gained more than 500 yards of offense on Sunday and lost. That's happened only five times since 1950.

» The only thing more surprising than Brandon Lloyd's NFL-leading 589 receiving yards is that he isn't working at the Cluck-n-Chuck Drive-Thru Window. Who didn't think this guy's career was over after his miserable stint in Washington? Lloyd has more yards through five games than he has in his previous three seasons combined.

» The Bears and Mike Martz's offense are downright woeful on third down, converting only 21 percent of its chances. That ranks last.

» Mark Sanchez has zero turnovers this season in five games. He had 23 (20 interceptions, three fumbles) as a rookie.

Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.

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