GREEN BAY, Wis. — When Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers approaches the line of scrimmage, he doesn’t have the luxury of knowing that the same guy will be in the backfield behind him 90 percent of the time.
Rodgers does not have an Adrian Peterson.
Of late, Rodgers has been dealing with a four-headed backfield consisting of Alex Green, Ryan Grant, DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn. A fifth, James Starks, could be added for the playoffs, but that’s looking a little bit too far in the future.
As far as the Packers are concerned, the committee approach has been working just fine.
They have topped the 100-yard mark rushing in five consecutive games and scored seven rushing touchdowns in their last four. They are averaging 4.04 yards per carry in December. They are no longer running it just to run it.
What has remained a bit under the radar since the Packers transitioned from using Cedric Benson as their primary runner is the adjustment Rodgers has had to make having four different guys in the backfield.
There are times he has been up at the line of scrimmage about to audible when it occurred to him that changing the call would not be ideal because of who is back there.
“When you’ve got some guys who are in different places mentally and athletically, you try to play to their strength,” Rodgers said.
For instance, he doesn’t want to call on the back to pick up a blitzing linebacker if the 5-foot-7, 203-pound Harris is in the game, just as he wouldn’t want to check to an outside zone play better-suited for Green than for Grant. He may be comfortable having Grant chip on a defensive end, but if he knows he’s going to have to dump the ball over the middle, Kuhn would be a better choice.
If he switches to a play where he’s going to swing the ball out to his back, it’s better to have the speedy Green or Harris carry it out than Kuhn or Grant.
“DuJuan is not quite there on all the protection adjustments and all the routes,” Rodgers said. “You try to make sure things are clean for him. He’s been studying his butt off. I know he’s going to improve in that area. But it’s different if he’s back there compared to if Alex is back there, or even Ryan.
“Ryan and his downhill running style has always been productive in the winter months. So trying to give him some things he’s comfortable with. When John is back there, John is excellent in the protection schemes; he’s not going to run away from a bunch of guys.
“Making sure that you have the right check and the right check-down depending on who’s back there is important.”
Considering all that Rodgers has to think about before he even cocks his arm to throw the ball or stretches it to hand off, it can be a case of piling on. Besides having to deliver the play in the huddle, remember the snap count he called for, reset the protection if necessary and read the defense, he has to remember to look to his left in the huddle to see which back is in the game.
If the Packers were playing with a younger or less cerebral quarterback, they might not be able to pull this off.
“The one thing I will say is that it is impressive for a quarterback, with all the things a quarterback playing at his level, all the things he does and has in his head already, to be able to recognize who’s in the backfield and adjust things to who’s particularly in the backfield, that’s impressive,” Grant said. “The fact he can say, depending on who is in the backfield at the time, I’m going to call a different protection, whether it’s me or Alex or DuJuan, that’s impressive. “To do that and everything else, that’s why we’re talking about an MVP.”