GREEN BAY—The Metrodome is normally not a fun place to play for an offensive line, but the Packers’ unit did not let the Vikings’ defensive line dictate the pace and style of play as its accustomed to doing in its noisy home.
Compiling 182 rushing yards and a 20-minute advantage in time of possession says a lot about how the Packers put together a victory that was more convincing than the final 13-point margin would indicate.
“Our whole offensive line played well,” Mike McCarthy said on Monday while also paying a specific compliment to rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari in his matchup with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. McCarthy continues to be impressed with Bakhtiari’s “professionalism” and “consistency,” and not just for a first-year player, but for a left tackle in general.
“There was a lot of (defensive) line movement. We had some challenges. I thought the adjustments made by the coaches, and the communication with the players, was excellent, and that was really a big part of us being able to just keep running it and staying after it.”
The rushing total marked the third time this season the Packers have gained at least 180 yards on the ground, following an offseason commitment to that phase of the offense.
But McCarthy wasn’t interested in reciting statistics or talking about the running game having arrived, not seven games in. At 5-2, the Packers are in first place in the NFC North – one-half game ahead of Detroit (5-3) and a full game ahead of next Monday’s opponent, Chicago (4-3) – in part due to their ground game, but McCarthy’s words and tone indicated he knows it matters more how things go from here, as defenses continue to adjust week to week.
“Has it come to fruition? We’re not even halfway through the season,” McCarthy said. “We’re getting better. There’s one statistic that counts. We’re working our way toward that, and we’re a long way from that. Running the ball is part of it.”
The Packers ran the ball with Eddie Lacy and James Starks a total of 36 times for 151 yards and two TDs, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers adding 31 rushing yards on scrambles.
Lacy carried the ball 29 times to Starks’ seven, a ratio that may not remain so lopsided in the coming weeks, provided both backs stay healthy. Lacy took a pounding in averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, grinding out a lot of tough yards. Starks’ fresh legs against a tired defense contributed to his 8.1-yard average.
“If you could sit here and draw this stuff up on a napkin, we probably want to balance it out a little more,” McCarthy said. “But at the end of the day you’re in a game, Eddie was in a groove, we stayed the way we did and obviously it worked out well.
“When James got his opportunity I thought he jumped in there and made an impact. He was running hard, downhill, didn’t waste any steps, good reads. I would have liked to have gotten James Starks a few more carries.”
He also would have preferred not to start the game in a 7-0 hole following Cordarrelle Patterson’s 109-yard return of the opening kickoff. McCarthy said with Patterson returning Tim Masthay’s deep kick right up the middle of the field, the “free hat,” in this case rookie cornerback Micah Hyde, needed to make the tackle. Hyde missed, and Patterson ran untouched the final 80 yards or so.
Hyde made up for it with a 93-yard punt return for a TD in the second quarter, and the coverage unit clamped down with the help of Mason Crosby’s directional kickoffs the rest of the game. McCarthy said Crosby earned a special-teams game ball for his efforts.
“We have an outstanding coaching staff. What they’ve done to this point has been very impressive, but our biggest challenge is ahead,” McCarthy said, referring in part to a stretch of five games in 25 days, including three division games, beginning next Monday night against the Bears.
“We need to get this next one, we’ll be at the halfway mark, and then we have a long stretch until Thanksgiving.” Additional coverage - Oct. 28