A couple dozen reporters huddled around the only one of the 31 high-definition, flat-screen televisions in the Lee Remmel Press Box that was showing the best run of Thursday night. As the second half of the Packers-Raiders game got under way, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt cruised to an easy victory in the 200-meter final a hemisphere away in Rio de Janeiro.
No one’s ever going to mistake Eddie Lacy, James Starks or John Crockett for the world’s fastest man, but on a night when quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receiver Jordy Nelson watched from the sideline, the Packers’ top three running backs busted out some highlight-caliber plays of their own for the 74,089 fans at Lambeau Field and those at home who opted for preseason football over the Olympics. Together, they keyed a 20-12 Packers win.
“I felt good,” said Lacy, who led the team in rushing with nine carries for 45 yards and a touchdown – all on the game’s opening drive. “The offensive line did a great job up front, I was able to break a couple tackles and break a long run and try to run over a few people. I felt good out there today.”
Nearly half of Lacy’s total came on his first touch of the game, when he blew through a huge hole on the left side of the line behind blocks from J.C. Tretter and fullback Aaron Ripkowski, down to the Raiders’ 41-yard line. Eight plays later, Lacy bulled his way from first-and-goal at the 6 down to the 1, dragging four Oakland defenders with him. After getting stuffed on the next play, he went airborne to break the plane of the goal line for the game’s first points.
Lacy gave way to Starks on the team's next offensive possession. The seventh-year back set career highs in rushing yards (601), receiving yards (392), total yards (993), receptions (43) and total touchdowns (five) in 2015 when Lacy struggled. His 11.37 yards after the catch per reception led the entire NFL (regardless of position) by almost 2 yards. Against the Raiders, Starks showed off some sizzle of his own with a 24-yard cutback run on his third of six carries.
“We’ve been together four years now and we definitely build off one another, so to see him go out and get a big run and for me to go out and get a big run, we’re interchangeable so that really speaks a lot about how good we can be running the ball,” Lacy said.
Like Lacy, Starks played just one offensive series, ceding running duties to Crockett. A feel-good story in 2015, Crockett was an undrafted rookie free agent from North Dakota State who spent 11 weeks on the practice squad before being signed to the active roster just hours before kickoff at Detroit. He responded that night with five second-half carries for 22 yards and one slap to his quarterback’s back side after a 12-yard pickup. But he’s been challenged by coach Mike McCarthy to take his game up a notch in Year 2.
A week after catching a touchdown against Cleveland, Crockett’s first catch on a screen play came up 4 yards short of the needed 11 on third down. As he ran to the sideline, McCarthy appeared less than thrilled, but Crockett said it was more encouragement than criticism.
“He wasn’t getting on me or nothing like that,” Crockett said. “He was just telling me to pick my legs up and be as good as you are. And that play right there, I need to be better on that.”
Crockett redeemed himself in the third quarter with a 10-yard run off right tackle for a first down and a 12-yard catch that put his team on Oakland’s 35-yard line. After third-string quarterback Joe Callahan scrambled for 5 yards and hit tight end Kennard Backman for 8, Crockett uncorked his best play of the evening. Taking a handoff at the 10, he burst through the middle of the line, dragging Oakland safety Keith McGill and linebacker Cory James across the goal line for a 14-3 lead.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about creating an identity in the NFL,” Crockett said. “You want to make sure they know that if they need to put you in, they’re not going to lose a step. You’re going to ‘hit it and get it’ and be ready to go.”
Crockett finished with 26 yards on six carries and added 27 more on four catches. While he made his second Lambeau Leap in as many weeks, the fans weren’t the only ones cheering for him. He got props on the Packers' sideline and in the locker room after the game.
“Crock showed a little physicality today,” Lacy said with a smile. “He said he dropped his pads trying to get his '2-7' on, and I told him he’s wasn’t big enough yet, though. But he had a good game out there today. That was a good catch. He made a guy miss and a couple explosive plays.”
All told, Green Bay tallied 145 yards on 40 carries. The only other standout run of the night was from rookie free agent Brandon Burks, who chipped in with a 15-yarder, but finished the night with 14 yards on four carries.
Still, for a team known more for its two-time MVP quarterback and potent passing attack, the success of the ground game is a good sign for McCarthy. At least until he watches the game film.
“We took a step from last week to this week,” McCarthy said. “We’ll see how the film is. I stood up here last week in front of that camera and said, ‘We got off to a pretty good start.’ And then watched the video and I didn’t feel the same after I watched the video. I do know we did better than we did last week. We’ll see how our guys grade out.”
As far preseason games go, it might qualify as a gold-medal performance.
W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.