It certainly didn’t help the short-yardage game – or the running game as a whole – that veteran running back Cedric Benson, who was starting to round into form and was looking very capable of being the workhorse back the team has lacked, went down with what turned out to be a season-ending foot injury in Week 5. That led to a revolving door at running back, where late-season addition DuJuan Harris showed an intriguing physical running style for his 5-foot-8 height, but the running game was still a non-factor.
For another team that has developed a physical reputation, the Seattle Seahawks, it starts at running back with Marshawn Lynch, whose punishing running style proved to be a perfect complement for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, taking pressure off the passing game until the ex-University of Wisconsin star hit his stride.
“He’s a tone-setter. There’s no question about it,” said Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who traded for Lynch during the 2010 season, when he was willing to pay a steeper price than Packers GM Ted Thompson would. “The other players see how hard he plays and he gives it up. He’s a guy that’s really been a tempo-setter for the younger players on the team.”
“(Being more physical) was a goal of ours when we got there (in 2010). We had played the Packers that (previous) year, and we knew that we wanted to establish a certain identity and that was a long-term goal of ours – to become a strong, tough, fast, physical football team. That you knew when you came to CenturyLink (Field) that you were going to have to deal with the noise and you were going to have to deal with the toughness. And then if we went somewhere and played on the road, that you weren’t just going to be able to walk out on your home field and walk all over us.”
For Schneider, who was Thompson’s director of football operations before leaving to join coach Pete Carroll in Seattle, the idea of getting physical begins with player acquisition.
“I think when you’re scouting players, you’re scouting the guys you’re attracted to because they play through injuries, they present themselves with a certain mental toughness, a certain swagger,” Schneider said. “Then you have a staff that can instill that confidence in them to play with that certain swagger. Pete’s always, wherever he’s been, done a great job of instilling confidence in people and letting them be themselves.”
And if the Packers are themselves, they will be a pass-oriented offense with arguably the league’s best quarterback and a bevy of pass-catching talent (even after Greg Jennings’ free-agent defection to Minnesota and the retirement of franchise all-time leading receiver Donald Driver). They can certainly improve in the run game on offense become a more attacking, hard-hitting defense – especially in the secondary. Maybe the draft will yield a hard-hitting safety, some linebacker help and another defensive lineman who’ll eat up blocks. And perhaps after two years of playoffs disappointments, there’ll be more urgency and intensity that could lead to being more physical – which the Packers have always aspired to be under McCarthy.
“We always wanted to be,” said Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, McCarthy’s offensive coordinator from 2007 through 2011. “There was a certain way we wanted to play. I thought we did a good job with the players that we had in terms of putting them in a position to be successful, and utilizing the talent we had at our disposal. … But we were a throwing team a little bit.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.