GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Maybe that nightmare in Seattle was a turning point after all.
And it has nothing to do with Lance Easley, Golden Tate, M.D. Jennings and those shouts of disbelief at television screens inside the visitors' locker room.
In the first half of that Sept. 24 game, Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times more (eight) than Cedric Benson ran the ball (two). Green Bay tried to spread the field and paid the price. For this team, spreading the field with three, four, five receivers doesn't quite have a 100 percent success rates. Defenses are ready.
So as this year progressed, coach Mike McCarthy and Green Bay adjusted. McCarthy has caught flak for being stubborn with the pass. Yet over the past two months, he has stayed remarkably patient with the run.
McCarthy dismisses the theory of forced "balance." But there's no denying the 2012 Packers have been more committed to the run than the 2011 Packers.
"I don't just sit there and click it once when we run and click it once when we pass," McCarthy said Sunday after Green Bay's 24-10 win over Minnesota on Saturday. "That's what you guys do. That's 'balance.' That's not the way we play the game. (Defenses) have a little bit to do with it: DuJuan Harris has something to do with it. I'm excited about what he's given us.
"We always start with the run. Our first meeting in the morning will be the run game, and that has never changed. It's important. At the end of the
And that map this season includes a committed running game.
At the NFL scouting combine in February, McCarthy said the Packers would change the way they run the football. Nearly a full year later, Green Bay hopes that renewed focus pans out. When McCarthy says part of it is what defenses are doing, he's referencing the Cover-2 looks. When defenses sit back with players in coverage, the Packers need to generate a running game.
To make defenses respect the run, to take pressure off Aaron Rodgers.
True, Rodgers had another MVP-caliber season with 4,295 yards, 39 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Yet last year's playoff loss -- with a friendly reminder in Seattle -- was proof that the Packers needed to win in different ways offensively.
The 2011 NFC Championship was a bloodbath. Commitment to the run game is one solution.
"If you're running the ball and you're having a little bit of success, you get into a groove and you get more confidence running the ball," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "It has helped to slow down the pass rush, so we're a little more well-rounded than we had been earlier. So it's a benefit."
McCarthy is no longer going through an entire half with his starting running back receiving only two carries. And he's no longer calling seven straight passes with a 21-3 lead as he did at Indianapolis.
Since that loss to the Colts, a Packers running back has received at least 13 carries in 11 of 12 games. He's letting running backs -- be it Benson, James Starks, Alex Green, Ryan Grant and now Harris -- get into a rhythm and they've responded. The five combined for 1,251 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season. A year ago, Starks, the starter, maxed out at 13 attempts.
It's one way to dull a pass rush, to zap the impact the 49ers' Aldon Smith and Justin Smith can have on a game.
Harris only rushed for 47 yards in Saturday night's win over Minnesota. But his 17 carries also meant the Vikings' pass rush couldn't tee off all night. The infrastructure this season seems to be in place to run the ball more in January.
Then again, nobody's doing cartwheels after the Packers managed only 2.5 yards per carry against Minnesota. Half the battle is a commitment. And McCarthy hasn't wavered for three months.
The other half is production. San Francisco and the NFL's fourth-ranked run defense will be a tall task.
This postseason, left guard T.J. Lang doesn't want Aaron Rodgers to shoulder too much responsibility.
"You can't put that much pressure on one guy to go out there and try to win games for you," Lang said after Saturday's game. "Our offense, we've shown that when we can't run the ball and we're forced to pass the ball all the time, teams can drop seven guys into coverage and they can be tough on us."