Dover's Kuhn helps fuel Pack run game
GREEN BAY — As the running game of the Green Bay Packers came to life at Lambeau Field on Sunday vs. Dallas, a number of trends began to develop.
There was tailback Eddie Lacy eclipsing 20 carries, a number some of his teammates and coaches have identified as something of a barometer for both the player and the offense.
There was backup James Starks providing 103 total yards and two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.
There was an overwhelming commitment to the running game that saw the Packers run the ball 42 times — not counting a pair of kneel downs by backup quarterback Scott Tolzien — and finally achieve the balance this team has lacked for months.
"I know how hard of a worker Eddie is, and I know how hard of a worker James is and the rest of the offense," fullback John Kuhn said. "It's nice to go out there and put a performance on the field."
Obscured by the production from Lacy and Starks, by the strong play of the offensive line and the news that coach Mike McCarthy had taken back play-calling responsibilities, was a significant contribution from Kuhn, a Dover High School graduate.
At 33 and in his 10th professional season, Kuhn had been handed a bit part on offense for the majority of the year. He played just 13 percent of snaps on Thanksgiving against the Chicago Bears, 6 percent in a loss to the Detroit Lions, 4 percent in a humbling defeat to the Denver Broncos.
Only once was he used more than one-third of the time on offense in the six games since the bye week.
That all changed against the Dallas Cowboys, when Kuhn's role increased at the expense of tight end Richard Rodgers, whose usage rate exceeded 90 percent in several games this season. Instead it was Kuhn who outplayed Rodgers, 44 snaps to 42 snaps. Kuhn even got a couple of rare touches, running once for 2 yards and catching a pass for a 14-yard gain.
"It was great getting him more involved in the game," offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. "We have a lot of different personnel groupings and that all depends on our opponent and what we feel puts us in the best position to be successful. And certainly having that personnel grouping out on the field was very effective for us last night."
The personnel grouping Bennett spoke of featured three wide receivers, one running back and Kuhn. The Packers consistently turned to Kuhn as a lead blocker for Lacy and Starks, especially out of the pistol formation, and the results were extremely positive. Lacy alone had 13 carries of five or more yards.
"I really like how physical he is, man," Lacy said. "I think today he had the most chances of going out, and he capitalized on most of them. When we have him in front of us, we know we're going to get 4 or 5 yards before we even get contact. It's a great feeling."
It is unknown whether the increase in Kuhn's playing time is permanent or a flash in the pan against a particular opponent. There have been times when the offense uses Rodgers in the same blocking role that Kuhn filled Sunday.
But what Rodgers has not been asked to do is block for Lacy and Starks on so many running plays one after another after another. Perhaps that's where Kuhn can carve out a niche.
"The line did a hell of a job tonight," Kuhn said Sunday. "Each one of us has a role, so we've got to go out there and do it to the best of our abilities."