The Packers' running game has struggled through the first four weeks of the 2023 season. At the end of Week 4, they are currently 26th in rushing success rate and 20th in rushing EPA per play. On Thursday night in Week 4, they finished with 27 total rushing yards and one touchdown, a Jordan Love quarterback draw late in the game to cut the Lions' lead to 27-17.
In the last two weeks, the running game has struggled to move the ball, placing a lot more pressure on a young quarterback and passing that has its fair share of struggles. If anything, the running game should’ve been the backbone of the offense this season with Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. But Jones hasn’t been available since Week 1 and in Week 4 he was used sparingly.
The offensive line is also down two starters (David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins) with a third, Zach Tom, playing injured so at least some of the lack of success can be explained by these current issues. Beyond that, they’re not able to generate any push or move any defenders in front of them to create space, they’re missing blocks across the front, and they’re getting pushed into the backfield into the running back path, throwing off the timing and muddying the picture for the backs.
Despite all of this, they are still making very basic errors that need to get cleaned up and they have plenty of time to address this between last Thursday and this coming Monday versus Las Vegas, plus an additional two weeks with the bye week in week six.
Offensive line can’t generate push
At times the offensive line is just not able to generate any push to create a crease or lane for the running back.
The two clips above, one from each of the last two games, illustrate this point. In the first clip, a 1st-and-goal situation midway through the third quarter versus the Lions, the Packers are running their duo, a common play at the goal line for them. Duo has been effective for them because the double-team blocks have the ability to open a crease for the running backs to fit through for an easy score.
Nothing comes easy these days however, and the offensive line gets zero push, and actually gets quite a bit of penetration as Lions defensive tackle Alim McNeill (No. 54) wrecks the double and allows linebacker Derrick Barnes to plug the C-gap, forcing Dillon to change direction right into the traffic that McNeill’s pile up created over the right guard.
In the Saints game clip, backup left tackle Rasheed Walker and left guard Royce Newman have their inside zone combo block easily split down the middle by defensive tackle Nathan Sheperd (No. 93) who gets penetration into the backfield for the stop.
The majority of missed blocks in the running game are occurring on the left side of the offensive line. The duo of Walker and Newman are constantly losing leverage and positioning, as shown above, and the Packers are unable to get the edge on outside runs and unable to get yardage up the middle.
Here, Newman gets shoved into the running back path two yards into the backfield right into Aaron Jones. The reason he loses his leverage here is that he’s unable to get his head to the outside/playside of the defender like he’s taught on wide zone running plays.
If the blocker can’t get his head to the outside, he’s unable to run the defender horizontally and the defender can squeeze his playside gap. This causes Jones to alter his path behind Newman when he should be able to follow his tight end lead blocking into the B gap or at the very least be able to cut behind Newman without running into a lineman 2 yards in the backfield.
Tight ends missing blocks too
But it isn’t just the offensive missing key blocks. Very often in the zone running scheme, tight ends are asked to make critical blocks while sifting back across the formation to seal the backside pursuit, are asked to down block or wham block aggressive 3-technique defensive linemen, or are asked to lead block on the edge. So far this season, the Packers' tight end group has been less than stellar.
On this toss play to the right, Josiah Deguara has to block the first alley/support defender into the box since the receiver in tight has the crack block on the defensive end. The defender does a nice job crack-replacing the defensive end but Deguara needs to anticipate that defender and be looking for the threat.
Musgrave hasn’t fared much better either.
Here, the play call is duo again. Musgrave has the critical block here on Isaiah Foskey (No. 55). Musgrave has a 1-on-1 base block on the defensive end here and must win leverage on that block in case the running back cuts to the outside. Foskey wins the rep almost immediately though as he gets his hands inside to control Musgrave before Musgrave can ever engage. Musgrave gets tossed aside as the running back tries to cut to the outside.
Elgton Jenkins was spotted at practice on Tuesday ahead of their Week 5 Monday Night Football matchup with the Raiders. His return is huge for the offensive line in general and the left side in particular. They still need to address what appear to be leverage and technique issues with several other key blockers if they want the running game to take some stress off of the rest of the offense.