Christl/Baranczyk analysis: Packers establish ball control behind Lacy's power running

Oct. 7, 2013

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Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy gets by Detroit Lions defensive end Devin Taylor on a second-quarter run during Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media


The Green Bay Packers benefited from Calvin Johnson’s absence, played stout defense and erupted for three plays of 31 yards or more in the second half that eventually broke open Sunday’s game. But what set the tone for their 22-9 victory over Detroit was that they dominated the clock and field position thanks largely to Eddie Lacy’s out-of-character performance by a Packers running back.

Lacy might have fallen one yard short of 100 — he had 23 carries for 99 yards — and had just one explosive run of 12 yards or more, but he did the kind of heavy-duty running that the Packers haven’t had since Ahman Green was in his prime.

Sixteen of Lacy’s 23 carries came on first down, and he averaged a robust 4.7 yards on those. Plus, out of all his carries, he had only four of 2 yards or less. That included one on a run-out-the-clock play at the end of the half and another in the same type of situation at the end of the game.

As a result, the Lions’ best field position to start one of their 10 possessions was their 21-yard line, and they had the ball for almost 5 fewer minutes.

With no Johnson, there was no way the Lions were going to consistently drive 80 yards and keep pace on the scoreboard. But give Lacy and his blockers credit, they were playing against a defensive front that was healthy and as good as any in the league. Moreover, the Lions have two aggressive, underrated linebackers and two good run-support safeties.


The Packers have been looking for many years for a good zone-block runner who runs behind his pads. Green’s last big year was 2003. Ryan Grant would usually get what was blocked, but he also was the master of the 2-yard run.

Lacy doesn’t have Green’s speed and it remains to be seen if he’ll survive the pounding he’s going to take with his running style, but he has good vision and good change of direction; and the first guy to hit him usually doesn’t bring him down.

There were at least two runs indicative of what Lacy brings to the field.

One was a first-down play with 12:55 to go in the second quarter. Lacy ran through a tackle at the line of scrimmage to gain 6 yards when a lesser back might have been stopped for 1 or 2.

The other was a first-down play with 5:12 remaining in the second quarter. It was a pitch to the right side, and the defense flowed that way. But Lacy put his foot down and cut back behind the block of Don Barclay. Lacy set the run up by getting the defense to over-pursue and then turned what looked like maybe a 4-yard gain into 8 yards.

One of the telltale signs of a good zone runner is that his feet never stop. Those are the backs who get positive yardage out of nothing. Lacy doesn’t figure to break many 50-yard runs, but he might have the ability to put a team on his back and let everyone else ride him at 4, 5 yards a clip down the field, which could be critical in a big game down the stretch.

The Packers have had more than their share of pedestrian, straight-up runners, little pinball runners, etc. Pure and simple, Lacy looks and plays like a running back. He has good eyes, good balance, and he looks like he understands angles and knows defenses.

Sure, one could point out that the Packers were running almost exclusively against a nickel defense with six men in the box. But that’s football today. With their three-wide receiver base offense, that’s what the Packers are going to be facing most of the time.

Bottom line: Lacy brings a physical presence to his position that the Packers haven’t had in maybe 10 years.

Offensive line

This was the second game in a row in which the Packers rushed for 180 yards or more against a good defensive front.

The Lions’ defensive tackles, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, are so overly aggressive they took themselves out of many plays, but the Packers’ offensive line also got consistent push against them and even took it to them at times.

Josh Sitton had a solid game, including pulling and leading on some of the Packers’ old power plays. T.J. Lang was solid, too. The Packers got a lot of mileage running B-gap — to the outside shoulders of the guards — and off-tackle plays.

Most run plays started with a double-team on the two defensive tackles and whether the guards did it in conjunction with Evan Dietrich-Smith or one of the offensive tackles, they did a good job of handling Suh and Fairley and then having one of the two blockers get off and handle the linebacker.

With Lacy, the blocker doesn’t have to plant the linebacker in the ground. He just has to get a piece of him to prevent the backer from squaring up on his tackle.

You can tell from his body language that Barclay relishes blocking for the run. He blocks until the whistle blows. That was Marshall Newhouse’s shortcoming. He’d push his guy around, but not finish the play. Barclay’s pass blocking needs work, but when he latches on to someone in the running game, it’s over.

David Bakhtiari maybe doesn’t have the mean streak that Barclay has, but he has the athletic ability to get his head across and hook a defensive end and to go get linebackers. He’s more of a technician than a mauler, and he probably needs to improve his lower-body strength. But in the running game, he hasn’t had many minus plays.

Wide receivers

Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb accounted for more than 40 percent of the Packers’ total yards on three big plays. Each brings a different dimension to the offense. Nelson’s body control, balance and understanding of where he is on the field is special.

But the Packers don’t have a Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green or Dez Bryant, and that might partly explain why Mason Crosby has kicked eight field goals in the past two games. When the field shrinks, Aaron Rodgers seems to be struggling to find open receivers.

The defense

The Packers are running lines like a hockey team in their nickel front: Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji on one, and Johnny Jolly and Mike Daniels on another with some other combinations worked in. So far so good. They’re playing the run well in the nickel package and also staying fresh.

Mike Neal and Nick Perry aren’t complete linebackers yet, but they combined for three sacks and were credited with nine hurries by Neal showed some countermoves with his hands and also some explosiveness, and Perry has been a high-effort player no matter what his production.

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