The Green Bay Packers rediscovered balance in their offense Sunday night, and in the process may have uncovered the key to regaining their rhythm in the second half of the season.
In Sunday’s 30-13 win over Minnesota, Eddie Lacy was featured for the first time since he carried the ball 18 times for 90 yards in Week 4 against San Francisco. The Packers gave Lacy 22 carries and the third-year running back repaid the offense with his first 100-yard performance of the year.
During Lacy’s slow first half of the season, much has been made about his conditioning and drive. Some points about his weight may be valid, as coach Mike McCarthy even acknowledged his 25-year-old running back is bigger now than he was as a rookie in 2013.
As Lacy proved through his actions — fighting through an ankle flare-up — the fire still burns inside the former Pro Bowler.
“Eddie played well,” McCarthy said Monday. “I think more importantly he was given more opportunities. That's what running backs need, 22 carries. I thought he was decisive and I thought he ran behind his pads. I thought he played well.”
Sunday’s performance was vintage Lacy. The trademark bull-in-a-china-shop mentality was back. He looked decisive and confident with the ball in his hands. He punished Vikings’ defenders in forcing four missed tackles and gaining 76 of his 100 yards after first contact, according to Pro Football Focus.
In his previous four appearances, PFF had credited him with only two forced missed tackles and 44 yards after contact on 33 carries and 78 total yards. He set the tempo early in pinballing his way down the field for a season-long gain of 27 yards on his fourth carry from scrimmage in the second quarter.
Four plays and seven yards later, Mason Crosby kicked a 40-yard field with 10:22 remaining in the second quarter to give Green Bay a 9-6 lead. Lacy’s carry had been the Packers’ longest gain at that point and helped set the table for what was to follow.
Lacy ran angry the rest of the game with 17 of his 22 carries and 67 of his 100 yards coming in the second half. Predictably, the Packers improved to 7-1-1 when Lacy rushes for at least 100 yards.
“I haven’t seen that excitement or whatever it may be — he was fired up on a few of those plays,” left guard Josh Sitton said Monday. “I haven’t seen that in a while. It’s very nice to see and hopefully that will springboard him to the rest of the year.”
The Packers mixed and matched Lacy and James Starks early on before leaning almost entirely on Lacy in the second half. The early-down production helped the entire offense cut down on its three-and-outs and sustain scoring drives on seven of its 11 meaningful possessions.
It was a welcome change for an offense that has struggled to move the ball, especially during the team’s three-game losing streak. After falling behind early, the Packers often resorted to MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball. He passed 131 times in the three losses compared to 50 designed runs.
McCarthy made it no secret the offense’s goal against the Vikings was to run. In the process, the Packers had their best designed run-pass ratio (31 carries, 34 passes) since they ran the ball 33 times and threw it 32 against the 49ers in a 17-3 win.
The Packers' offense had four explosive passing plays, but Rodgers completed only 47.1 percent of his passes and receiver Randall Cobb had as many drops (two) as he did catches. The difference was the run game and play-caller Tom Clements' willingness to put the ball into Lacy's hands.
“I think we proved that we can win a game that way,” Sitton said. “We don’t necessarily have to go rely on Aaron to throw 60 passes a game and him make 20 amazing plays to win a game. We showed that we can go win a game in another fashion. Hopefully, it’ll continue.”
Slow starts aren’t new for Lacy. He faced many of the same questions last year when he averaged only 3.0 yards per carry in the first month of the 2014 season. The slump lasted through the team’s bye week before Lacy rushed for 711 of his 1,139 yards in the Packers’ final eight games.
The cause for concern this year was two-fold. Yes, Lacy looked larger, but what has been lost in narrative was his issues with ball security. After fumbling only four times in his first two NFL seasons, Lacy fumbled three times in 20 carries spanning three games.
If Lacy cleans up that part of his game, teammates and coaches are fully aware of what he’s capable of doing.
“I think you go back and look at the first eight, nine games the last two seasons, I think it’s kind of been the same thing,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “His yards aren’t there, but you look at his carries and they’re way down. He’s a guy, really our whole run game, it seems to take off in the second half of the season when it gets colder and playing in the tough conditions like tonight when you’ve got to pound the rock.
“As we talked all week, we’re going to have to run the ball. We need a minimum 20, 25 attempts, and we made it work.”
Ryan and Wes break down the Packers' 30-13 victory over the Vikings, fueled by a big day from running back Eddie Lacy. (Nov. 22, 2015)