Lacy sets foundation for big-play offense
GREEN BAY - Eddie Lacy dressed quickly and paused for a moment before slipping through the exit. The postgame commotion unfolded around him. Reporters carried questions from locker to locker.
Nobody thought to stick a camera or tape recorder in Lacy’s face.
Lacy left Lambeau Field without speaking with the media after the Green Bay Packers' 34-27 win Sunday against the Detroit Lions, but only because nobody was at his locker with a question. A fitting metaphor for the running back who easily can be forgotten. At least when the conversation doesn’t include weight and conditioning.
On a day when the Packers' offense turned back its clock to 2014, Lacy was overshadowed. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers tossed four touchdown passes for only the second time in his career, snapping a 14-game drought without his passer rating reaching 100. Receiver Jordy Nelson hit the 100-yard mark for the first time since returning from reconstructive knee surgery.
All Lacy did was set the foundation on which the Packers’ big plays were built.
DOUGHERTY: Packers' offense finds old form
Coach Mike McCarthy’s offense came the closest it has this season to achieving balance, with 29 called pass plays and 19 called runs. Lacy, a workhorse this week, carried 17 times for 103 yards.
“That's his game,” McCarthy said. “We want to get him downhill, shoulders square and give him clean looks. I thought with that, it was important for us to be relatively balanced, run and pass. I thought Eddie had a nice game.”
A 31-point first half lifted the Packers' offense from an unfathomable slump. It also didn’t go quite according to plan.
When they met for the first time last week, convening Monday to figure out how to put broken pieces back together, their collapsed passing game wasn’t the order of business. Right guard T.J. Lang said the first topic was how to restore their commitment to the run. On the same day, McCarthy offered a rare, public insight when he admitted Lacy had not been given enough carries through two games.
It was a good week to run. The Lions were without linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive end Ziggy Ansah, their best front-seven players. So Lacy got his first carry on the Packers' first play. Then he got another. And another.
Three carries on the Packers’ opening drive. Lacy rushed only once over the next three. By that time, the scoreboard flashed 24-3.
The Packers didn’t expect to throw all over the Lions, but they did.
“Any time Aaron is on a roll like he was today,” Lang said, “it’s hard to complain about trying to run the ball. Whatever is working, you’ve got to stick with. Obviously, there in the first half, he hit some really big plays there through the air. When he’s playing like he did today, you want the ball in his hands as many times as he can.”
INSIDER: Thumbs up to Perry, down to Randall
Later, Rodgers would credit the Packers’ improved passing game to more completions from quick, three-step drops. The quarterback said his receivers did a better job releasing from the line of scrimmage, beating press-man coverage. Collectively, their timing returned.
Lacy’s role shouldn’t be forgotten. With injuries decimating the Lions' defensive front, they compensated with scheme. Lang said the Lions blitzed both safeties off the edge, loading up against the run. They crashed their linebackers into the gaps. They shifted their defensive linemen around.
It left one-on-one matchups on the perimeter without sacrificing Lacy’s production. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry, routinely ripping through the middle of the Lions’ defense.
“I like that number,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said, smiling.
Perhaps the most meaningful number was 17.
Through four seasons, Lacy had never had a 20-carry game in September. It was only the fourth time he had 17 carries in the season’s opening month. McCarthy’s philosophy centers on saving his power-running tailback for the late-season stretch.
Lacy could carry the football more. When the Packers' offense trotted onto the field with 6:35 left, looking to grind out the clock with a two-touchdown lead, Lacy stayed on the sideline. Their first play was a quick pass rookie Trevor Davis dropped. Their second was backup tailback James Starks’ lone carry of the game, stuffed for a one-yard loss.
In a three-and-out, Lacy didn’t touch the football.
BOX SCORE: Packers 34, Lions 27
NFL SCORES: Week 3
The Lions answered with a touchdown on their next possession, cutting the Packers’ lead to 34-27. When the offense returned to the field, this time holding a one-score lead with less than four minutes left, McCarthy called a run for Lacy on the first play. Lacy carried the football three times on their final drive, including a nine-yard run on second-and-1 that allowed the Packers to run out the clock.
“He’s our bruiser,” Lang said. “When you’re playing the type of defense like that, they like to load the box up, he’s the perfect guy for that. Break a couple tackles and push the pile and get that confidence going.”
There is no doubt Rodgers is the Packers’ premier big-play threat. The offense is centered on its quarterback.
As they enter the bye week, perhaps nothing is more relevant to the Packers’ big-play offense than staying committed to pounding Lacy on the ground.