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Leather and lace: the Lacy effect

The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.

— Rudyard Kipling

Despite missing time with a concussion, rookie running back Eddie Lacy has been an integral part of the Green Bay Packers' offensive game plan in 2013.

Despite missing time with a concussion, rookie running back Eddie Lacy has been an integral part of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive game plan in 2013.

After the 2012 campaign ended in playoff disappointment for the Green Bay Packers, general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy reportedly asked quarterback Aaron Rodgers what he would do to improve the offense.

His answer was immediate: get me a running back who can carry the ball 20 times a game, one who can rack up a 100-yard week or a 1,000-yard season.

It was a startling expression of humility by a player widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the game. But Rodgers played with Marshawn Lynch (now with the Seattle Seahawks) in college and knows the benefits of having a running back who can inflict pain.

After watching their star quarterback taking 51 sacks last year, second most in the league, Thompson and McCarthy seem to have taken Rodgers’ words to heart. They drafted running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in the 2013 NFL Draft.

They recognized that taking the ball out of Rodgers’ hands will not only reduce the number of hits he absorbs, but also open up the field to endless possibilities that make the Packers’ offense less predictable for opposing defenses.

No respect

Although sometimes derided for his physical appearance, Eddie Lacy proved himself one of the fastest running backs at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.

Although sometimes derided for his physical appearance, Eddie Lacy proved himself one of the fastest running backs at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.

Green Bay’s offensive line has been the butt of jokes in recent years, and deservedly so. Last year, they were antagonized by fast past rushers who were able to get around tackles Bryan Bulaga, Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay before Rodgers could even finish his dropback. They were not unable to open running lanes for any of Green Bay’s back-up quality backs.

In years past, every defense has known that putting six men guys in the box with two high safeties would not only stop the run but also put pressure on Rodgers. They have known that Rodgers would throw every time he had second down and more than five yards to go. Heck, they knew that Green Bay would throw it on third-and-short and even on fourth down.

Knowing that the offense had to pass the ball, defensive linemen changed their stances to get more burst, pushing their butts higher and bringing their hands and feet closer together. They stopped worrying about remaining in their gap assignments and simply pinned their ears back to pressure the quarterback.

It was obvious that the Green Bay coaching staff lacked faith in the ability of the offensive line to push the ball even one yard forward.

Missing piece

This offseason, Mike McCarthy admitted to having a soft spot in his heart for DuJuan Harris all off-season. He mentioned that he had reworked the Packers’ playbook in order to accommodate Harris’ shifty and fast style. And indeed, when he’s healthy, Harris is a great asset between the 20’s.

But Eddie Lacy is a better fit for this offense overall.

Eddie Lacy is the kind of back that Green Bay has longed for since the days of Ahman Green and Ryan Grant. The Packers’ two most productive running backs of the past 15 years, Green and Grant were straight-forward, powerful, downhill runners.

Although not always the most svelte of backs, Lacy is fast. His electronic 40-yard dash time at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine was 4.55 seconds — faster than Montee Ball, Andre Ellington, Le’Veon Bell, Kenjon Barner, Giovani Bernard, Christine Michael, Zac Stacy, Stepfan Taylor, and Marcus Lattimore.

Immediate impact

Fans may not respect what Lacy brings to the table, but it’s obvious opposing defenses do.

Rookie running back Eddie Lacy brings an element of power to the rushing attack that the Green Bay Packers haven't enjoyed in several years.

Rookie running back Eddie Lacy brings an element of power to the rushing attack that the Green Bay Packers haven’t enjoyed in several years.

He made his impact felt in his first preseason appearance against the St. Louis Rams. When he lined up next to Rodgers, the defense didn’t know what to do.  They put an extra man in the box to stop Lacy — and Rodgers found tight end Jermichael Finley for long gains. The defense pulled a safety out of the box and Rodgers audibled to a run play.

Lacy had eight carries for 40 yards and one catch for 13 yards that day. In those nine touches he blasted through 13 broken tackles.

Against the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs, Lacy never stepped on the field with Rodgers in either game. Defenses knew that Vince Young, Graham Harrell, and B.J. Colemen weren’t going to beat them by passing the ball, so they teed off on the run game.

Lacy was stopped cold.

Playing to their strengths

Neither Bulaga nor Newhouse is starting in 2013. Right tackle Don Barclay and center Evan Dietrich-Smith are both considered better run blockers than pass blockers, while rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari weighs in at only 298 pounds and is known for his nimble feet.

With a renewed run game, the Packers can bring a credible threat of play-action.

Play-action was the staple of the Green Bay offense in 2011, when they went 15-1. Rodgers would bootleg out of the I-formation and heave the ball 50 yards downfield to Jordy Nelson with no problems.

When defenses have to respect the run, it freezes them in position, makes them  hold their spot. The defensive linemen look to extend their arms on the offensive linemen, hold their gaps, and wait to shed. Meanwhile, a linebacker takes two hard steps forward to fill a gap, and the safeties watch the backfield and creep toward inside coverage.

This allows the tight end to get two steps behind the linebacker but in front of the safety. The wide receivers are able to get behind the defensive backs or at least open for a back-shoulder throw.

Honest appraisal

Realistically, none of the running backs in Green Bay’s stable are likely to make the Pro Bowl this year. Eddie Lacy probably won’t be the 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year. He won’t set records like an Adrian Peterson.

But the Packers don’t need him to do any of that. He simply needs to make the defense stop and think, thereby creating opportunities for Aaron Rodgers to pick them apart.

The presence of running back Eddie Lacy on the field opens up the possibility for play-action, which should make Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers more productive in 2013.

The presence of running back Eddie Lacy on the field opens up the possibility for play-action, which should make Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers more productive in 2013.

That’s what happened in the first half of the Divisional Round game against the San Francisco 49ers last year. DuJuan Harris had eight carries for 45 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown scamper up the gut between linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Then they abandoned the run game in the second half, and it all fell apart.

That is a valuable lesson for this organization — not just Mike McCarthy, but Aaron Rodgers as well — to learn. Green Bay has the ability, but they have to stick to the gameplan.

Already this season, two Packers running backs — James Starks in Week 2 and Johnathan Franklin in Week 3 — have posted 100-yard games, and Eddie Lacy came within a yard of doing so this week. If McCarthy continues to follows through with his stated intention of focusing on the run game, Green Bay should be very successful this season.

After all, would you want to lug Lacy’s 230-pound frame around after he’s made that spin move on you?

1574 comments
tmonson78
tmonson78 moderator

GAH!  Now I'm upset. Thanks adam.

R.Gould kicks 36 yards from CHI 30 to ATL 34. H.Douglas to ATL 44 for 10 yards (C.Steltz).

Atlanta Falcons at 0:11, (1st play from scrimmage 0:06)

1st and 10 at ATL 44(:06) (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass deep left to M.Jenkins pushed ob at CHI 30 for 26 yards (M.Brown). The Replay Assistant challenged the pass completion ruling, and the play was Upheld.

1st and 10 at CHI 30(:01) J.Elam 48 yard field goal is GOOD, Center-M.Schneck, Holder-M.Koenen.

Nardo - FYS Goodwill Ambassador
Nardo - FYS Goodwill Ambassador

wow of all 9 of Matt Ryan's fourth quarter comebacks only once did he throw a TD the rest were FGs and Micheal Turner runs 

Wow that's almost as bad as Aaron Rodgers on 4th quarter comebacks.

aciddragon
aciddragon

wow of all 9 of Matt Ryan's fourth quarter comebacks only once did he throw a TD the rest were FGs and Micheal Turner runs 

adambballn
adambballn

@tmonson78 

That TD pass neck beard threw right before that was a thing of beauty too...

aciddragon
aciddragon

@Nardolicious well nobody's perfect, also hard to rack up 4th quarter comeback when you rarely trail in the 4th quarter 

aciddragon
aciddragon

@Sanya.Marshall that's it, i think, and it took 18 penalties and fumble in the last minute for them to do it 

tmonson78
tmonson78 moderator

@adambballn @aciddragon That same prevent allowed Tebow (TEBOW!) to come back against the Bears after they shut him down the entire game.