Whisper it quietly, but the winds of change are starting to run through Green Bay. Not seismic change, admittedly, but more a change of emphasis offensively as the Packers look to make the most of the weapons at their disposal.
Even before their dominant Sunday Night Football win in Minnesota (in which their offense accounted for over 180 yards rushing against a Vikings side that seemed incapable of stopping them), the Packers have shown an increasing desire to run the football. This is partly due to offensive injuries, as the Packers look to cope with a series of losses to some of Aaron Rodgers key weapons such as James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb. But another huge factor is the form of rookie Eddie Lacy who has grown in stature in recent weeks to propel himself into the running for Rookie of the Year honours.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Lacy was selected with the 61st pick in the 2013 draft. At Alabama he backed up current Colts RB Trent Richardson, before taking the starting role in 2012. During this senior year he amassed 1322 yards and 17 TDs rushing, giving signs of what could be expected of him in the pros. Lacy started the season slowly, but since returning from a concussion and missing the game in Cincinnati he has rushed for 99, 120, 82 and 94 yards on an average of nearly 25 yards per game. It is a long time since the Packers have possessed such a genuine running threat, which will help ease some of the pressure on Rodgers as the season progresses.
The Packers currently rank 4th in terms of rushing yards per game and Lacy has already surpassed last season’s leading rusher (Alex Green, 464 yards). Not since Ryan Grant in 2009 (1253 yards) have Green Bay had a back capable of 100 yards rushing; now in Lacy they have a young player who is certainly capable of that and is therefore providing them with a balance offensively that they have not had for years.
It would be foolish to suggest that the Packers will abandon the pass in favour of the run. In Rodgers they have an elite quarterback who must be ranked among the top performers in the game due to his consistency and ability to win. Mike McCarthy will continue to use the passing game as his primary weapon and look to receivers such as Jarrett Boykin to step up until they can get their injured stars back. But the threat of a running game will undoubtedly serve to help Rodgers and the Packers as they move forward this season. Defences will now need to account for Lacy on every play, instead of simply being able to focus on the pass, which will in turn create more space for the Green Bay passing game to thrive. Just look at how they performed against an admittedly weak Vikings defence yesterday; able to run and pass the ball at will.
The Packers will need to continue to be at their best to stay ahead of a strong and consistent Lions side in the battle for the NFC North. But with games against several teams with losing records to come (including the Giants and a rematch with the Vikings in Lambeau), few would bet against them making the playoffs yet again. If they do, don’t be surprised to see their new balanced offence giving them a real shot at making significant progress towards a trip to New York in February. And if that is the case, several teams may be wondering how Lacy slipped as low as the 61st pick when evaluating their 2013 draft.