Packers’ options grow, starting with renewed running game

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — An athletic tight end added to the passing game. Deep balls turned into game-changing plays.

And in the backfield, a former receiver has turned into a breakaway threat on the ground.

The Green Bay Packers have found offensive balance and more options for quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the team’s late-season surge back into the playoff picture.

That “run the table” comment that Rodgers made when the Packers were 4-6 — referring to Green Bay needing to win its final six regular-season games — isn’t such a far-fetched idea after all.

“Obviously it’s a leap of faith, but also a feeling based on seeing these guys every single day, understanding how close I felt like we were to being a better offense,” Rodgers said Tuesday.

The passing game was already the strong point for the Packers (8-6), even before their current four-game win streak. The Packers relied on a quick-passing attack to receivers Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb to help compensate for an injury-riddled backfield and a foot injury to tight end Jared Cook.

Slowly but surely, more threats are emerging, just in time for a game against Minnesota’s tough defense coming up Christmas Eve at Lambeau Field.

The Packers now have at least a couple of avenues to return to the playoffs for an eighth straight season, though the most direct road involves beating the Vikings to set up a winner-take-all showdown in Detroit for the NFC North on New Year’s Day against the Lions.

“If something else happens, then that’s great, but we’re worried about this week and trying to get one more win and put ourselves in position to win the division,” Nelson said.

The Packers have hit on deep balls the last two weeks, with Adams snaring a 66-yard touchdown catch against Seattle before the Rodgers-to-Nelson bomb against the Bears that set up the winning field goal.

The 6-foot-4 Cook is a matchup problem in coverage, as evidenced by his six catches for 85 yards on eight targets against Chicago.

“I’ve talked about it since I got here, the fastest way to the end zone is through the middle of the field, so the bigger target you have going down the field the better it is for your quarterback,” coach Mike McCarthy said.

In the backfield, after losing Eddie Lacy to a season-ending ankle injury in October, the Packers finally seemed to have found a lead back in the most unconventional of ways.

Former receiver Ty Montgomery erased any lingering doubt that he was just a novelty after rushing for a career-high 162 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries against Chicago. McCarthy disclosed last week that Montgomery was now a full-time running back, and the Bears treated him as such in coverage — a first for an opposing defense this year, Rodgers said.

Behind Montgomery, Christine Michael also appears to be settling in with Green Bay after being claimed off waivers from Seattle last month. Montgomery and Michael provided a one-two backfield punch against Chicago that the Packers haven’t had since Lacy and James Starks were healthy at the start of the season.

The added diversity on offense comes at just the right time, too, with Rodgers working through calf and hamstring injuries.

Even then, Rodgers’ arm remains sharp, even if his mobility might be limited.

“I felt like regardless of how our defense was playing, if we could set the tone offensively … it would help out the defense,” Rodgers said about his “run the table” comment. “Give them a little confidence when they took they field that they’re not behind or against the field position every single time, as they were many times in that four-game stretch.”

NOTES: The Packers didn’t practice Tuesday. Rodgers said he expected to be limited when practice resumed Wednesday. … McCarthy was hopeful that LB Nick Perry (hand) could practice on Wednesday. Perry, who leads the team with eight sacks, has missed the last two games.


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