Having a solid ground game is always a plus for the Green Bay Packers once the weather starts getting cold, damp and snowy in the region where the Fox River connects to the bay off Lake Michigan.
The Packers have been blessed with two of the best quarterbacks (Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers) to ever play in the NFL in the last quarter century, but from November through the end of the season and the postseason, it’s always a positive to have an effective running game as well.
In fact, if one looks at the NFL titles that the Packers won when they were victorious in Super Bowl XXXI with Favre at quarterback and Super Bowl XLV with Rodgers at quarterback, the team was very productive running the football in the postseason which later led to a Vince Lombardi Trophy.
It’s even more important to have a running game you can count on when you are playing a young backup quarterback like the Packers currently are doing with Brett Hundley, due to the broken collarbone suffered by Rodgers in Week 6 versus the Minnesota Vikings.
And right now, even with injuries at the running back position, the Packers have been very solid in running the football in a number of categories.
Going into the matchup Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field versus the 4-5 Baltimore Ravens, the 5-4 Packers know they will be without rookie Aaron Jones (MCL sprain) and it also looks like Ty Montgomery (ribs) will also miss the game, based on comments made by head coach Mike McCarthy on Friday.
Jones was a having a great rookie campaign before his knee injury, which will keep him out of the lineup for several weeks. Up until the injury, , which he suffered last Sunday against the Chicago Bears, Jones had rushed for 370 (5.3 yards per carry average) and scored three touchdowns. Plus, Jones had broken off three runs of 20-plus yards or more.
Montgomery first hurt his ribs in Week 4 against the Bears at Lambeau and then hurt them again last week against da Bears at Soldier Field. So far in 2017, Montgomery has rushed for 270 yards (3.8 yards per carry average) and three touchdowns.
Because of the injuries in the Chicago game, the Packers called on Jamaal Williams, another rookie running back, to carry the load. Williams carried 20 times for 67 yards, as the Packers beat the Bears 23-16.
Before we can look ahead and surmise about how effective Williams and company will do versus the Ravens and also down the stretch in the 2017 season, let’s first look at how good the running game has been for the Packers compared to other NFL teams.
Currently, the Packers are ranked 18th in rushing offense in the NFL. But that doesn’t tell the real story. The Packers are tied for fifth in the league in two very important categories. They are yards per carry average (4.5) and touchdowns (nine).
Plus, Green Bay running backs have only fumbled the ball once in 2017, which ties them for the league lead in that category as well.
Williams is a different type of runner compared to both Jones and Montgomery. No. 30 is more of straight-ahead, grinding between-the-tackles type of running back. Where as both Jones and Montgomery are more cut and run type of backs that can be very effective running to the outside.
Plus, both Jones (eight catches for 16 yards) and Montgomery (23 catches for 173 yards and one score) are better receivers than Williams. That being said, Williams is a better blocking back without a doubt and that’s important when a young quarterback like Hundley goes through his reads going back to pass.
Williams can catch the ball as well, as he has five catches for 45 yards. Overall for the season, Williams has run for 101 yards on 31 carries, which averages out to a very pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry average. Williams also has a rushing touchdown.
The Packers decided to load up at the running back position in the 2017 NFL draft, when they drafted Williams in the fourth round, Jones in the fifth round and Devante Mays in the seventh round.
Expect to see Mays getting some carries on Sunday backing up Williams versus the Ravens.
Speaking of Baltimore, although their defense has been fairly solid in 2017 (6th in total defense), the Ravens struggle in stopping the run, as they are ranked 28th in the NFL, as they give up an average of 125.9 yards per game.
Getting back to Williams, NFL scout Chris Landry was very impressed with what he saw of Williams at the Senior Bowl.
This is what Landry said about Williams after the first day of practice at Mobile that week:
“BYU’s Jamaal Williams entered as the expected top running back and looked the part after Day 1. Williams is a smooth runner, and was making nice cuts during team drills and was consistently the most productive of the running back group. Williams simply looked natural.”
This is what Landry said about Williams at the next practice:
“I was surprised by the speed and quickness Williams showed. He hits the hole with authority and ran hard all day.”
This is what Landry opined about Williams the following day at practice:
“Williams was one of the better backs of the day. He ran the ball well on the inside, picking his way through the traffic and he also looked terrific catching the ball out of the backfield. He was the best of all the backs in blocking drills.”
And after the Packers selected Williams in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft, here is what Landry said about the former BYU star:
“A decisive, downhill grinder on college tape, Williams is a two-down back with a ceiling in the Alfred Morris range. That said, he could find himself with a big rookie role behind Ty Montgomery.”
In his career at BYU, Williams rushed for 3,901 yards (5.4 average) and 35 touchdowns. Williams also added 60 receptions for 567 yards and another score.
In 2016, the 6’0″, 212-pound Williams rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns, which includes one game when Williams ran 287 yards and five touchdowns before an ankle injury sidelined him.
The bottom line is that there is still a lot of upside for Williams to be very successful in the NFL.
This is what running backs coach Ben Sirmans said about Williams being the man toting the rock for the Pack.
“He’s a downhill runner,” Sirmans said, “trying to get four yards-plus, very aggressive. I think it just took him some time to get a comfort level just with what we were doing. And once that happened, he just relaxed and stopped being as conservative as he was as a runner, and figured, ‘Hey man, this is just like running in college,’ at least from the way he goes about his business.
“The things that we thought he possessed is what he showed.”
We shall see how Williams plays this Sunday against the Ravens and later on in the season, but based on the insightful comments I’ve heard from from people in the know like Landry and Sirmans, I like his chances of succeeding.