Run straight ahead? He can do that. But please hold onto the football too.
In the wake of RB Ryan Grant's season ending injury, his replacements (FB John Kuhn and RB Brandon Jackson) combined for 65 yards on 20 carries last Sunday. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was quoted as saying it was "extremely mediocre." Anyone who's watched Jackson charge head-first into the line with his head down and both arms around the ball knows that he's concerned about avoiding a fumble, and not too concerned about running for a big gain. What exactly are the Green Bay Packers missing without Grant? From Mike McCarthy:
Now, Ryan Grant didn’t play on third down all the time.
Brandon Jacksondoes...We’re not trying to play one running back 55, 60 plays in the game and have the other two or three sit on the sideline. We’ve never played that way.
In that regard the Packers aren't losing a lot of plays. My guess is that Grant played between 40 to 50 snaps per game (out of 60 to 80). It always seemed like more for Grant since he carried the ball far more frequently then Jackson, who was usually left in to block. Also, Grant wasn't doing any better then either Kuhn or Jackson if he didn't have good run-blocking. Again, from McCarthy:
I think if you sit there and freeze the film and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, there is a hole there,’ but I can’t also project if the defender is not going to get off the block as he gets on to the second level. It is the responsibility of the run-blocking unit to create the opportunity for the running back to get to the second level, and the second level is on the running back.
I wonder if he raised his voice when he said 'Oh, my goodness?' Anyway, on most carries not even Grant got an opportunity to get into the second level. According to the Journal-Sentinel, running backs coach Edgar Bennett specified that there were two missed opportunities to gain additional yards. If Grant was playing, then they might have had two more big plays. Maybe an extra 40 yards rushing.
So what they really need is a running back with size, speed, and the ability to take advantage of an opportunity in the second level. How many backs in the NFL can do that? I'm not sure if RB Marshawn Lynch can, even if the Packers wanted to trade a high draft pick for him.
Greg Bedard pointed out this old article from Football Outsiders on how winning teams were the ones with a lot of rushing attempts in the 4th quarter, and that it didn't seem to matter how much you ran the ball earlier in the game. At that point, the team is trying to run out the clock, and they aren't looking for a big play. If they want two more big play opportunities per game, they could just pass the ball more. Looking at the official 2009 stats from NFL.com, the Packers ran 438 times, and passed 553 times, for a run/pass percentage split of 44/56. The two teams that ran the ball the fewest times in 2009 were the Colts and Cardinals, who both ran the ball on about 38% of their plays. And obviously they both had great offenses last season.
This isn't a post to point out that they don't need Grant anyway. I'm just saying that they can adjust the offense to compensate for his absence in other ways. Having an explosive running back on the roster sure couldn't hurt, but there would be a cost in obtaining a back with that potential. It's not ideal, but the offense could be fine without a true replacement for Grant.
How important is it to find a true replacement for RB Ryan Grant?