With the nearly endless (and justified) critiques of Aaron Rodgers this week, perhaps we’ve lost sight of that other half of the Green Bay Packers offense, the running game. The slimmed-down but still punishing Eddie Lacy has quietly run the ball well in the first two weeks of the NFL season. With the rest of the offense around him struggling, maybe it’s time for the Packers to put the team on Lacy’s back and pound the football. They’ve certainly not given it much of a try.
Lacy has been averaging 4.3 yards per carry this season. That might not be an eye-popping stat, but it’s pretty darn efficient, especially for an offense that’s finding it hard to stay on the field for more than three plays at a time. Lacy in particular has a way of tiring out a defense with his steady, almost monotonous hammering style.
In fact, it’s precisely for this reason that Lacy is the sort of back who needs to find a rhythm throughout the game. Not only do running backs (just like quarterbacks) benefit from a well-patterned tempo of play, the defense gets more and more exhausted with each difficult, drag-him-down tackle. The problem with the Packers’ offensive play calling is that Lacy hasn’t been allowed to get into any such rhythm.
The Packers gave Lacy only 14 carries against Jacksonville and a paltry 12 carries against Minnesota. It would be one thing if either one of these games were a blowout, with Rodgers fighting to bring the team back from a major deficit. That simply wasn’t the case, however, as both were close games up to the final minutes. While Rodgers was running around in the pocket (fumbling and throwing interceptions) on the final two offensive drives in Minnesota as if the entire offense depended upon him making plays down the field, the Packers had plenty of time to give Lacy the ball.
Not only has Lacy been essentially phased out of the second half of games, he’s been taken out for multiple series in the first half. In fact, stretching back to last season, Lacy hasn’t been given 15 carries in any one of the last seven games. Needless to say, that’s a waste of Lacy’s talent.
When the Packers do give Lacy the ball, they’re often calling plays that are ill-suited to his strengths. Pitch plays to Lacy almost inevitably lead to Lacy being tackled at the line of scrimmage. Lacy is a big back whose primary asset is his power. The Packers need to stop asking Lacy to stutter-step in the backfield or to run horizontally along the line on an off-tackle play. Give him the ball with as much steam as possible and let him bowl headlong into the defense. It seems clear that Lacy’s yards per carry would be even higher if he wasn’t constantly being asked to play like a running back who is 25 or 30 lbs lighter.
Even if running Lacy early and often does not amount to much at first, it will in the second half, as has often been the case when the Packers commit to Lacy. There have been many games where Lacy gains control late in the outing, simply overtaking a tired defense in the 4th quarter, putting the game away for the Packers along the way.
On the flip side, McCarthy needs to stop giving Starks downs that ought to be given to Lacy. When it’s 4th and 1 in the red zone, give Lacy the ball. I understand that Lacy had been in on the last 8 or 9 plays when the Packers elected to go for it in Minnesota. That’s why Lacy needs a periodic respite from Starks, but those breaks should be one or two plays at a time. Give Lacy just enough time to catch his breath and get him back in on offense. Sitting on the bench for nearly three full series in a row (waiting on the defense, being spelled a whole offensive series by Starks, waiting on the defense again) is a sure-fire way to make sure that your running back grows cold.
McCarthy seems to have recognized the need to rely more heavily on the running game. After the Packers loss in Minnesota, McCarthy conceded that, “The analysis of our offense after two games, the running backs have not been given enough opportunities. So that’s something that I need to focus on.” Most specifically, this applies to Lacy. Starks is a great back to have in the game on 3rd down or the odd play when Lacy needs to catch his breath. Lacy needs to see the field and receive carries more often in nearly every other scenario.
The Packers have faced far too many 2nd and 11s or 2nd and 12s in the last two weeks. A proper utilization of Lacy can change that unfortunate norm. It will also allow for a greater facility in using the two tight end set. Newly acquired Jared Cook needs to become a more highly targeted part of the offense, and Lacy can only help in that regard. Clearly the Packers’ offense is always going to revolve around Aaron Rodgers, but Lacy can help to take the heat off of the passing game. Right now, Lacy is the lone source of consistency on the offensive side of the ball. McCarthy needs to use that to his advantage.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.