GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -The Packers promised they'd be ready to run when the weather finally turned frigid.
It was an amusing afterthought by Packers coach Mike McCarthy with Green Bay winning, Brett Favre throwing 40 or more passes a game and running backs going nowhere long before the field turned to tundra.
But after rotating runners without success, McCarthy turned to Ryan Grant, who started deep on the depth chart after being acquired from the New York Giants, and McCarthy's offensive line began cutting its mistakes.
``This is how I view our offense: you want to be a little more balanced, you want to play with favorable down and distance and our run game has given us that,'' McCarthy said Friday.
Thanks to Grant, McCarthy also began to trust his play calling, something he acknowledged he wasn't doing as he cycled through rookies Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn and veteran Vernand Morency earlier this season.
That's shown up in Grant's performances with 717 of his 744 yards since Week 8, tops in the NFL in that span as the Packers' running game went from laughingstock to punishing and potent, averaging 115.2 yards since their off week.
``The runner is a part of any successful running game. You can never deny that,'' McCarthy said. ``Ryan Grant is a big part of our success running the football. He's smart with the football. He's tough with the football. He's shown to be a very good runner when he gets to the second level.''
Grant is on pace for 1,000 yards, an accomplishment he says means little personally as the Packers have already locked up the NFC North title and have an inside track for a first-round bye at 11-2. Center Scott Wells said that Grant burst on the scene at the same time the offensive line stepped up its play.
``Since he's emerged as the guy in the backfield, he's gotten more reps, taken advantage of those reps and to go along with that, I think we're executing much better up front than we have before,'' Wells said. ``Overall, as a unit, execution is better and he's stepped up and really taken advantage of every opportunity he's getting.''
The offensive line also looks to stay intact Sunday in St. Louis. Starting left tackle Chad Clifton (shoulder), right tackle Mark Tauscher (ankle) and right guard Junius Coston (ankle) practiced Friday and are listed as probable.
The key is Clifton, who has missed one game in four seasons as Favre's blindside protector.
``The way we're designed offensively as far as our protection schemes and so forth, you have to have a left tackle with his ability,'' McCarthy said. ``He gives us great flexibility to do some things where we don't have to help him or slide to him a bunch, so he's able to handle their primary pass rusher pretty much week in and week out.''
While Clifton stays quiet and rarely grants interviews, Tauscher and Wells remain entertained when asked about the group of young guards that includes Coston, Daryn Colledge, Tony Moll and Jason Spitz, who has started 12 of 13 games at three different positions on the line.
``We're all mutes, we don't talk (to them) at all,'' Wells joked. ``To us, it doesn't matter who is in there. ... Daryn, Juice, Tony Moll, Spitz, they've all played in there and we've all played in games with them.''
Coston tries to absorb as much as he can from Clifton, Tauscher and Wells.
``They've been there, done it all, seen it all,'' Coston said. ``Whether it's a blitz or a certain slant or a stunt, they always know what to do and pass it off as far as the knowledge.''
And the offense and Favre are reaping the benefits.
The three-time MVP has only been sacked 14 times this season, less than 28 other quarterbacks including both Rex Grossman (sacked 25 times) and Brian Griese (15) for Chicago, Kellen Clemens (24) and Chad Pennington (15) for the New York Jets and Alex Smith (17) and Trent Dilfer (27) for San Francisco.
The next goal, McCarthy said, is to consistently run the ball 30 times or more to wear down defenses and help the passing game even more. Grant wouldn't mind it, either.
``We feel like we can do a lot of things once we get the ball,'' he said. ``We've been able to prove that so far.''
It just took a little time.

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