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Little to gain on the ground for Packers

By Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –

GREEN BAY, Wis. — If the Green Bay Packers are going to keep defenses from doing what the San Francisco 49ers did Sunday, they’re going to have to get a better performance from Cedric Benson.

The veteran running back wasn’t the only one at fault for the Packers managing a piddling 18 yards on nine carries, but it’s clear his play did not mesh with the blocks the offensive line tried to make against the rough-and-tumble 49ers.

There were times the line got overpowered in the 30-22 defeat, but there were also times Benson cut back when he should have bounced outside and times he hurried when he should have cut back. The 49ers made it tough on all parties involved, but even 3 yards a carry could have changed things offensively.

“I’m not as caught up in the number of attempts, but the 2.0 is the area that we’re focused on as an offense,” McCarthy said. “We had an opportunity to discuss this as a team at 3:15 (Monday). The way the game goes sometimes dictates whether you’re heavy run or pass.

“But we don’t want to be running the ball for 2.0. That’s not acceptable.”

Asked if it was a case of the offensive line just getting blown away at the line of scrimmage, McCarthy said no. He said his evaluation always starts with the course the runner takes because each decision the back makes has an effect on whether the play will be successful.

Benson looked very good against Cincinnati in the third exhibition game, but it wasn’t against a team that was running line stunts and run blitzes it hadn’t showed before. The 49ers presented some looks that forced the Packers to adjust mid-game.

“It’s part of the first game, the reality of a first game’s unscouted looks,” McCarthy said. “I thought the players did a good job communicating as we went on, trying to make adjustments on the sideline, because you’re only as good as your information.

“But we just got to get the running part of it (down). We (didn’t) do our part as well as we could.”

McCarthy ran Benson nine times, and each carry came on first and 10. That’s not a normal tendency for the Packers, who are more than willing to air it out when an opponent is thinking run.

Benson had gains of 1, 1, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 1 and 3 yards on his nine carries, most of them with quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the shotgun formation. He really wasn’t close to breaking anything for a long gain and often got his yards by plowing into the pile.

The Packers were getting a two-deep safety look all game and needed to have success in the running game to pull in the linebackers and force the 49ers to bring a safety out of pass coverage. They couldn’t do it.

“It’s our job to move the defensive linemen out of the way,” guard Josh Sitton said. “I think we need to improve on that, and I think the running backs need to improve hitting the holes and knowing which holes to hit and where to bounce certain runs and where not to.”

After giving Benson the ball six times in the first half, McCarthy tried three more times in the third quarter before giving up. On one of three — which combined went for 6 yards — Benson appeared to miss a cutback lane. On another he had a chance to bounce the run outside with fullback John Kuhn leading the way but cut back for 3.

After that, McCarthy called 24 plays without a run to finish the game.

“You’ve got a very good defensive front seven and guys (on the offensive line) who aren’t oiled up exactly right, so then you get down and kind of become a one-dimensional football team, which played into what they want to do,” center Jeff Saturday said. “It just kind of worked against us, the way we started.”

Benson joined the team Aug. 12 and practiced for the first time in pads on the 19th. He has had five total practices in pads since joining the team, including one last week leading up to the 49ers game. He carried 10 times in two exhibition games.

McCarthy chose not to use backup Alex Green, in part because the young Green is still adapting to the offense after spending most of his rookie season on injured reserve with a torn-up knee. James Starks remains sidelined with a turf toe injury.

“There’s times we have to move guys better and times the running backs need to hit holes differently,” Sitton said. “Those things will come along with him and Alex, Alex not having a lot of time and him only being here a short time.

“Those things will come.”

They better come fairly quickly because Thursday night the Packers face the Chicago Bears, a team that might choose to play its safeties back the whole game, which has been the recipe for slowing down McCarthy’s passing game.

Last year, Ryan Grant had pretty good success in both meetings against the Bears, rushing a total of 25 times for 136 yards (5.44 average). But the Packers have changed their running game to line up with the no-huddle offense and they think Benson and Green are better choices.

“Chicago’s defense is always a big challenge for us,” McCarthy said. “They are very active, particularly with their front. It will be a big challenge for both our run blocking unit and our pass protection unit.”

“I’m not as caught up in the number of attempts, but the 2.0 is the area that we’re focused on as an offense.”

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