ST. LOUIS – Last season, the Green Bay Packers witnessed what a capable running game can do to round out a high-powered offense.
To properly push the boundaries of the no-huddle, it can't all be on quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the passing game. You need to be able to wear down a defense on the ground, as well.
That's where the Packers had fallen short in the past and why maintaining the one-two punch of Eddie Lacy and James Starks was seen as a major priority this offseason.
The Packers have been smart with both players in the first two preseason games - they've combined for three series - but what they have seen has to excite the organization.
The Packers have scored on all three with Lacy and Starks combining for 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries behind the first-team offensive line.
Rodgers has been a marquee quarterback in the NFL for four years now, but it wasn't until last year the Packers finally had a better-than-average backfield.
In jumping from 20th to seventh behind Lacy and Starks, it taught everyone in the organization a valuable lesson.
"You need two backs," said Rodgers following Saturday's 21-7 preseason win over St. Louis. "You need at least two backs and we think we have more than that. Having Eddie and James in there with the way they're running is really going to help us out. It's going to take some pressure off the passing game and give us some one-on-ones outside for Jordy (Nelson) and Jarrett (Boykin). We have to keep those guys healthy and running well."
As the centerpiece of the NFL's seventh-best rushing offense, Lacy and Starks forged a rushing offense not seen in Green Bay since Ahman Green rushed for more than 1,800 yards in 2003.
Starks saw only a little more than 100 touches, but had a career year as Lacy's understudy. He ran decisively and looked like the running back who helped carry the Packers to the Super Bowl during his rookie season in 2010.
Although he missed a month with a torn MCL, Starks returned in time to help steer the Packers' offense when Rodgers went down with a fractured collarbone for seven weeks.
Lacy garnered NFL offensive rookie of the year honors in rushing for more than 1,100 yards with 11 touchdowns, but admits he can't do it alone. If the Packers plan to run as many as 75 plays a game, one back can't be expected to work every drive of the no-huddle.
"It's not about one player," Lacy said. "We all in the backfield, we all bring something different to the table. We're good at whatever the (assignment) is for us. It helps out the offense at all."
DuJuan Harris remains the most likely candidate to round out the room, though he fumbled against the Rams. He has 14 carries for 50 yards (3.6 yards per carry) in his first work since missing all of last season with a patellar tendon injury.
Undrafted rookie Rajion Neal could pose a challenge, but he'll need to get back on the field. He missed Saturday's game with a knee sprain suffered against the Titans on a kickoff return. Offensively, he had five carries for 39 yards and a touchdown.
Lacy said he felt a little gassed after the Packers' 12-play, 85-yard drive to start the game, but that's normal early in the preseason. The Packers continue to ramp up his workload in practice and taper in the exhibition season.
If all goes according to plan, the high-tempo offense should defenses in both catching their breath and substituting during the quick resets.
The Packers have been working to incorporate the no-huddle on a more consistent basis for years. Now, it appears they finally have a running game that can keep up.
"When our offense is moving like that, it'll be tough for opponents to keep up and be able to beat us," Lacy said.
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