Lacy busts out of early-season slump
There was no daylight to the left. Eddie Lacy took a couple steps, ran into the back of left tackle David Bakhtiari, and was stuck at the line of scrimmage.
Here's where the Green Bay Packers running back's carries have gone to die this season. No hole, no yards, plenty of worry. Lacy stumbled over four games, never reaching 50 yards. Thursday night was different.
Instincts took over. Lacy never saw the right side of the Minnesota Vikings defense collapse, but he cutback anyway. Lacy reversed field, churning out an 11-yard touchdown run.
"It was just natural reaction just to run the other way," Lacy said. "I didn't know what was there, or who was there, but it ended up working. It was a positive play."
It was more than the icing on a blowout. For Lacy, it was a highlight to remember. The second-year tailback has made a weekly habit of answering tough questions through the season's first month. In a 42-10 win against the Vikings at Lambeau Field, Lacy bust out of a slump and – for a week, at least – silenced his critics.
Lacy, averaging 3 yards per carry before Thursday, picked up a career-high average of 8.1 yards every time he touched the football. His 105 rushing yards on 13 carries were proof there's still plenty of life in those powerful legs. Lacy added three catches for 27 yards, and touchdown runs of 11 and 10 yards. It was only his second career multi-touchdown game.
In the first quarter, Lacy's 59 rushing yards were a season high – by 11.
"We knew that all season, really we haven't been far off with our running game," right guard T.J. Lang told Press-Gazette Media afterward. "Our attempts were low, but when we watched the film, we felt like we were leaving some yards out there on the field. Whether we were missing the hole, or letting guys slip off blocks too early, we weren't far off. I know everybody wanted to talk about how our running game was just dysfunctional, but in our minds it was never far off. We just knew we needed to correct a few things.
"We didn't really call any different plays than what we've been running. It was just, we knew it was time. Fifth game of the year now, we knew it was time to get the run game going."
Between Lacy and the offensive line, there were plenty of corrections Thursday.
Up front, blocks were held longer. Finally given a hole, Lacy said he was more decisive Thursday. There was no hesitation – in the backfield, running lanes or second level. When a defensive back tried to tackle him downfield, Lacy didn't stop.
"Whenever I made my decision, I just stuck with it and got my pads north and south," Lacy said. "Versus making a decision and hitting the air brakes whenever I see a DB."
Twice, Lacy ran over Vikings safety Robert Blanton. The second time came on his 10-yard touchdown in the third quarter. At the goal line, Lacy plowed over Blanton.
With the hit, Blanton's helmet came flying off.
"It was just me and the safety, and it's a business decision on his behalf," Lacy said. "I just lowered my pads, and it went from there."
Lacy chuckled when a reporter mentioned Blanton lost his helmet.
"That was the first time," Lacy said. "So it was pretty cool, I guess. It'll look better when I'm able to see it (on film)."
Standing at his locker after the game, Lacy wore an Alabama football T-shirt. A fitting choice. Lacy's performance Thursday night was a throwback to his Crimson Tide days. He lined up primarily behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers instead of the shotgun. Running off tackle downhill, Lacy flashed the power that led him to last season's offensive rookie of the year award.
The Packers second drive set a tone. Lacy ripped off runs of 18 and 29 yards, setting up Green Bay's first touchdown. From there, the offensive line continued to dominate.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the offense planned to use its running game to set up the pass. Even if Green Bay didn't need Lacy to go over 100 yards to win, it was important for the running game to find itself.
"Eddie did a great job with his … read, broke tackles," McCarthy said. "I thought he was a beast in the open field. We blocked well, and Eddie ran very well."
The Packers followed their game plan perfectly. With the run setting up the pass, quarterback Aaron Rodgers found receiver Jordy Nelson for a 66-yard touchdown off play-action. The score gave Green Bay a 14-0 lead, and it never looked back.
Of course, the Packers ground game also didn't plenty of damage itself.
Finally, the Packers offense gained the yards the film showed were there. Now, the challenge is doing it again, this time when the opposing defense isn't playing on a short week.
There's a reason the past four Thursday night games have been decided by at least 20 points apiece, with the road team losing three of them. On only four days rest, players are weary. For an opposing defense playing in a steady rain inside Lambeau Field, there's an extra degree of difficulty.
That won't exist when Green Bay travels to play the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 12. At least for now, there's evidence the Packers running game has turned a corner.
"It seemed like Eddie was hitting the holes fast, and being decisive," Lang said. "Something we talk about on the offensive line is finishing blocks, you know. Block a guy up, and stay driving him. Don't let a guy slip off and make a tackle for 2 or 3 yards. It was a complete effort tonight.
"When you simplify things for him – just let him hit the hole – he's going to hit it fast. He's going to hit it decisive. That's what we did tonight."