By now, you know that the Packers added former Bears first-round bust, Cedric Benson. With his hand somewhat forced by Starks’ latest injury, TT felt that he could “never have enough horses” and added the veteran to the stable of young backs. Many around Packers nation are wondering why Benson over former Packer, Ryan Grant. Frankly, the question should be, why even bother with Benson in the first place?
The reason why I am skeptical about Benson is that I simply do not see him as a good fit for the Packers’ system. The Packers offense obviously runs through Rodgers. The backs are asked to (1) pick-up the blitz, (2) get the yards that are available, and (3) be adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. Focusing on the latter two, it is clear that Benson is a curious fit.
Although Benson has surpassed the 1,000 milestone the last three seasons, he’s accomplished this averaging 20 carries per game, resulting in under 4 yards per carry. To put this in perspective, here’s a list of notable runners that averaged less than 4 yards per carry last season: Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jacobs, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Michael Bush. Bush and Benson were the only backs last year to receive 200+ carries and average less than 4-yards per carry. Additionally, Benson has a career “long” carry of 46 yards. Essentially, Benson is the modern-day Leroy Hoard, who famously said: “if you need 1 yard, I’ll get you 3 yards. If you need 5 yards, I’ll get you 3 yards.”
Benson is best fitted for running between the tackles. There is hope that this attribute can result in Benson becoming the “closer” to ice close games. But, I’m not sure this closer role is merited. After all, he has 12 fumbles in the last two seasons. More to the point, though, is Benson’s fit in the Packers’ scheme. Something that has gone overlooked is that Benson comes from a smash-mouth team. The Packers, on the other hand, still have zone blocking principles in the run game. In a zone blocking scheme, the back is asked to stretch the field until he finds the hole, and then get into it and beyond before that hole closes. Successful running backs in zone schemes are built like Terrell Davis (sorry to bring his name up), not bulky and lumbering like Benson.
Benson is also not known for his hands out of the backfield. Over his career, he averages 6.9 yards per catch, with only 1 receiving touchdown. Outside of one 79-yard reception, his next longest reception is 24 yards. And he averages fewer than 2 catches a game. In such a pass-heavy offense, this becomes a liability. With Benson on the field, defenses likely will be able to narrow the play selection by ruling out screen passes and stretch runs.
The right fit for the Packers offense is James Starks, circa 2011 playoffs. He was perfect in that he got the yardage that was available and, as a bonus, he even made a few people miss. He was reliable enough in pass protection and he caught the ball out of the backfield well. For example, in the Super Bowl, Starks ran for a modest 52 yards, but did so on 11 carries. Even this little production kept the defense honest enough to allow Rodgers to utilize the play-action with a high degree of success. When Starks was offering this, the offense was clicking.
Unfortunately, Starks has been unreliable since that Super Bowl performance. And with his recent injury and Alex Green on a snap-count following last season’s knee injury, the Packers hand may have been forced in adding Benson. Thankfully for Packers fans, today’s NFL does not require a strong rushing attack in order to get to the Super Bowl. Just take a look at this list of starting Super Bowl running backs: Ahmad Bradshaw, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Pierre Thomas, Joseph Addai, Willie Parker, Tim Hightower, Brandon Jacobs, Laurence Maroney, Thomas Jones, and Cedric Benson. Yep, Cedric Benson.