A year ago, Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy wore a walking boot.
It was precautionary. Teammates knew their big, bruising tailback would be in the backfield on Sundays. But as his rookie season wound down, Lacy legs weren't fresh.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy wanted to avoid repeating the same mistake this fall. So Lacy's season began slowly, with minimal touches. He averaged 12.9 carries per game through the first 10. It wasn't until Week 12 when Lacy finally exceeded the 20-carry mark in a game.
McCarthy said those numbers weren't by design, but he had an end goal in mind.
"I never went into a game in the first eight weeks and said, 'Hey, Eddie is only going to carry it 10 times,'" McCarthy said. "I mean, that's not the way you go about it. You have a range of things. You look at our games earlier in the year, we had some games that didn't go very well. We had some games where we had the ball for 57 plays. I mean, there's other factors involved with some of the opportunities you can give a particular skill player.
"The other thing I was very conscious of was his workload during the year, because of what he went through last year. So from that, I feel like we've hit the target. Eddie, you know he feels great, you know we wanted him fresh for the playoffs, and he's there."
There's no question Lacy is fresh as Green Bay enters the postseason, and not just because the walking boot is long gone.
Lacy finished his second season on a torrid pace. He was the only running back in the NFL to exceed 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the season's final nine games, a stretch that began late October in New Orleans. Lacy recorded 1,111 total yards, 770 rushing and nine touchdowns, helping him to 1,566 total yards, 1,139 rushing and 13 touchdowns on the season.
All three areas of production were more than his 911 total yards, 732 rushing and eight touchdowns in last season's final nine games. Projected over 16 games, Lacy's late-season pace in 2014 was 1,975 total yards, 1,368 rushing and 18 touchdowns.
"We just started clicking," Lacy said. "I don't look to much into anything. Once you get on a roll, I'm going to let it just keep rolling. But we're all on the same page, making it hard for defenses to pick out if we're going to pass or throw the ball. We have a great balanced offense."
With quarterback Aaron Rodgers nursing a strained calf, the Packers will rely on Lacy to provide offensive balance this week when they host the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC divisional playoff round.
Green Bay will face one of the most balanced offenses in the league. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has long been his franchise's most recognizable player, but the Cowboys' success this season was paved by three All-Pro offensive lineman and the league's best running back. DeMarco Murray rushed for 1,845 yards this season, breaking hall of famer tailback Emmett Smith's franchise record.
If Dallas uses its running game to chew up clock and keep the Packers offense on the sideline, it could be a long day for the home team. If Lacy's success on the ground allows Green Bay to control time of possession, it could be a Packers blowout.
The man blocking for Lacy believes the second-year tailback is capable of having a big game Sunday.
"He's an incredibly tough back, he really is," fullback John Kuhn said. "The guy breaks more tackles, I think, than anybody. He's a tough guy to bring to the ground, he's committed on every run. He runs every run like it might be his last chance to touch the football. That's what we try and teach, but not many guys can do it. He's one of them."
Lacy is ready for a heavy workload.
A year ago, he entered the postseason with 284 carries. Counting catches, he touched the football 319 times in 15 games. This season, Lacy has 288 touches and just 246 carries in 16 games, keeping his legs fresh for the playoff run.
Right guard T.J. Lang sees Lacy's freshness. He said the Packers have more offensive balance entering the playoffs than in past seasons. Starting this week, Lang said, he expects the Packers' healthy running back to make a big difference.
"It was frustrating at the beginning of the year when he was only getting eight, nine, 10 carries, and then we've got to answer questions about how our running game isn't there," Lang said. "But lately, to see him get the carries, get the production on the ground, keep him fresh leading into the most important time of the year, it's good to see. It's good to see him go out there, get healthy, stay healthy and be ready for these important games coming up."