Alex Green knew the answer, and he knew it would be a bit of a surprise.
When asked if he remembered the last time he had 22 carries in a game, Green cracked a quick smile and started to laugh.
“It was in junior college, back in ’08, I think,” Green said.
Indeed it was, when Green had 27 carries for 119 yards to earn game MVP honors for Butte College – the same junior college Aaron Rodgers attended – against Mt. San Antonio in the 2008 national title game.
Playing in a wide-open spread offense at Hawaii the next two years, Green never toted the ball more than 19 times in a game, though that 19-carry effort produced 327 yards and broke a 60-year-old school record.
Maybe that was a sign he should have gotten the ball more back then. In any event, the point is that prior to Sunday night in Houston, it had been awhile since Green was asked to really pound the ball like that, series after series.
His 22 carries for 65 yards in the Packers’ big win didn’t jump off the stat sheet but served their purpose, quieting the Texans’ pass rush and opening up passing lanes for Rodgers and his receivers. The workload was as good for Green as it was for Green Bay’s offense.
“I like it a lot,” he said of being a workhorse-type back. “The more carries you get, the more you’re in the game, the more you can feel the defense out. You can match the level of competition, and you can see how they’re playing. It gives you a better feel for it.”
Green didn’t bust any long ones, like his 41-yarder in the fourth quarter in Indianapolis the previous week when he first stepped in for the injured Cedric Benson, but he was nonetheless productive. Seven of his carries went for five yards or more, 11 for three or more.
The only downside was that eight rushes went for one, zero or negative yards. That was what Benson was getting so good at, making every run productive. Three weeks ago against New Orleans, 17 of Benson’s 18 carries went for at least three yards, and the only one that didn’t was good for two.
Perhaps that’s the next step for Green, to cut down on the stalled runs, whether the fault lies with him or his blockers. Either way, at this point the coaching staff is more focused on the commitment to the run, even if the defense is schemed to stop it.
“Sometimes they call a good defense, too,” running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “You can have a run called and they do a line stunt into it or blitz into it, and they’ve got us.
“But the most important thing at the end of the day is the attempts for our system and our no-huddle. We have to attempt to run the ball and then have enough effective runs to keep them honest defensively.”
The Packers are counting on Green, drafted in the third round in 2011, to remain effective as their lead back. The offense was just starting to hit its stride with Benson when he went down with a bad foot sprain in Indy, and a poor second half on offense cost Green Bay a game it should have won.
Green said he’s learned a lot from Benson in the two months they’ve worked together, from following his blockers better to asking the right questions to watching film properly.
That was only part of the long road Green took to getting his first NFL start last Sunday. This week’s game in St. Louis will be played two days shy of the one-year anniversary of Green’s torn ACL that sent him into a full offseason of rehab.
In that respect, the night in Houston was a special one. Getting a win, and hitting the 20-carry mark for the first time in four years, added some extra emotion to the evening.
“Yeah, it felt good, to relieve a little tension I’ve been holding in the past few months, rehabbing and waiting and things like that,” he said. “It felt good to let some of that go this past game.”
Green came out of the Houston game with a shoulder ding that has limited him in practice thus far this week, but he said it won’t be a problem and he isn’t concerned.
Neither are the Packers, as long as Green is content to re-live those junior college days.
“The thing I’ve been saying all along is we have to make sure that we’re building on it now,” left guard T.J. Lang said of the running game. “We can’t go out there and have a productive day on the ground one game and the next game let it disappear.
“When we’re a balanced offense, a lot of good things are going to happen for us.” Additional coverage - Oct. 18