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Mike McCarthy’s committee backfield plan is the right move for Packers’ running game

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It may be hell for fantasy football players, but McCarthy’s acceptance of a committee approach should be good for the offense.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers
Aaron Jones may be talented enough to be the lead back, but the Packers have options this season.
USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Fantasy football players curse the “running back by committee” approach, but it’s often the best thing for the team, which makes Mike McCarthy’s acceptance of this premise critical for the Green Bay Packers in 2018.

In an interview with ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, McCarthy stated outright that the Packers would drive the offense down interstate RBBC.

“But if one of them would emerge as that full-time guy then you have to have that ability to ... adjust to that,” McCarthy added, keeping his options open for one of Green Bay’s talented backs to take the wheel as the engine of the run game. (Okay, the metaphor is falling apart.)

“We feel like we’ve got three guys that have all done it, but they haven’t done it over a long period of time, so I think it’s just practical thinking from that position and realizing that it’s a very demanding position.”

Even without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers run game provided efficient production last season. The team finished third in rushing offense by DVOA, which adjusts for some of the tough defenses Green Bay faced. And they got production from Ty Montgomery, Aaron Jones, and Jamaal Williams at various points of the season.

All three showed flashes of being able to be lead backs, but each have their flaws. Montgomery provides the most versatility as a former receiver, but hasn’t been able to stay on the field consistently. Aaron Jones offers the most natural talent as a runner and McCarthy underutilized the former UTEP star last year in the passing game. Williams offered the most consistency, taking over when Jones also got injured, but he’s the least explosive of the three.

In February, I suggested the Packers take a cue from the two teams in the Super Bowl and deploy their running backs like the Patriots and Eagles. Simply put, the Packers should be situational and tailor their touches to their skills. That doesn’t mean being predictable by personnel, just making sure the players on the field are in the best position to succeed.

In his piece for ESPN, Demovsky suggests the comparable situation may be New Orleans with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. You may notice a pattern here: all three of those teams were elite offensively last season and won a bunch of games.

That’s not a coincidence.

Mike McCarthy’s insistence on what he calls “the hot hand,” has long held this offense back from reaching its full potential. What happens if no one gets hot? What happens when you don’t have any good running backs like we saw in 2016?

Having three capable runners, each with distinct styles, doesn’t mean just rotating them through the offense and running the scheme plays regardless of who is out there. That undercuts the very nature of maximizing personnel. You don’t run zone coverage when you have corners best suited for man-to-man.

Well, maybe Dom Capers does, but I digress.

What makes this so ideal for the Packers is that no one in this trio can only be a power back or a pass-catching third-down back. Each can run between the tackles. Each can make plays in the passing game and screen game. Williams offers the most pass protection, but it’s not as though Jones or Montgomery are unwilling blockers.

One of the major flaws in Mike McCarthy’s offense over the last few years has been his unwillingness to evolve it, changing to fit his personnel. He runs his system and that’s worked for him well enough in the past.

If all he means by RBBC is that he’s going to rotate the backs, that’s not any different from past season, though there would be a boon in keeping these guys fresh for the stretch run. Even if that’s all he means, this is a win for the Packers.

But McCarthy can take this offense to the next level by deploying these players in creative and tailored situations. Accepting the need to get everyone involved is the first step. Now, the goal should be finding a way to maximize the talents of each individual player within the confines of this offense. Or better yet, grow the offense to fit this talented backfield.