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Aaron Rodgers

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

SATURDAY'S GAMES

Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos 3:30 p.m.

Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers 7 p.m.

SUNDAY'S GAMES

Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons Noon

Houston Texas vs. New England Patriots 3:30 p.m.

Craig: No star runner? No big deal for Packers

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG
  • Star Tribune
  • January 11, 2013 - 7:16 AM

The Packers have the second-worst running game among the eight NFL teams still in the playoffs.

Big whoop, says Jimmy Johnson.

"I think in years past, you tried more so to have some balance," said Johnson, the Fox studio analyst and former two-time Super Bowl champion coach of the Cowboys. "But I think because of the rule changes and the way the passing game is orchestrated right now, you can go and have tremendous success with very little running game. Some teams have proven that."

A year ago, the Giants won the Super Bowl while ranking last in rushing (89.2 yards per game). Two years, ago the Packers won the Super Bowl while ranking 24th (100.4).

This season, the Packers rank 20th (106.4) while averaging a measly 3.9 per carry. On Saturday, they travel to San Francisco to play a physical 49ers' team that ranks fourth in rushing (155.7), third in total defense (294.4) and, oh yeah, beat the Packers 30-22 in Week 1 at Lambeau Field.

Again, big whoop. Or so says Jimmy.

"[Patriots coach] Bill Belichick and I were talking about how important the quarterback position is," Johnson said. "Before, the staunch position was always run the football and play defense. And now the only thing that matters is get a great quarterback. If you've got a great quarterback, regardless of what you do with the rest of your football team, you got a shot."

With reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers always have a shot. In fact, considering the disparity in experience between Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the Packers are the most likely among this weekend's four road underdogs to pull an upset. Kaepernick has seven career starts -- all in the past seven games -- and a 5-2 record, but is making his playoff debut.

Like all great quarterbacks, Rodgers' skill level would make any receiver he played with better. But it's a huge mistake to suggest the Packers' top four wideouts -- Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings -- could be replaced by just anybody.

So says Troy Aikman, Cowboys Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox's top game analyst.

"It speaks to the job that [Packers General Manager] Ted Thompson has done," Aikman said. "Aaron ultimately is the ring leader and makes it all happen, but you couldn't just plug him in anywhere around the league and have him be able to do the same things he's doing. Believe me."

The Packers were the only team in the league this season to have four wideouts catch at least 36 passes and four touchdowns. Cobb led in catches (80) and yards (954). Nelson led in yards per catch (15.2). Jennings missed eight games, but had three of his four touchdown catches in Weeks 16-17. And all Jones did was lead the league in touchdown catches (14).

If what Aikman said next is true, the receiver-starved Vikings will be looking for more than just a No. 1 receiver this offseason.

"When I was playing, I felt that our passing game was only as good as our third receiver," Aikman said. "Now, I think passing games are only as good as their fourth receiver.

"And what I mean by that is you can do things to take away a No. 1 guy. You can do some things to slow down a Michael Irvin. You can do some things to slow down the [No. 2] guy. But the mismatches really start coming into the middle of the field at that third receiver."

The Vikings won 10 games and made the playoffs with a 2,097-yard rusher (Adrian Peterson), the 11th-ranked run defense and a passing attack that wheezed in at No. 31. Clearly, they want more from quarterback Christian Ponder, and they'll try to give him the receivers he needs to improve. But as long as Peterson is around, the Vikings believe they can win a championship as a run-oriented, defensive-minded team.

"Well, they did get into the playoffs this year," Aikman said. "But, in my opinion, you can't win a championship playing like that."

Johnson agreed.

"You just have to be so good on defense and so good at every other position, if you're going to try to win with so-so play at quarterback," Johnson said.

"It's been proven you can win big with a great quarterback and being so-so in other areas. I think with the way the league is now, in order to win big, you got to get outstanding play from your quarterback."

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