Front Office Insider: How Packers plan to use RBs Eddie Lacy, James Starks
The ailing ankle of running back Eddie Lacy has affected the Green Bay Packers’ offense. It hasn’t, however, put a blemish on their sparkling 6-0 record.
As the unbeaten Packers enjoy their bye week, they do so knowing they’ll need a consistent running threat to keep elite pass rushes at bay — and that the threat doesn’t always have to be Lacy, who topped 1,100 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons.
Lacy, limited to 30 yards on 17 carries the last two weeks, has seen his workload drift toward backup James Starks, yet Green Bay continues to sit among the league leaders in rushing yards.
Last Sunday, Starks got the start and injected life into the Green Bay offense in a win against the San Diego Chargers. Playing in the final year of a two-year deal, he picked an opportunistic time to showcase his home run ability on a 65-yard touchdown run.
"(Starks) breaks tackles, finds creases and can pull away from defenders," one AFC exec told FOXSports.com. "He has the ability for the big play, but they are a great tandem when they’re both healthy."
Lacy’s bruising running style coupled with Starks’ change-of-pace ability gives defenses fits. Though Starks, 29 and in his sixth season, may offer more juice at times, one scout hesitated at the notion he could handle a majority of the workload in the long term because of durability concerns.
Lacy, though, hasn’t been running with the same authority since sustaining the injury in Week 2.
"Eddie is like pretty much our whole football team," coach Mike McCarthy told reporters this week. "He was beat up. I don’t see conditioning as an issue. You have to look at this differently than how we played on offense. James Starks is an outstanding running back. I’m not really interested in running our running backs 20, 25 times a game. It’s not what’s best for them."
Lacy has shown in previous years that he typically gets better as the season wears on.
During the first eight games of last season, Lacy ran 95 times for 428 yards. In Green Bay’s final 10 games, including the playoffs, he ran 181 times for 885 yards.
"He’s one of the toughest people I’ve ever been around," a source said. "He’ll be ready."
Aaron Rodgers’ entire arsenal has been beleaguered with injuries, causing defenses to stack more defenders in the box.
Wide receivers Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery could continue to miss playing time after the bye week with ankle injuries, and Randall Cobb has a nagging shoulder injury that has inhibited his ability to get open.
For folks in Green Bay, the bye week couldn’t come at a better time.
CLEVELAND’S GO-TO GUY: Gary Barnidge has been the Browns’ main offensive weapon in the passing game, scoring five touchdowns in the past four games. Barnidge, who is in his eighth season, spent one year on injured reserve after breaking his leg and six other years playing behind Pro Bowl talents such as Carolina’s Greg Olsen and Miami’s Jordan Cameron. One NFC scout pointed out the chemistry veteran quarterback Josh McCown and Barnidge have shown. Barnidge, 30, is in the final year of his contract and could be looking at an extension now that general manager Ray Farmer has rejoined the club from suspension.
ORANGE CRUSH: The Denver Broncos’ outside linebackers took another hit one week after DeMarcus Ware went down with a back injury. First-round pick Shane Ray sprained his MCL last Sunday and is reportedly out four to six weeks. Wade Phillips’ defense shouldn’t skip a beat, however, as second-year pro Shaquil Barrett has proven to be a major factor. With 3.5 sacks this season in spot duty, Barrett has certainly flashed his potential.
"You saw a guy with natural pass-rushing ability," one AFC scout said. "He’s a guy that’s worked his ass off, and I think being around Von (Miller) and DeMarcus, that’s helped him. He’s the type of kid that will ask questions and take things in and hang around those guys. DeMarcus is the type of guy who is going to take guys under his wing and give constructive criticism and teaching. If anybody is going to soak it in, it’s Shaq."
Barrett, an undrafted free agent from Colorado State, spent last season on the practice squad refining his tools. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker recently wrote on the team’s website that his time there "was a blessing in disguise."
"He’s self-made in the sense that he’s taken strength of his and enhanced it and made it something," the scout said. "If they would have cut him, he would’ve been a guy that competed as a starter right away. He’s going to get better just because of the type of kid that he is."
After his latest performance, it seems like he has even become a teammate favorite:
GOING GREEN: Chris Ivory has 312 yards and two touchdowns on 49 carries in his last two games. No New York Jets running back has strung together that type of production over a two-game stretch since Thomas Jones in 2009. "He runs with good power and patience," an AFC scout said. "Another part of his game is he’s a big factor in the short passing game." Ivory, who was called the best running back in the league by teammate Brandon Marshall last week, has benefited from a retooled offensive line and receivers who are willing blockers.