GREEN BAY – Upon his arrival, Cedric Benson talked about how he wanted to rush for 1,000 yards this season. In advance of a preseason game – yes, a game that would not count in the standings – against his most recent former team, the Cincinnati Bengals, he said he wanted to run for 100 yards.
So you can bet the Green Bay Packers running back will be highly motivated Thursday night against the Chicago Bears, the team that drafted him No. 4 overall in 2005 and the team that cut him loose in June 2008 – no matter what he said Tuesday.
“You know what? It’s extra incentive every week for me,” Benson said as the Packers prepped for the quick turnaround following Sunday’s loss to San Francisco to open the season. “The fact that they’re a former team, you know, you always want to do great against those guys. But that’s not the driving force here. Every week, it’s always extremely important to get the job done.”
And against the 49ers, the Packers’ running game did not get the job done. Benson managed just 18 yards on nine attempts, and it’s possible he got every blocked yard there was to be had against the NFL’s best rushing defense last season (77.2 yards per carry).
While the team’s leading rusher, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, helped the rushing stats with 27 yards on five runs, it marked the 28th consecutive regular-season game in which the Packers did not have a 100-yard rusher – the longest active such streak in the league. (The next-longest streak is 12 games.)
Now, in fairness to the Packers, their record during that period is 22-6, and they did have a 100-yard rusher during that time – James Starks ran for 123 yards against Philadelphia in the 2010 NFC Wild Card playoffs. Still, it underscores how even a quarterback-driven offense like the Packers’ still could use more ground productivity.
“We didn’t run the ball very good this past week. It’s our first game, and all the things we feel we can improve on, we want to do a better job in Week 2. So yes, it’s definitely a focus,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday. “We want to have some semblance of balance in our offense. We don’t want to become one-dimensional and the defense has an opportunity to play more downhill on us than we do on them.
"The way the game goes sometimes dictates whether you're heavy run or pass, but we don't want to be running the ball for 2.0 (yards per carry). That's not acceptable."
The last time Benson faced the Bears as an opponent was in 2009 with the Bengals, and he rushed 37 times for 189 yards and a touchdown.
"No question, that was the first time I saw them since we parted ways, and I wanted to have a good day,” Benson said.
Benson won’t see the ball that much on Thursday night – even if McCarthy isn’t forced to abandon the run like he did against the 49ers after falling behind 23-7 – but when he does, he has to be more productive.
“We’ve got to do a better job. It’s about making sure those runs have more yards per attempt,” Rodgers said. “The number of runs is not quite as important as making sure those runs are quality runs. That’s going to help us loosen things up a little bit on the back end. When teams are giving us six-man box (looks) against our (multiple wide-receiver) personnel, we’ve got to be able to run the football.”
And that assignment falls to Benson, regardless of his motivation.
“There’s some work to be done. (We’ve) got to set guys up to create some explosiveness in the run game,” Benson said. “(But) I am (confident). I saw some things. Even if it’s not blocked perfect, there’s still an area to make some plays.
“Every day is a challenge, everything’s been a challenge, from getting the playbook down to trying to create something in the run game. Everything’s been a challenge. It’s always good to hear them put a little extra pressure on you. We want to get the job done and got a little extra motivation to do it.”
“With the Bears, I don’t have any personal grudge or anything like that against them. Based on the fact that we weren’t very successful in the run game last week, I plan on being that way this week. That’s my focus.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.