The news out of Green Bay today is that running back Ryan Grant will miss the rest of the year after tearing the ligament that holds two bones in his ankle. The injury is similar to the one that cost Dorsey Levens half of the 1998 season, and Grant said on his Twitter account there was a possibility of him coming back late that year like Levens did, but the team decided to put him on injured reserve because it couldn’t waste the roster spot.
There’s no question this is a big blow for the Packers; Grant has the second-most yards in the league behind Adrian Peterson since 2007. But is this a death knell to the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes? No. Here’s why:
Grant’s best attributes as a running back are that he a) doesn’t fumble and b) stays healthy and plays through injuries (the ankle injury notwithstanding, obviously). He’s broken some big runs in his career after making one move and hitting a hole, but he’s not an explosive runner by any means, and he’s not particularly dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s the NFL running back equivalent of a Toyota Camry; sturdy, efficient, but not dynamic. That’s not to minimize his solid 4.4 yards per attempt average last year, or the fact that he gained a career-high 1,253 yards on just 282 carries, but Grant’s numbers are so good in large part because he’s been able to stay on the field. He only had three 100-yard games last year, and only three of his 11 touchdown runs were longer than 10 yards.
Most importantly, though, Grant’s injury doesn’t kill the Packers because their success isn’t predicated on running the ball. No matter how much Mike McCarthy gives lip service to the idea of being a power running team – and no matter how much we implore him to run the ball at times when the weather gets cold – this is a pass-first team, and has been since Mike Holmgren took over in 1992.
The NFL has become a quarterback’s league, and the Packers have one of the best in the game. They’ve got plenty of weapons on offense, and Brandon Jackson is capable of carrying at least some of the load. I worry about the depth at running back – and as Chris pointed out in a phone conversation today, we’re not hearing much from the Packers-will-be-fine-with-two-RBs crowd today. But the Saints won the Super Bowl last year with a leading rusher (Pierre Thomas) that gained 793 yards. A stable offensive line has almost as much to do with a successful running game as the skill players in the backfield, and that will ultimately dictate the Packers’ success on the ground. Besides, McCarthy never ran Grant more than 19.3 times a game anyway. Give 14 or 15 of those carries to Jackson, find another running back to take a few, and the Packers are capable of recouping much of the rushing output.
Grant’s injury is a punch in the Packers’ collective gut. But I sometimes wonder if we overvalue running backs because of how necessary they are to win in fantasy football (and even that’s changing). The loss will hurt them, yes, but their Super Bowl chances are far from dead.