World's Best Preview: Yards Don't Define Lacy

Our 20-point, 3,600-word preview is overflowing with info we guarantee you won't find anywhere else. Leading off is a look at Eddie Lacy that goes beyond rookie rushing records. Plus, "the new Matty Ice," perspective on last week's touchback-a-thon and much, much more for today's game.

At 230 pounds of leg-driving fury, not much scares Eddie Lacy.

Other than a seat on the bench.

When Lacy fumbled on the sixth carry of his professional career, he got the Green Bay Packers' version of tough love. Fumbling isn't tolerated, regardless of whether you're a second-round draft pick from a college football powerhouse or an undrafted rookie from Nowhere State.

When the Packers face the Steelers on Sunday, Lacy will carry a streak of 242 consecutive carries without a fumble.

"Maybe it was the fact he had to sit and watch for a quarter-and-a-half in that San Fran game that scared the crap out of him," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said on Thursday. "‘I don't want to sit over here and be in the dog house.'"

The Packers do not list a record for consecutive carries without a fumble. When Ahman Green — known as a fumbler early in his career — wrapped up his career following the 2009 season, he had gone a league-high 393 consecutive carries without a fumble, with two years in Houston sandwiched between stints in Green Bay. Ryan Grant had a 323-carry streak snapped when he returned to Green Bay in 2011.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Steven Jackson carries the longest current streak, with 606 consecutive carries without a fumble, with Donald Brown (496), Justin Forsett (328), Jackie Battle (320) and Pierre Thomas (306) rounding out the top five.

Last season at Alabama, Lacy fumbled three times in 226 touches. His fumble at San Francisco taught him a valuable lesson.

"The only thing I did was pretty much let myself know when to give up," Lacy said.

Lacy, who regularly moves the pile and ranks sixth in the league in yards after contact, according to ProFootballFocus.com, giving up?

"In that situation, I made a cut and I was stumbling trying to continue to keep my balance up and I had the ball low so he just knocked it out," Lacy said. "Now, my pads are always square and I have good body leverage and I'm able to push and cover the ball with my hands."

As much as his glittering rushing numbers, it's Lacy's ball-security and pass-protection skills that are impressive for a rookie. Those will be put to the test against revered Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is renowned for his creative blitz packages.

"He speaks in O-line language now, which is where you try to get these guys to understand the actual line calls as opposed to what the adjustment is, so they know exactly how the line is blocking," Van Pelt said. "He'll ask you a question – ‘Hey, did they liz that? Did they rip that?' He's come a long way from when he first got here."

While John Kuhn occasionally enters on third down, Lacy has emerged as an every-down running back. That's coach Mike McCarthy's preference.

"A three-down back obviously points, No. 1, to the individual," McCarthy said. "If a player can play on all three downs, it obviously makes him more valuable, helps you tendency-wise because you're able to do more with one player. It really helps you when you want to be in no-huddle because when you substitute in no-huddle, it slows the process down (because) the referee stands over the ball. You'd definitely prefer a three-down back."

With Lacy, they've got a reliable, productive, young star.

2. FORWARD WITH FLYNN

Matt Flynn is writing quite a history for himself.

In 2011, he threw for franchise records of 480 yards and six touchdowns against Detroit, leading the Packers from behind six times in the victory.

In 2013, he threw a franchise-record four touchdown passes in the second half against Dallas last week. Under McCarthy, the Packers had lost every time when trailing by two scores in the second half. In the span of four games, Flynn has won twice and come off the bench to earn a tie when facing big deficits.

"I just remember that preseason (of Flynn's rookie year in 2008), he just had a knack for making plays," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said, thinking back to the then-rookie seventh-round pick. "He made things happen, remained calm. We had a game against Tennessee in the preseason where it was a wild comeback in the end, and he just made things happen. Guys seemed to respond to him."

After going 0-for-3 in opportunities to win starting jobs in Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, who knows if Flynn will get another shot to lead a team again once he hits free agency at season's end. His lack of arm strength is apparent. He's not a great athlete. His decision-making seems a half-tick slow at times.

But it's hard to argue with the results.

"You know, he's a savvy, quick decision-maker that's hot right now and delivers timely plays for them," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in a conference call. "It's obvious he's well-schooled in the system of offense they're running and doing a heck of a job of it."

This week, receiver James Jones called Flynn "the new Matty Ice" and "a gamer."

Flynn, who won a national title at LSU when he replaced JaMarcus Russell as a senior, laughed at the "Matty Ice" line.

"I'm a competitive guy, I'm a hard-headed guy," Flynn said. "Trust me, we'd like to not be in these close games. We'd like to put up a bunch of points and do all that. There's so much talent here. We're such a good team, especially on the offensive side of the ball. There's so many talented guys that, a lot of times, they make my job easy out there. I don't know. I've just always been one that keeps on fighting, whether it's stupidity or stubbornness or whatever it is."

He'll need that fight and stubbornness on Sunday as he tries to keep the Packers in the playoff chase for another week.

"I hope we can move the ball, and I think we believe we can," he said. "It is definitely a really good defense. They give you a lot of looks. They've been good for a long time on defense. We know we have a huge challenge, and we know our execution is going to have to be right on. We can't start slow, we can't have any of those lulls of execution. We have to get out there and execute and find our rhythm."


Flynn led a prodigious comeback at Dallas. Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports

3. NOT VERY MANY HAPPY RETURNS

The Packers were at the point of no return last week against Dallas.

The Cowboys' Dan Bailey kicked off nine times against Green Bay. All nine went for touchbacks.

The NFL moved kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line for the 2011 season. As expected, the results have been dramatic.

"It's changed it quite a bit," Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said this week. "What I'm also seeing, you see a lot of drives starting inside the 20, as well, because you catch the ball back on the end line and you get a 25-yard return, you're sitting at the 15-yard line or the 16-yard line. It's changed the dynamic of the starting position."

An Associated Press story this week had these numbers from STATS:

— The season is tracking at 1,285 returns, which would be the lowest since the expansion to 32 teams in 2002. Not surprisingly, 2011 (1,375) and 2012 (1,395) have been the next two lowest. Prior to that, 2009 had the lowest number of returns, at 2,004.

— The touchback percentage is 49.4 percent. There's never been a season where more than half the kicks are touchbacks. Prior to 2011, the highest percentage was in 1993, when 27 percent of kickoffs were downed.

— The average kickoff return is 23.5 yards. Over 2011 and 2012, that number was 22.2. However, the average starting position on kickoffs is now the 22-yard line. It was 26.8 in 2010, the year before the rule change.

That final stat shows the risk-reward premise mentioned by Slocum. The Packers rank last with a paltry 18.8-yard average on kickoff returns. So, they've been content taking touchbacks. Green Bay's return unit has taken a touchback 56.2 percent of the time, the ninth-highest rate in the league.

"You've got to say, how are we blocking? How are doing on that day? What is our returner capable of doing?" Slocum said of how he weighs the risk vs. reward. "If you look at (Baltimore's) Jacoby Jones, he's bringing it out, regardless, or (Minnesota's) Cordarrelle Patterson, like he did against us and the guy makes a play. Those explosive guys like that are still bringing the ball out  from back deep."

In 2012, with Randall Cobb handling the return duties, the Packers took a touchback 37.8 percent of the time, even though the kickoff reached the end zone 75.0 percent of the time. This year, the 56.2 percent touchback rate comes with 73.4 percent of kickoffs reaching the end zone.

"His first touchdown, I think he was 8 yards deep," Slocum said of Cobb's 108-yarder in the 2011 opener. "There's some consideration involved with that."

THE OTHER SIDELINE

— 4. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for a team-record 503 yards and a last-play touchdown to beat the Packers in 2009, is on a roll.

Since throwing 10 interceptions and losing five fumbles in the first nine games, Roethlisberger has thrown 12 touchdown passes and one interception and lost one fumble in the last five games. His career-best 207-pass streak without an interception was snapped last week in the win over Cincinnati.

Maybe more remarkable than that, he was sacked a whopping 35 times in those first nine games. He's been sacked just five times since.

"He's playing, to me, as good right now as he's played all year," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "When you look at the Bengal game Sunday night, they ran the no-huddle and he called most of the plays at the line of scrimmage off the defensive looks. He's very good at it because of his experience. We're going to have to do a good job on defense because he's going to try to get them into the right play against what our looks are."

Roethlisberger has completed a touchdown pass in 27 consecutive games. That is tied with Tony Romo for the second-longest active streak, behind Peyton Manning's 37-game run. Impressive as that is, it's still only halfway to Drew Brees' 54-game streak, which was snapped last year. With a touchdown pass on Sunday, he'd tie Dave Krieg for the sixth-longest streak of all-time.

Combined regular season and playoffs, Roethlisberger has thrown 236 touchdown passes. Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw holds the club record with 242. Plus, he is 85 yards from his third 4,000-yard season.

— 5. Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown quietly has emerged as one of the NFL's top playmakers. With two games to go, Brown's 95 receptions rank third in the league and are second-most in franchise history. (Hines Ward had 112 in 2002.) With 1,307 receiving yards, he ranks fifth in Steelers history and needs just 92 yards to break Yancey Thigpen's record of 1,398 yards, set in 1997.

It's remarkable production for a 5-foot-10 player drafted in the sixth round out of Central Michigan in 2010.

"He's doing some great things," Roethlisberger said. "Not your conventional-looking No. 1 receiver, being as small as he is. But he just does some great things and it really stems from his work ethic."

Brown scored twice last week, including on a 67-yard punt return. Brown and Green Bay's Micah Hyde enter the game as two of the league's premier punt returners. Brown ranks fourth with a 12.9-yard average — Hyde is second with a 13.3 average. Brown's six returns of 20-plus yards are the third-most in the league.

— 6. The Steelers have endured an up-and-down season, which if it continues would not bode well for the Packers. Pittsburgh started 0-4, won two in a row, lost two in a row, won three in a row and lost two in a row. After beating Cincinnati on Sunday night, the Steelers are looking to win two in a row.

How have the Steelers at least stayed alive in the AFC playoff hunt? They averaged 17.9 points per game during their 2-6 start but 28.0 in winning four of their last six.

"First and foremost, we got some key guys back into the lineup, whether it was Heath Miller coming back and really looking more like himself, or Matt Spaeth returning or Le'Veon Bell developing," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley told Pittsburgh beat reporters on Thursday. "Remember, Le'Veon had a week-and-a -half of training camp and three plays in a game, and then he got hurt. He came back in the Minnesota game (in Week 4). But up until that he had played three plays in an NFL game and it was in the preseason. He has developed, which has been a big part. I think guys have worked hard and worked together, and they understand what is expected. They've protected the football. The first half of the season we had 17 giveaways. That's a recipe for losing. In the second half, we have three, knock on wood."

— 7. Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu is a declining player, but the fumble he forced last week gave him a career-high four for the season.

NOTEWORTHY NUMBERS

— 8. While Pittsburgh has all but eliminated the giveaway from its playbook — it had no turnovers in four consecutive games until giving away the ball once against the Bengals last week — the Packers have forced eight turnovers in the last three games. In their previous eight games, the Packers forced just five turnovers.

— 9. In 2010, when the Steelers faced the Packers in the Super Bowl, outside linebackers James Harrison (10.5) and LaMarr Woodley (10.0) reached double-digits in sacks. The Steelers haven't had a 10-sack season since, which partially explains why they haven't been a contender for the past few seasons.

— 10. Here's something to keep in mind if field conditions are poor: The Packers rank fourth in the league with 2,070 yards after the catch while the Steelers are sixth with 2,048 yards after the catch. Among wide receivers, Pittsburgh's Brown ranks fifth with 519 YAC.

"He's not the biggest guy, but he's very shifty," Capers said. "He's explosive. Very good quickness. You want to keep people coming with leverage from outside in, inside out. They try to use his ability, this team will run an awful lot of wide receiver screens. Ben has the ability, I think, to audible to that any time he's one-on-one. You'll see him get the ball out of his hands and get the ball to Brown and try to let him run with it."

— 11. It's an incomplete record, since the Packers didn't track tackles back when Ray Nitschke roamed the middle of the field. Still, with 1,010 career tackles, A.J. Hawk ranks third in franchise history. Nick Barnett is second with 1,014 and John Anderson is first with 1,020, meaning there's a decent chance Hawk breaks the record against the Steelers.

"A.J., to me, he's Mr. Steady," Capers said. "As a coach, you have a tremendous amount of confidence in him because he's going to do the things you ask him to do. He's been able to stay healthy. Because of that, he's been our most consistent guy on the field. Yeah, to me, it's a real testament to A.J. and the kind of guy he is and the player that he is."

HISTORY LESSONS

— 12. While the Packers lead the series 21-15, the Steelers have won three consecutive regular-season matchups. Green Bay's last win — other than Super Bowl XLV, of course — came on Christmas Eve 1995, a 24-19 triumph at Lambeau Field. On fourth-and-goal from the 6 in the final seconds, Thigpen dropped the game-winning touchdown pass from Neil O'Donnell.

The win gave Green Bay its first NFC Central championship in 23 years.

"I remember they took an interception away from me right on the sideline," Packers safeties coach Darren Perry, a star safety for the Steelers at the time, said on Friday. "They told me I was out of bounds and I didn't get my other foot down. I still remember the (name of the) call. I still remember that, along with Yancey's drop. You don't forget your interceptions, particularly ones you think you should have had."

— 13. That was win No. 4 of a remarkable run by the Packers. They are 20-1 in their last 21 regular-season home finales, the best mark in the league. They've won eight straight home finales; only Baltimore (10) is on a longer streak.

— 14. The Packers are coming off back-to-back comeback wins that were the biggest of the McCarthy era. The Steelers, however, are 150-2-1 when leading by at least 11 points at any point since the start of the 1992 season.

— 15. The Steelers and Packers have combined for 10 Super Bowl championships and 13 Super Bowl appearances. The Packers, of course, beat the Steelers 31-26 in Super Bowl XLV.

FOUR-POINT STANCE

— 16. Second-round picks Lacy (1,264) and Bell (1,034) are first and third, respectively, in yards from scrimmage among rookies. Giovani Bernard, the first running back selected, is second with 1,069 yards from scrimmage.

Lacy will face a Pittsburgh run defense that has given up less than 75 rushing yards in three of the last four games.

Bell, on the other hand, will be running against a porous Packers defense. Green Bay has allowed at least 171 rushing yards in four of the last seven games, and last week against Dallas, the Cowboys averaged a gaudy 7.4 yards per carry en route to their 134 rushing yards.

"Bell's an excellent back," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "They really have three good backs. He's a big back, he's got a good stiff-arm, he can run, he's very patient behind the holes. He's a complete back. Catches the ball out of the backfield well. You've got to bring some bodies to him when you try to tackle him."

Pittsburgh's rushing game ranks just 31st in yards per game (79.4) and yards per carry (3.3). Capers, perhaps knowing the state of his run defense, isn't about to take that phase of the game lightly.

"Don't let that (fool you). That's deceiving," he said. "This running back's a really good player. He's shifty, he's got strength. I don't know if there were some injuries early in the year or whatever, you watch him play, he'll catch your attention. He's a very good receiver. They'll use him out of the backfield as a receiver. They've got a very good screen game. They'll try to get him isolated and matched up one-on-one."

— 17. After some red-zone struggles on offense, both teams have found some success. After going 7-of-19 without Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay went 5-for-5 last week but ranks 28th with a touchdown rate of 49.1 percent.

"We hadn't done as well over the last several weeks as we would have liked," Clements said, "so it came at an opportune time for sure, because we needed to score every time and fortunately we did."

The Steelers' offense has been a juggernaut lately. They had scored touchdowns on eight consecutive inside-the-20 possessions before settling for a field goal last week. Still, they enter the game ranked 24th with a touchdown rate of 50.0 percent.

— 18. Among current coaches with 40 games under their belt, McCarthy is 81-44-1, for a fourth-ranked winning percentage of .647. Tomlin is 69-41, for a sixth-ranked winning percentage of .627. Since Tomlin took over as coach in 2007, the Packers, Patriots and Colts lead the way with five playoff appearances, with the Steelers next with four.

This year, however, both teams are clinging to playoff hopes.

"This football team is definitely a team that believes," McCarthy said. "That's been apparent throughout the whole season. We've had an abundance of challenges, and we have more in front of us. I think it's just the approach and the way they stick together, they really don't blink. They like each other, it's a very healthy locker room. Every team is different; this team really does a good job of sticking together."

— 19. Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham has made 27-of-29 field goals, his 93.1 percent success rate ranking fifth in the league. Counterpart Mason Crosby is 30-of-34, a success rate of 88.2 percent. Almost unbelievably, that ranks just 16th in the league. League-wide, kickers are converting at an 86.1 percent clip — the best mark in NFL history. In 2012, kickers made 83.9 percent. In 2011, kickers made 82.9 percent. Crosby hit a career-best 85.7 percent of his kicks that year, which was good for 13th. The best kicking season in NFL history was 2008, when kickers made 84.5 percent of their field-goal attempts.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Or, the best thing that was said that we couldn't work into a story this week.

— 20. Flynn, on avoiding a letdown after last week's record-setting comeback: "I've never really experienced that, coming off an emotional high and then people playing bad. We're all pros. We're all adults. We know how to handle ourselves. We've played this game enough. We know how to forget about the past and focus on the present."


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


Packer Report Top Stories