Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Jeremy Green
The Green Bay Packers' 3-3 record isn't a surprise. Despite what last season's NFC championship game appearance seemed to say about them, this is a team in transition. The surprise, however, is that the Packers' .500 record has very little to do with the play of new starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers and everything to do with one of the team's supposed strengths: the run game.
If I had been told that running back Ryan Grant was going to struggle to find running room this season, I would have guessed the passing game's inability to open up the field would be to blame. But that hasn't been the case. Rodgers has done an excellent job of running the offense, stretching the field and keeping defenses honest enough to take on the Packers with seven in the box on most plays.
So, what's the issue? There are a few. First, coach Mike McCarthy isn't always patient enough with the run game. Grant's 33 carries against Seattle on Sunday showed real commitment, but some weeks the Packers have fallen into the same trap that tripped them up against the Giants in the playoffs -- getting away from the run and becoming one-dimensional. Falling back on a pass-first approach can have a negative effect on the offensive line, whose mentality changes from aggressive to passive. Game film from this season shows a Packers blocking unit that isn't firing off the ball as it did a year ago.
The timing of the front five also has been a problem. Center Scott Wells, one of the league's more underrated players, missed the majority of the preseason -- when an offensive line develops its timing -- and the start of the regular season. For those who doubt the importance of a good center, just take a look at the Indianapolis Colts' offense before and after the return of a healthy Jeff Saturday. Without adequate timing, a line can get leaky, and in the case of Green Bay, guards Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz are having trouble consistently reaching their second-level blocks. Left tackle Chad Clifton has been banged up, which gives the team two starting tackles, along with Mark Tauscher, who are limited athletically and not playing very well in space.
Grant also shares some of the responsibility here. He missed some training camp reps because of a holdout situation, and some bumps and bruises have kept him from running at 100 percent. In Green Bay's run scheme, the running back must be in synch with the offensive line, and Grant's timing also seems a bit off. He seems to be reacting to breakdowns up front and doesn't appear to trust that his blocks will be there. Against the Seahawks, Grant had his head down and missed a hole or a cutback lane on several occasions. Patience is important in the scheme, but seeing the hole immediately and blowing through the line quickly are just as crucial. Grant's explosiveness clearly isn't there yet.
But the season is young. The Packers still are the best team in the division. After ranking last in rushing through eight games last year, Green Bay managed to finish in the middle of the pack. Through six games in 2008, the Packers sit at No. 21 and in far better shape than they were at this time last year. Practice, patience, better health and a stronger commitment can launch the team's rushing offense on another second-half surge, maybe even into the league's top 10.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.