Craig: No star runner? No big deal for Packers

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

Aaron Rodgers

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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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."


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

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


    Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons Noon

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

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Houston 23 FINAL
Pittsburgh 30
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 98 FINAL
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Brooklyn 99
Charlotte 114 FINAL
Atlanta 117
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San Antonio 106
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Dallas 108
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
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Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
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Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
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Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
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(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
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(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon




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