<
>

Packers ground game can't be ignored

Brandon Jackson has replaced the injured Ryan Grant and has kept Green Bay's ground attack respectable. Howard Smith/US Presswire

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- One of the more deceiving storylines emerging from the week leading into Chicago's matchup with Green Bay on Monday night seems to be the impression the Packers can't run the ball.

That's not entirely true, judging from the statistics. Interestingly, Green Bay's rushing attack ranks 14th in the NFL (111.5 yards per game), while the passing attack ranks No. 16.

Now be honest here, you thought those elements of Green Bay's offense ranked just the opposite, didn't you?

The Bears, however, aren't taking the Packers' rushing attack lightly.

"We still want to stop the running game," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We don't want to play the pass and get gashed with the run. So we'll do what we have to do for the running game, but we have to get to [Packers quarterback Aaron] Rodgers [in the passing game]."

That's probably the best plan of attack. While Green Bay's ground game isn't exactly overwhelming, it's been respectable enough to set up the aerial attack. Even without the 45 yards put up by Ryan Grant, who was lost for the season, the Packers would still rank eight spots ahead of the Bears in the rushing rankings at No. 22.

"They know how to run the football. They really understand how to run the football," Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said.

Grant's replacement, Brandon Jackson, averages 3.2 yards per carry through two games. John Kuhn, who usually plays fullback, produced career highs in attempts (9) and rushing yards (36) in the Green Bay's win last week over the Buffalo Bills.

"I'm fully aware of what the numbers are," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "But if you don't run the ball effectively -- on paper -- it affects half your passing game, because as we game plan for teams, you start with your run game. Then you go through your [play] action passing game, then your drop-back game.

"It's no different going [against] the team that we're getting ready to play with Chicago. You have to have the ability to run the football because they do a very good job the way their defense is built against dropback passing. I'm not looking to run the ball just to set up to pass. When we run it, we want to run it very well."

That won't be easy against Chicago's top-ranked rush defense. The Bears limit opponents to a meager 1.4 yards per attempt and 28 yards per game. Still, the defense won't rely on the reputation it's developed over the first two weeks or the absence of Grant for it to stop the Packers.

"You have to look at it this way: the first two teams haven't had success running the ball. They don't have Ryan Grant, and that's a fact," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "The things they're going to try to do running the ball, [if] it becomes ineffective at the beginning of the game, they may choose to air it out. We're prepared for their trickiest runs, their trickiest passes, their receivers finding windows. You always prepare for what they're going to throw at you."

It doesn't matter what it is.