Eddie Lacy staying positive despite defenses keying on run

GREEN BAY, Wis. — This isn’t Eddie Lacy hitting a rookie

wall. Though it does happen to some players every year, the reason for Lacy’s

diminished success in recent weeks isn’t that.

What the Green Bay Packers are finding out is that, while

having a rookie running back with Lacy’s talent is a significant plus for the

offense, when there’s not an equal or greater threat at quarterback, everything

changes quickly.

No longer is Lacy seeing opposing defenses fear the pass

like was commonplace before Aaron Rodgers broke his left collarbone on Nov. 4.

Now it’s all eyes on Lacy, all the time.

“They’re starting to bring a safety down, and it’s

unblocked,” Lacy said. “We don’t have a person for that unblocked defender, so

no matter what run we play, he just shoots a gap and he’s a free hitter.”

That extra defender near the line of scrimmage has been the

biggest difference between the Lacy of October and the Lacy of November. During

the Packers’ undefeated month of October, Lacy rushed for 395 yards in four

games with an average of 4.1 yards per carry. While Lacy deserves a lot of

credit for that production, he was assisted tremendously by Rodgers having

three games in that span with a passer rating of at least 106.8.

In the two games started by Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien

in November, Lacy has rushed for a total of 100 yards with a per-carry average

of 2.6.

“Statistically (it’s been) very different; very different,”

running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “But we’re not frustrated. We’re facing

some bad boxes. Where we couldn’t get them to bring a safety down in the past,

now they’re down there all the time.”

When Rodgers was healthy, most opposing defenses knew better

than to focus too much on Green Bay’s running game, even when Lacy was

performing well. The few times that Lacy did draw extra defenders closer,

Rodgers was often able to exploit it for deep passes.

Play-action was also working better than it has for the

Packers in years, and that was the Lacy Effect. The reverse of that is now in

motion, though, as the Rodgers Effect has completely changed the landscape of

how teams are game-planning for Green Bay’s offense.

“Eight in the box doesn’t mean you can’t run it,” Van Pelt

said. “They have to fit it the right way, as well. One guys gets out of the gap

and there’s an open gap there. We didn’t get enough out of the run game,

obviously, last week (against the New York Giants). We’ve got to block better,

we’ve got to run harder. We’ve got to run better, smarter. We addressed that

this week.”

Picking up consistent five-yard gains is more difficult for

Lacy under these circumstances, but it does open up opportunities for him to

break long runs, too.

“If you can get past that unblocked guy, then yeah, there’s

pretty much no one else back there,” Lacy said.

It’s not what’s troubling Lacy, but the rookie wall is real.

That term might sound like a fabricated excuse to give young players an easy

out if things begin to go downhill late in the season, but it’s no myth.

“Oh, yeah, you see it all the time,” Van Pelt said. “You see

it every year. It’s not uncommon. I’ve seen it, but I don’t see it with Eddie.”

Lacy will soon exceed the number of carries he had last

season at the University of Alabama. Currently, Lacy has run the ball 172 times

in the regular season, plus 18 in preseason. A year ago in college, Lacy had

204 rushing attempts.

“I actually feel good,” Lacy said. “I’m not hitting the

rookie wall, I guess is what you all call it. I am noticing that the college

football season is pretty much over with, so this is around the time I would

start to shut it down, but I feel good.”

The rookie wall has been a discussion topic from Van Pelt to

his running back room, a group that also includes seldom-used rookie Johnathan

Franklin. Combine the looming possibility of Lacy hitting that in the coming

weeks with the new challenge he’s been facing — and will continue to face

until Rodgers returns, there is a lot on the 23-year-old’s plate.

Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson knows a

thing or two about eight-man boxes geared towards stopping him. In his seventh

season, Peterson is long past the rookie aspect of what Lacy is up against at

the moment, but with the Vikings trotting out quarterback Christian Ponder

again Sunday in the division matchup, the two running backs will see very

similar situations.

“That’s a perfect example,” Peterson said. “Lacy, he had

come in and helped their running game tremendously. But it shows with Aaron

Rodgers not back there how big of a difference he makes and what he means to

that offense. So that situation right there is a perfect one to look at.”

Lacy’s numbers have fallen, but the Packers have had a

couple games now to look for ways to correct it and give him more room to work.

Van Pelt made it clear that however it happens, Lacy has to help out Tolzien by

offering an effective ground attack. Even if he’s staring across at an

eight-man box, Lacy will be expected to drastically improve upon the production

that he’s had in the past two games.

“It’s tough sledding, there’s no question, but yeah, teams

get it done,” Van Pelt said. “We’ll get it done.”

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