While Aaron Rodgers and the quick-timing offense Mike McCarthy pivoted towards have powered the Green Bay Packers' four-game winning streak, the team needs every advantage it can muster in order to continue its run into (and perhaps through) the postseason. Developing a semblance of a reliable ground attack could go a long way towards that end.
Though it may have seemed like a gimmick previously, Ty Montgomery has indeed become the lead back that Green Bay's offense sorely lacked since Eddie Lacy's ankle injury.
Before Sunday's win over the Chicago Bears, Montgomery had not handled more than nine carries in a game. However, the Packers used him more frequently in the backfield than any of their other options, suggesting that a significant uptick in usage lay just around the corner. That increase came Sunday when Montgomery toted the rock 16 times for 162 yards and two scores with another two touches coming off receptions. Those rushing figures account for nearly half of his total production on the year.
So what changed for Montgomery? In previous weeks, Montgomery showed the burst to hit the hole and pick up as much yardage as the offensive line could carve open, but little after. This time around, he broke a series a tackles -- seven in total -- and gained 9.8 of his 10.1 yards per carry after contact, numbers more in line with Le'Veon Bell or David Johnson's expectations rather than a converted wideout.
While Montgomery may never have a day that productive again, the Packers only require enough to balance out the offense and keep defenses from focusing on the passing game. Montgomery has shown in recent weeks that he can provide at least that, and perhaps much more.
Fault for late-game defensive collapse falls on Capers
The Packers defense has not played a game at anything approaching full strength in several months. Not only did the unit lose top corner Sam Shields for the season, but Nick Perry remains sidelined with a hand injury and Clay Matthews has a badly separated shoulder limiting his impact. These factors -- along with several other injuries that have taken games away from key contributors -- have contributed to the regression of Dom Capers' defense.
And while those injuries affected Sunday's game, the lion's share of the blame for the Packers blowing a 17-point lead should fall on the defensive coaches.
Starting in the third quarter, the defense shifted to a more conservative approach aimed at taking away big plays. While the Bears had precious few, they did carve up the Packers by targeting the soft spots in the zone. Wideouts Deonte Thompson and Cameron Meredith did considerable damage in this manner, largely at the expense of Quinten Rollins and the eventually benched Damarious Randall. While Rollins and Randall likely committed execution errors in the eyes of the coaches, the schematic approach allowed for those mistakes to happen.
While "prevent" approaches do serve a purpose, Capers adjusted too early and cost the Packers' their sizable lead. If not for Rodgers' heroics on the final drive, it could have cost them the game as well.
Rodgers making late push for MVP consideration
This season, a handful of intriguing MVP candidates have flooded the field, with no one player clearly standing out as Cam Newton did a year ago.
Each of the frontrunners carries a notable flaw. Tom Brady's team went 3-1 without him during the first month of the season. Derek Carr hasn't looked the same since he dislocated his right pinky finger. Matt Ryan could lose votes due to Julio Jones' presence and the quality of his running game. In that context, Aaron Rodgers' incredible late-season run could garner him consideration the award despite an uneven start to his season.
Narrative plays a significant role in MVP voting. Not only does a candidate need a spectacular season, but he also must "lift" his case with team success in a way that voters can attribute to him.
And the Packers' revival certainly doesn't happen without Rodgers and the offense getting back on track. The quarterback hasn't thrown an interception in over a month while completing nearly 69 percent of his throws for 1,371 yards and 10 touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 114.7. While other Green Bay players have elevated their games during that span, they all work off of Rodgers.
Of course, Rodgers' case takes a hit if the Packers don't complete their comeback effort and with the NFC North.