Detroit entered Sunday’s contest at Lambeau Field on pace to finish as the sixth-best run defense in NFL history, allowing a league-low 63.8 yards per game. Since the Jets ran for 132 yards on 27 carries back on Sept. 28, the Lions had yielded only 57.6 yards per game, hadn’t allowed more than 90 rushing yards yards in a game and had given up 50 or less five times.
But Green Bay’s running game, led by Eddie Lacy, had been on a streak of its own, averaging 140.7 yards over the past seven games to rank among the league’s best.
Sunday at Lambeau Field, with the NFC North Division crown, a first-round bye and a home playoff game on the line -- objects were moved. Force won. And it was wearing a green No. 27 jersey.
Lacy pushed, plowed, bucked, and spun his way to 100 yards on 26 carries to power Green Bay's ground game. James Starks kicked in 26 yards on five touches, and Green Bay finished with 152 rushing yards on 38 carries en route to a 30-20 victory. The Packers had 11 more carries than any other team had attempted on the Lions all year, and Lacy became the first back to hit triple digits on Detroit since Game 16 of last season.
"It was big,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy, “That was the plan. I had one goal in mind, to make sure he touched it 20 times. I had to make sure he got his trips to the plate against this defense. I thought our offensive line really looked forward to the challenge all week, both in the run blocking and the pass protection. And I thought Eddie definitely delivered."
Given the state of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ sore left calf coming into the game, achieving some offensive balance with the running game was key. But this type of dominance – against this front seven -- was eye-opening. And it began on the Packers’ first play from scrimmage. Lacy took the handoff and hit the middle of the line behind right guard T. J. Lang, dragging defenders for a dozen yards on his way to a 22-yard gain on first down.
Lacy ripped off ensuing runs of 5 and 8 yards, then took a breather as Starks made a 21-yard burst off right tackle and a 2-yard push up the middle. All told, Green Bay had 61 rushing yards on their its drive, which ended disappointingly on the Detroit 1-yard line after four failed attempts to punch it in. Micah Hyde would put up six points for the Packers on a 55-yard punt return minutes later, but offensively, the tone was set. The four faces of this “Mount Rush-No-More” defensive front – Ziggy Ansah, C.J. Mosley, Ndamukong Suh and Jason Jones – could not only be chipped away at, they could be broken apart.
“It’s just everybody doing their job,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “I feel like the last half of the season, we’ve been really productive on the ground. We take a lot of pride in running the ball. Eddie obviously did a real nice job of breaking some tackles and getting some extra yards. He’s hard to bring down.
“If we were going to have a chance to win the game, we were going to have to rush the ball and be effective. And that’s a group you don’t really want to have to get into a passing game with with the way they rush the passer. So that was our big goal was to come in today and be effective on the ground, and to see Eddie get a 100 yards by a hair there at the end– that was a good accomplishment. We’ve been running the ball well the last seven or eight games and that’s something that everyone takes a lot of pride in.”
It took on an even greater significance when Rodgers injured his calf again, dropping to the turf after firing a 4-yard bullet to Randall Cobb to put Green Bay up 14-0 with 2:30 remaining in the half. Though Rodgers returned in the third quarter with the score knotted at 14 and delivered the kind of gritty performance that should earn him league MVP honors, Lacy continued to dish out punishment, grinding out 33 second-half yards, along with 26 through the air.
“Sore, that’s how I feel,” a smiling Lacy said after the game. “They’re a very physical team, and it’s tough to run the ball on them. But the offensive line did a great job opening up holes and the receivers did a great job blocking down field. I was able to get 100.”
It was the 11th 100-yard rushing performance by the Packers this season, including the last eight games in a row. They’re hoping for a few more before all is said and done.
“I think that’s what we build up to all year is to be able to run late in the season,” Lang said. “You know, Eddie didn’t have a great number of carries in the first half of the season. Second half we definitely amped it up a little bit and it’s something you have to do late in the season and the playoffs if you want to beat some good teams. To be well-balanced like that and keep teams guessing instead of relying on Aaron and the receivers to make all the plays for us -- running the ball is going to be big for this run we’re about to make and we feel like we’ve built momentum every week, so obviously, we’re happy.”
Happy they’re running. Happy they’re winning. And happy to have a week off.