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What's holding back Eddie Lacy?

10/17/2014

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Eddie Lacy says he's the same player who rushed for 1,178 yards last season and was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year.

But the Green Bay Packers' offense, well that's different.

Lacy played half of last season without quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While teams loaded up to stop the run during that time, Packers coach Mike McCarthy still put the ball in Lacy's hands far more often than he has through six games this season, when Lacy has averaged 13.3 carries per game, more than five and a half fewer than last season.

Is that enough to explain why Lacy has averaged barely more than 50 yards rushing this season -- or nearly 30 fewer yards per game than last year (see chart)?

"Particularly when you have big running backs, I've always felt you gain 1 or 2 yards in the first quarter, 2 or 3 in the second quarter, 3 and 4 yards in the third quarter and then the fourth quarter, man, Katy bar the door," McCarthy said.

Yet McCarthy has defied his own reasoning by relying less on the running game and also splitting time between Lacy and James Starks. In Sunday's comeback win over the Miami Dolphins, it was Starks -- not Lacy -- who got the call for most of the final two drives. Starks' season average of 4.3 yards per attempt is a half-yard better than Lacy's and Sunday against the Dolphins, Starks' averaged a full yard more (3.9 to 2.9).

So McCarthy finds himself in a bit of a quandary. He would like to use both of his backs in an effort to keep them fresh over the long haul, yet he knows both thrive when their attempts are higher.

"They really haven't been given that opportunity, but it's a long season,” McCarthy said. "This is why we have this approach. We're fortunate enough to have two guys, so as far as the way the rotation's gone, I feel good about it."

The results, however, show that the Packers' running game is nowhere close to what it was last season, when it ranked seventh in the league. Through six games, they ranked 24th in rushing yards (94.8 per game) and 21st in rushing average (3.9 yards per carry).

Lacy, whose only 100-yard game came in Week 5 against the Minnesota Vikings on a night when he carried the ball only 13 times, insisted it's possible to replicate last year's success even without 20-plus carries, which he received 11 times last season (including playoffs).

"That's your job," Lacy said, "so you have to."

Before he ever saw Lacy play a snap, McCarthy went into last season looking for a 1-2 running back punch. But when injuries hit DuJuan Harris and Jonathan Franklin, Lacy became the workhorse, while Starks played a complementary role.

Now, the Packers are back to a running-back-by-committee format. The last two games, Lacy and Starks have played almost the exact same number of snaps -- 66 for Lacy and 65 for Starks. In those two games, Lacy has 27 carries to Starks' 20, but Starks has one more catch, four, than Lacy.

"When I came here, my job was to get them ready for all three downs," first-year running backs coach Sam Gash said. "That was kind of the way I was told to do it. It wasn't, Eddie's going to have 300 carries, James is going to have 200. That was never said to me. The only thing that was said to me was, 'We want to win.'"

Lacy has said repeatedly dating to the offseason that he expected this year to be different for two reasons: Opposing defenses know what to expect from him, and a healthy Rodgers means few rushing attempts.

"We're definitely not going to get under center and run the ball every play this year," Lacy said. "It doesn't make sense to do that. You have the best quarterback, why get under center and run the ball every play?"

So the offense is different, but is Lacy?

"I'm the same," he said.