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They enter every game with the same plan. Get the football to No. 27. In the Green Bay Packers' offense, it's high priority.

Offensive coordinator Tom Clements said he wants to see Eddie Lacy handle the football 20 times each week. Coach Mike McCarthy is less specific on numbers, but his premise is the same. The Packers' running back is a playmaker, deserving a heavy dose of touches, if not carries.

"We want him to touch the ball, however that is accomplished," Clements said. "Whether it's handing the ball off to him or getting him involved in the passing game. He has good hands. If you get the ball to him out in space, it's often times more beneficial. He's running on smaller guys, and he has the ability to get some big plays.

"As long as he has the ball in his hands, he's a weapon."

But it's been a long first half of the season for Lacy. His numbers are down. His impact appears to be less after being crowned NFL offensive rookie of the season in 2013.

Lacy is on pace for 856 rushing yards, about 300 fewer than his rookie year. He's on pace for 1,065 yards from scrimmage, almost 400 yards shy of 2013.

Some fans have asked if Lacy is in a slump.

Green Bay met its goal Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints. Lacy caught a career-high eight passes and added 13 carries, finishing with 21 touches. His 182 yards from scrimmage were a career high, 50 more yards than any other game this season.

Not coincidentally, it was also the first time this season Lacy has gotten 20 touches in a game.

"I think you have to focus on touches," McCarthy said. "I think there's much too much time spent on stat sheets."

Lacy's 4.1 yards per carry through eight games is identical to his yards-per-carry average last season. So the running back's slump is really no slump at all, but a byproduct of fewer carries.

Lacy had at least 20 carries in a game 10 times last season, including a stretch of six straight games between Week 5 and Week 10. Four of those games came with Aaron Rodgers behind center, so it's been proven Lacy can thrive with his MVP quarterback on the field.

This season, his opportunities have shrunk. Lacy's 17 carries against the Chicago Bears remain his season high.

When healthy, Lacy had fewer than 15 carries in just three games last season. He's carried the football fewer than 15 times in seven games this fall.

Even with the same yards-per-rush average, Lacy's pace of 210 carries this season is 74 fewer than last season. On average, those 74 carries are an additional 303 yards, which would set Lacy's pace at 1,159 yards.

That would be 19 yards short of last season's total.

"I think the running game is fine," Lacy said Sunday night inside the Superdome's visiting locker room. "We did great on the ground whenever we ran the ball."

The next question was obvious. Should Lacy get more carries?

"It's not my call," he said. "It's something to ask coach. All I've got to do is get the plan and execute it."

Green Bay's offense revolves around Rodgers. He's perhaps the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL. With a Super Bowl ring and MVP, his resume is impeccable.

Like any running back playing alongside a great quarterback, Lacy's role is to bolster Rodgers' productivity. His value goes beyond carries and catches, yards and touchdowns. Lacy's presence in the play-action passing game can make him an effective piece in the offense.

"Let's not forget who our quarterback is," McCarthy said. "It's important to get the ball to our players. Eddie's one of those guys. Whether he carries it, whether he catches it, it's really important for Eddie."

Lacy's decreased production hasn't hurt the Packers' offense. Green Bay ranks sixth in the NFL with 27.8 points per game, its most since 2011. Lacy has scored touchdowns in three games this season, and those games have been the Packers' highest offensive outings — 38 points apiece against Chicago and Carolina, 42 against Minnesota.

Still, even with Lacy's diminished role, the Packers have mostly kept humming along while winning four of their past five games.

"I don't understand what you don't like about our offense the last couple weeks," McCarthy said when asked why Lacy hasn't gotten his 20 touches before last week. "… I'm very comfortable with the number of touches that Eddie has."

rwood@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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