GREEN BAY—Any suggestions the Packers would have to wait a bit for their offense to come around in 2013, considering the early shakeup on the offensive line and the injuries at receiver and running back in training camp, were quashed in no uncertain terms on Wednesday.
“As far as being patient, no,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’re full-bore ahead.”
Limited in his snaps to begin with, quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t run a single play in a preseason game with either Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb on the field. Rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari assumed the job of blindside protector three days before the first preseason game. The expected 1-2 backfield punch never developed due to DuJuan Harris’ season-ending injury, leaving another rookie in Eddie Lacy to be the workhorse.
But the Packers don’t have the luxury of time to settle in and slowly but surely find their rhythm, and they know it, not with the divisional playoff rematch in San Francisco to open the season on Sunday.
“We’re pros,” Rodgers said. “We’re paid to be professional, paid to play well, so I expect it.
“I’m excited about our entire offense. Everybody has a role that’s starting to get figured out, and we need to embrace those roles and make the most of them.”
Of greatest curiosity is what role the running game will play. Given the opportunity to repeat or expand upon his “big letters” prediction of improvement from OTAs, McCarthy didn’t bite.
“I’m looking to make a jump in the win column,” McCarthy said. “That’s really what the goal is, to win the football game. The offense’s focus is again to score as many points (as possible), via run and pass. However that shakes out, the defense will have something to say about it, but we’re going to go after our opponent like we always do.”
Left guard Josh Sitton said a stronger commitment to the run has “definitely been talked about,” but Sitton and his linemates are putting that burden on themselves more than anyone else.
Production and commitment will go hand in hand, but both will be a challenge against the 49ers, the league’s No. 4-ranked run defense last year in yards per game (94.2) and third in yards per carry (3.7) after sitting atop the league in both categories in 2011 (77.3, 3.5). If there’s an area where patience might be required, this is it.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to give Mike the confidence to be able to run the ball,” Sitton said. “We need to do it. It makes it a lot better for us up front.
“You can’t just run it a couple of times and not be successful and then we get away from it. It’s got to be something we can keep going to so we can get in a rhythm, but like I said, we have to give him the confidence to be able to do that.”
For his part, Lacy is willing to be patient, especially against a front seven as stout as San Francisco’s. In his first preseason action, Lacy showed he could gash a suspect run defense, bulling his way to 40 yards on eight carries in St. Louis.
The following week it was much tougher sledding against a stiffer Seattle unit, but the level of commitment can’t be judged in a preseason setting.
“You just have to understand, you’re not going to get five and 10 yards every carry,” Lacy said. “It’s a process. Sometimes you’re going to get one yard or negative one yard, but you just have to stick with it, and eventually you will get those five or 10 yards.
“I’ll pretty much try to wear them down as much as I can.”
On the other side, the Packers defense was worn out the last time it faced the 49ers, but the mantra is that it’s a “new year” and different unit now.
McCarthy said at the scouting combine that the number 579 – San Francisco’s total yardage in the playoff game – would remain in his team’s focus. Even though the number didn’t come up on Wednesday, it’s a given no one has forgotten it.
“Of the three phases of our football team, our defense is definitely playing the best coming out of training camp,” McCarthy said.
“If I was going to point to who am I leaning on, I’m leaning on our defense, and particularly our defensive line.”
That line has two new faces in first-round draft pick Datone Jones and Johnny Jolly, plus an improved Mike Daniels, to help hold the point against the read option and to contain quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The nearly eight-month wait for that new year is almost over.
“All we can be is one of 11, accountable to one another, and go out there and play fast and hungry,” Jones said. Additional coverage - Sept. 4