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Thursday, October 24, 2013
Eddie Lacy, running game for real

By Rob Demovsky

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Is it safe to say the Green Bay Packers have finally found their running back?

The last three games suggest as much.

Lacy
Rookie second-round draft pick Eddie Lacy leads the NFL with 301 rushing yards in the last three weeks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, with 272 yards rushing in that same stretch, ranks second.

Perhaps a greater indication is how opposing defenses have reacted to Lacy.

Three weeks ago, running backs coach Alex Van Pelt admitted the Packers had not seen defenders stacking the box to stop the Packers' running game even though at that point the Packers ranked ninth in rushing yards per game and second in yards per carry.

In their first two games, they had two 100-yard rushers -- James Starks with 132 yards in Week 2 against the Washington Redskins after Lacy got knocked out with a concussion, and rookie Johnathan Franklin with 103 in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals with Lacy inactive and Starks out in the first half with a knee injury.

Through three games, the Packers had seen defenses with seven or more defenders in the box on only 19.9 percent of their snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Slowly but surely, that has begun to change. In the last three games, defenses have loaded the box with seven or more on 28.3 percent of their snaps, including 28.7 percent of the snaps in Sunday's 31-13 win over the Cleveland Browns, who regularly brought one of their safeties down to the line of scrimmage.

Finally, the Packers have found a way to stop opponents from playing exclusively Cover-2 defense.

"You've got to run them out of a two-shell, and that's what we've done," Van Pelt said Thursday. "We're there right now. It's coming around."

Of course, an argument could be made that the Browns did that because the Packers were missing two of their top-three receivers, Randall Cobb and James Jones. And although Lacy rushed for 82 yards, his average of 3.7 yards per carry was his lowest over the last three games.

"Yeah, missing Randall and James, teams aren't quite as two-shell happy," Van Pelt conceded.

Nevertheless, the Packers believe their running game -- ranked sixth in the NFL in yards per game (134.7) and third in yards per carry (4.9) -- is for real. They haven't had a top-10 running game since 2004.

"Coach said he wanted to have a great running game this year, and we stepped up to the challenge," Lacy said. "We just accepted it and went out and played the way we're capable of playing."

More importantly, opponents believe it.

"That hasn't always been the case, but this year for sure they seem to be more committed to running the ball where situations in the past that hasn't always been the case," Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "You do have to respect their run game a lot more than you have in the past."

While Lacy's production has been impressive, the Packers have to be careful not to overwork the rookie, who already is nearly halfway to his total carries last season at Alabama. Starks is expected to return this week from his knee injury, so that could lighten the load.