The Green Bay Packers just can’t seem to help themselves. Even with a sputtering passing game, even with receivers consistently losing their one-on-one routes, they keep throwing the football.
The Packers’ insistence on throwing the football Thursday night against the Chicago Bears was made only more perplexing because of their effective running game. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers averaged just 4.7 yards per pass, less than the Packers’ 6-yard average on designed runs. Rodgers threw 43 passes, while Packers called 24 designed runs.
That ratio seems flipped, especially considering the Packers never were playing catchup against the Bears. They were within a touchdown throughout the game, never trailing by more than four points. Right guard T.J. Lang said it felt like the running game was clicking.
“In the first half,” Lang said, “it felt like we were really on a roll. The second half, when we did get them called, it seemed like they were still working for us. I don’t know what the final numbers are, but we probably would’ve liked to have a few more attempts.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said the Bears played more two-high safety formations than the Packers have seen this season. With one fewer defender in the box, Rodgers said, there were more opportunities to run.
As the game progressed, the Bears began sliding a safety closer to the line of scrimmage.
“They were hanging that safety low at times to have a pseudo seven-man box,” Rodgers said, “but we had some better run opportunities (Thursday). A lot of teams are playing us strictly one-high. (Thursday) was more of some combo coverage with some two-high safeties at times.
“When they do that, we’ve got to run the ball. And we did run the ball today.”
The question is whether they ran it enough. Even against a seven-man box, the Packers’ success on the ground certainly could have called for more carries.
After rushing for 72 yards on 10 carries in the first half, Eddie Lacy only carried the football seven times in the second half. Four of those carries opened the Packers’ first second half possession. The other three opened the Packers’ next possession.
The Packers running game has found its rhythm because tailback Eddie Lacy has busted out of his slump. Lacy rumbled for 139 yards from scrimmage Thursday against the Chicago Bears. His 105 rushing yards came four days after he cracked the 100-yard mark for the first time this season at the Minnesota Vikings.
In two games this week, Lacy’s 245 yards from scrimmage accounts for almost 40 percent of his total offensive production this season.
Still, Lacy has been less than flawless. His fumble early in the second quarter – at the end of a 15-yard run – gave the Bears possession at Green Bay’s 34-yard line. It was a big mistake, leading to the Bears’ first touchdown and a tied game. The Packers never led again.
Lacy also nearly wiped out a touchdown when he intentionally dropped the football at the goal line after a 25-yard run. The score stood after an official’s replay review.
Lacy has fumbled five times in his past two games, losing two. Packers coach Mike McCarthy issued a warning Friday morning.
“Make no bones about it,” McCarthy said, “if you don’t hold onto the football, if you turn the football over, your opportunities are going to decrease or go away. Eddie has played very well the last two weeks, but he’s got to handle the football. The touchdown, he was careless with the ball there, and the fumble is clearly technique. The ball is out way from his body, and that’s what happens. The guy comes in from behind and strips the football.
“It’s a basic technique of fundamental football, and it’s something we emphasize every day. We have a ball security drill. It may look like nonsense when they go through it, but that’s what we do it.”
Lacy understands the importance of securing the football. He said his recent fumbles have been “very frustrating.” It’s certainly logical for the Packers to punish Lacy for his shoddy ball handling. For running backs, there’s nothing worse than consistent fumbling.
Still, the Packers might be wise to continue their patience. Lacy is their second best player behind Rodgers, and he’s been the most productive in the team’s past two games. When Rodgers threw a career-high 61 passes in a loss to the Detroit Lions earlier this month, the Packers proved they can’t pass their way out of their slump.
They may be able to run their way out. If, that is, they ever fully commit to it.
firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood