Eddie Lacy couldn't ignore his competitive instinct. Yes, the numbers matter. Of course they do.
The Green Bay Packers' second-year running back knows nothing but success. He won two national championships in college, one as Alabama's featured tailback. In three seasons, he ran for more than 2,400 yards and 30 touchdowns.
His success carried over into his first NFL season. Things looked so easy as Lacy ran away with the league's offensive rookie of the year award. When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone for seven weeks, Lacy stepped up.
Finally, Green Bay packed a punch in the running game.
With Rodgers and Lacy healthy this season, expectations soared. They haven't been met. Not even close. Lacy has fallen short of 50 rushing yards in each of the Packers' four games. He never had a stretch like that last season.
On Wednesday, Lacy shrugged it off. Yes, the numbers matter. In his mind, there's a reason the production looks so different in 2014.
"Last year, we were able to run the ball a lot because A-Rod went down," Lacy said. "So we just ran the ball a lot. Having him back, definitely, it's not going to be that type of season. You just have to get in the backfield, run the ball when called upon, and pass protecting to let them throw the ball."
Lacy has had 13 or fewer carries in three games this season. A year ago, that happened only once in a game he finished. Lacy thinks it's more than just the number of times he's running the football.
With Rodgers out, the offense changed last fall. Green Bay lined up in shotgun just 60.7 percent of the time, and even less during the seven weeks Rodgers was sidelined.
This season, the Packers are lining up in shotgun 69.5 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"It's not going to be the same like last year — period — because it's a completely different team," Lacy said. "We're spreading the ball out. We're trying to move fast, get points on the board. That's how this year has gone."
Lacy said he's lined up with the quarterback behind center most of his life. At Alabama, he flashed his power running downhill.
Watch the whooping he put on Notre Dame's defense in the 2012 national title bout, his final college game. The Fighting Irish had a Heisman Trophy finalist. Seven starters were drafted into the NFL.
With 20 carries and 140 yards, Lacy turned them into mush.
At his best, Lacy doesn't travel laterally. He plows through tacklers, not around them.
"If you're behind the center, then it's mostly downhill running," Lacy said. "Whoever's coming to tackle you, they're coming downhill. So it'll be a big collision or something. But when you're in shotgun, it's a lot of side-to-side, so guys are moving. Guys may be out of position, they may be in position, but it's more lateral. So it leaves a couple backside cuts, or something like that, maybe."
Listen to his analysis, and you'd think the Packers need to limit their shotgun snaps. The numbers don't support a change.
Lacy has gained 81 yards on 19 carries (4.26 yards per carry) with Rodgers in shotgun, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On 34 carries with Rodgers under center, Lacy has gained 80 yards — 2.35 yards per carry.
While the Packers' offense has lined up in shotgun significantly more than last season, Lacy's carries from shotgun haven't changed much. A year ago, 34.2 percent of his carries came in shotgun, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This season, that's up to only 35.8 percent.
Perhaps it's a good thing Lacy said he's open to running the football out of the shotgun formation, no matter how different it feels.
"Even though you might not like something, you have to adapt to it. It's your job," Lacy said. Then he rephrased. "It's not that I don't like running from out of shotgun, or I don't like running from [the quarterback being] under center. You have to do what you have to do, and this is just part of what you have to do."
Lacy sees the benefit of taking carries in the shotgun formation. It gives him a chance to see the defense react to the snap. The key, Lacy said, is for a running back to trust his vision.
Lined up next to the quarterback, Lacy doesn't get the same forward momentum off the snap as he does directly behind. He said that's not a problem.
"Everything we do, you're in a position to where if you get in contact, it's not (that) you're going to get hit and get pushed back because you're not ready," Lacy said. "We're still in a football position — knees bent, low body of gravity. So when we get the ball, we're downhill no matter what. So if we take contact, we'll be able to push it a yard or two."
At this point, a yard or two could make a big difference.
It took Lacy three games to cross the 100-yard mark this season, mirroring his start last fall. The difference? In the fourth game last season, Lacy busted out with 120 yards against the Baltimore Ravens.
Lacy had a season high last weekend in Chicago. His 48 yards still were disappointing.
And, yes, the numbers matter.
"From a competitive side, yeah, definitely, you want to be the best person in your position on the team and throughout the league," Lacy said. "But there's games for that, there's years for that. everything isn't going to happen when you want it to happen. You've just got to be patient."
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