With the addition of Jared Cook and the return of Jordy Nelson, the Green Bay Packers’ passing offense should be much more proficient than it was last season.
By focusing on the running game during the preseason, coach Mike McCarthy is trying to provide critical offensive balance.
Through three preseason games, Lacy (20 carries) and Starks (18 carries) have combined for 38 rushes – 10 more than they had last preseason.
Combined with John Crockett (25), Brandon Burks (19) and Brandon Ross (15), Green Bay’s five running backs have carried the ball 97 times – an average of 32.3 per game. Compare that to last preseason, when Green Bay’s five running backs had 92 carries in the four games – an average of 23.0 per game.
“We’re at our best when we have Eddie and James Starks running, and then everything else opens up for us,” center J.C. Tretter said after the Packers beat the 49ers on Friday night. “When we can attack teams both ways, it’s another huge advantage for us.”
Against the 49ers, Lacy carried seven times for 45 yards. He’s been productive in all three games, with averages of 6.0 yards vs. Cleveland, 5.0 yards vs. Oakland and 6.4 yards vs. San Francisco. Out of his 20 carries, two have gone for at least 20 yards.
“Offensive line is doing an amazing job,” Lacy said. “Tight ends, receivers, everybody’s doing a great job of blocking their man. They’re getting off the ball, pushing them off the ball and giving the running backs a place to go, and we’ve definitely been taking advantage of those holes that we’ve been given.”
Lacy’s start, obviously, is encouraging in light of his dramatic drop-off in production last year. In 2014, Lacy rushed for 1,139 yards, averaged 4.6 yards per carry and had 1,566 total yards from scrimmage. In 2015, as Lacy struggled with his weight, he rushed for 758 yards, averaged 4.1 per carry and had 946 yards from scrimmage.
“We’re going to need him,” Rodgers said after the game. “We’re going to need him and James to be a good one-two punch. You see in the league, every team needs two guys that can get it done. Those guys have been doing a really good job. Eddie is going to run the ball really well and finishing runs has been very important for us. He’s been blocking well in protection, also. That’s the steps you’ve seen in his growth. It’s more than just running. We know he’s tough, smart and finishes runs and he’s a big body, tough to tackle, but he’s been doing a good job in the pass protection and his reads as he reads the defense in protection, as well. Those are the things I’m really impressed with and that goes back to preparation.”
Weight wasn’t the only thing slowing down Lacy last season. Without Nelson, the Packers didn’t have a deep passing game that concerned defenses. So, opponents ganged up on the Packers’ rushing attack, even playing their base defense against Green Bay’s three-receiver sets. That left the offensive line and Lacy outnumbered at the line of scrimmage.
With Nelson and Cook, Lacy should see more running room this season. Which should mean more big nights like Friday.
“We have a great passing attack, which the whole world knows,” Lacy told Packers.com's Larry McCarren after the game. “Just to be able to complement that with the run game, it’s scary.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.