Eddie Lacy shows more carries key to production
MINNEAPOLIS - Eddie Lacy tried to keep the same routine last week. There were no extra film sessions, no extra practice reps. As Sunday's game approached, and the pressure continued to build, the Green Bay Packers running back avoided drastic changes.
There was one adjustment his preparation.
"Prayed a lot," Lacy said.
This, Lacy was convinced, explained why he had the best game of his season in the Packers' 30-13 win at the Minnesota Vikings. Maybe it did take divine intervention for Lacy to rumble for a season-high 100 yards one week after missing a game because of a pulled groin.
Over the past month, Lacy had only 78 yards in his past four games. Combined.
The Packers were out of options when they entered their NFC North rival's stadium. They were desperately trying to snap a three-game losing streak. They had lost their season-long lead in the division. And they were trying to beat a winning team on the road for the first time in three years.
They walked away with their most impressive win of the season for many reasons, but none were more important than re-establishing Lacy as their workhorse. He had 67 yards on 17 carries in the second half, more yards and carries than all but two games this season.
"Prayer answers everything," Lacy said.
But prayer wasn't the only explanation. There was another difference Sunday. It's no coincidence Lacy's first 100-yard game this season came in the only game he's gotten 20 carries.
Make it 22 carries, to be exact. Two more than he's gotten in his past three games. Combined.
Finally, Lacy found the rhythm he's never quite discovered through the season's first 10 weeks, primarily because he'd never gotten the chance before Sunday. With all the rumors swirling — Was Lacy overweight? Was he lazy? Was it both? — it turned out there was nothing wrong with the big tailback that couldn't be fixed by a big workload.
Afterward, with reporters crowding his locker, Lacy was asked whether it was fitting his first 100-yard game this season came in the first game he got 20 carries.
"I mean, you would think that," Lacy said, "but I'm not really into stats or putting that together like you just did. The only thing I'm focused on is just when I get an opportunity, make the most of it."
Since the day he arrived in Green Bay as a second-round pick in 2013, Lacy has never used the media to lobby for more carries. He toes the company line in every situation, even if his patience is tested.
His history in Green Bay is quite simple. Give Lacy the football, and he gets yards. Dating back to last season, Lacy has now rushed for at least 85 yards in each of the past eight games he's had at least 15 carries.
"He's our workhorse, man," right guard T.J. Lang said. "When he gets going like he was today, the team follows him."
There was genuine relief on the offensive end of TCF Bank Stadium's visiting locker room Sunday night. The Packers knew what was at stake, yes. It would have been dangerous to drop two games behind the Vikings in the NFC North.
But the Packers' offense also knew it had to rediscover itself. The unit had become unrecognizable over the past month. Last week, quarterback Aaron Rodgers' career-high 61 passes against the Detroit Lions was a startling sign one of the league's most talented offenses had lost its identity.
That's what they regained Sunday night, especially in the second half. The Packers used Lacy to pound the Vikings over and over, much like they did at Minnesota last season when Lacy's 25 carries and 125 yards were the difference.
"It's been a while since we've been well balanced like that as an offense," Lang said. "Eddie's a guy who's finally starting to get healthy. Obviously, I think that showed today. Offensively, putting up 30 points, it's been a while since we've reached that. Running the ball that well, it's been a long time too.
"When we're balanced like that, I think we play our best. It's something that going forward we've got to continue to build."
You know who didn't mind Rodgers not throwing 61 times Sunday? Rodgers. The quarterback understands the importance of offensive balance. With fewer opportunities, Rodgers' numbers weren't as impressive. He completed 47 percent of his passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, but somehow the Packers' passing game appeared more dynamic than it has in weeks.
Receiver James Jones had six catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, busting from his slump. Jones had just five catches for 89 yards and no touchdowns in the past four games.
"They had to stack the box," Jones said, "leaving us one on one on the outside. That was huge. That's going to be big for us down the line, being able to run the ball, especially when it gets cold and the guys aren't going to want to come down and tackle Eddie."
The Packers were able to ride Lacy without sacrificing the best attributes fellow running back James Starks provides. Starks didn't do much on the ground — just eight carries for 14 yards — but had a 30-yard catch-and-run early in the second half. With Lacy's bruising running style, Starks' quickness in the open field offers a nice change of pace.
Still, the key is giving Lacy the carries he needs. The Packers made him the central part of their game plan in the second half, and, yes, the offense followed him. Lang, watching the media scrum around Lacy's locker, said he was happy to see his teammate succeed.
"I think the past couple games," Lang said, "I don't think any individual ever deserves to take most of the heat like he has. A lot of rumors floating around about his weight, health. I think he was a guy who just had some injuries early on, kind of affected his confidence.
"I'm very, very, very happy for him. Obviously, I'm sure it's a big weight lifted off his shoulder, as it is really for the whole offense. We've all been taking our fair share of blame the last few weeks, which, you know, has been well deserved. For him to come out and have a big game like that, he's one of the guys you really root for."