Packers’ Running Game Poised to Sustain Recent Success

Packers RBs Eddie Lacy and James Starks

The offense of the Green Bay Packers was in a rut in 2015. After consistently ranking near the top of the league in both rushing and passing in each of the two previous seasons, last year’s team tumbled to the NFL’s tenth worst offensive unit.

A lot of explanations were thrown around to justify the drop in production. Aaron Rodgers was not fully healthy. Jordy Nelson’s importance was underestimated. Eddie Lacy saw a decline in his athleticism.

All those factors contributed in one way or another to the team’s overall struggles. But despite the poor passing stats, the running game was able to sustain its recent success and turned in another quality season.

The ground game was not quite as effective as it had been in Lacy’s first two seasons in the league. In 2013, Green Bay had the league’s seventh most rushing yards. The 2014 team ended the season ranked 11th. Despite giving off the impression that the 2015 squad struggled, they still finished the year with the 12th best rushing attack. That was still with Lacy’s big step backward and an offense that struggled in general.

Heading into next season, the Packers should definitely see continued success from their running backs. In fact, it is likely that Green Bay can field a top 10 rushing unit in the 2016 season.

To put that in perspective, the Packers did almost break into the top 10 this past season despite what many deemed to be an ineffective offense. Green Bay only needed 20 more yards to do so. That landmark is definitely achievable in the upcoming season.

For starters, Lacy will almost definitely improve on his 2015 campaign. After exceeding 1100 yards in each of first two NFL seasons, he managed just 758 yards in his third year. He was noticeably less explosive, but another issue was simply his lack of touches. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry, the same clip he posted during his rookie year when he rushed for 1178 yards. The biggest difference: Lacy had 97 fewer carries in 2015. An increase in workload should lead to an increase in production.

The Packers would also be smart to make sure that James Starks is still on the roster when the season begins. He posted career highs in attempts (148) and rushing yards (601) and emerged as a legitimate threat as a pass catcher, recording 43 receptions for 392 yards and three scores. If Lacy can return to form, and he reportedly is on his way to doing so, he and Starks would continue to be a dangerous duo.

Even if Starks were to sign elsewhere, the Packers have options for their backup running back. There were rumors that former Bears running back Matt Forte could draw Green Bay’s interest. While that still seems unlikely, it remains a possible option. Second year back John Crockett also showed promise last preseason, and he could be ready for a bigger role in 2016.

Finally there are Aaron Rodgers’ contributions and the likely resurgence of the passing game. If Nelson can overcome his ACL injury and Rodgers returns to his normal levels of efficiency, teams will have to adjust their defenses to the passing attack, leaving bigger holes for the running game. Rodgers also contributes to the running game, which could lift that unit to the top 10. He rushed for 344 yards last season, the second highest total of his career. His mobility definitely helps the running game.

It might be a little too optimistic to expect Green Bay to vault into the league’s top five rushing attacks. But it is entirely possible, and somewhat likely, that the Packers’ offense bounces back in a big way and allows the running game to continue its string of successful seasons. The 2016 running backs will help the team field a top 10 ground game.

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Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .

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  • Dan Stodola

    You lost me w/ “the running game was able to sustain its recent success and turned in another quality season.”
    I really didn’t find much quality in the Packers run game last year. Not much quality at all! Lacy showed up severely overweight and out of condition. Starks attempted to make up for Lacy but isn’t good enough to be a #1 RB. And both of them fumbled way to many times!
    There were a myriad of reasons for the offenses issues tho.
    1. Starts w/ Nelson’s injury. He provides the deep threat to the Packers offense to keep Defenses honest. Without him Cobb drew better coverage and more attention, which he couldn’t handle. Adams was miscast and over hyped as the next great Packers WR, when in reality he is a good #3 WR at best, and even at that he was terrible last year. Nelson’s injury directly led to a decline in all the WR issues.
    2. Without Nelson teams played tight press coverage, brought safeties down into the box and basically snuffed out the offensive passing game.

    3. The aforementioned Lacy and Starks were decent at best but mostly very much unproductive, except for a couple games. Lacy beside being overweight and under-conditioned lack decisiveness to make immediate cuts, choosing to bounce outside far too much. The sight of Lacy practically laying down in his long run vs the Cards drove that point home extremely effectively!
    4. The OL had a myriad of injuries which limited both the passing and running attacks.
    I’m sorry but nothing was quality about the Packers rushing attack last year. And it all started w/ Nelson’s injury which created a ripple effect throughout. His injury wasn’t the only issue, far from it, but it was easily the greatest factor, followed by Lacy being fat and out of shape!