Packers' Lacy could benefit from Rodgers' return
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--Of the 636 snaps Green Bay Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy has played this season, only 287 have come with Aaron Rodgers under center, and none since the end of the first drive of Chicago’s 27-20 victory Nov. 4.
The two are about to rekindle their relationship.
On the same day that coach Mike McCarthy announced that Rodgers would return from a broken left collarbone, he said that he expected Lacy to be able to shake off a right ankle sprain and play in the rematch with the Bears.
Though Lacy was knocked out of the Pittsburgh game after spraining his ankle for a third time in three weeks and did not practice Thursday, the rookie does not have the dreaded “high ankle” sprain, according to his position coach. Lacy is dealing with a recurring sprain typical of someone who keeps rolling his ankle.
And so after spending much of the week in a walking boot, Lacy tapes it up on Sundays and goes back to toting the football.
“When he runs, you don’t see it,” running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “I’m sure there’s soreness in between plays, but it’s just a matter of getting those endorphins popping enough where you don’t really feel it.
“Thank goodness it’s just a normal sprain, so I think he’s just managing the pain and trying to rest it as much as possible.”
Rodgers’ return to the lineup could mean a very active day for Lacy. Of course, it all depends on the endurance of his ankle and the amount of time given to backup James Starks, but if you go back and look at how the Bears played the Packers on the first series of their first game, you would anticipate Lacy getting the ball a lot.
Lacy played all seven of the snaps it took the Packers to drive from their own 20 to the Chicago 9 before Rodgers’s left shoulder was driven into the ground by Bears end Shea McClellin on a 3-yard sack.
On each of the snaps, the Bears played both safeties about 20 yards back in a Cover-2 look in anticipation of Rodgers throwing the ball. Lacy carried three times on the drive for 2, 16 and 2 yards and the biggest play of the drive — a 27-yard completion to Jordy Nelson — came after Rodgers faked the handoff to Lacy.
The Bears have the 32nd-ranked run defense in the NFL and to think the Packers won’t go into the game wanting to establish their ground game would be foolish.
But for the first time since Scott Tolzien punished the New York Giants for devoting so many men to the line of scrimmage with five completions of 25 or more yards, the Packers will have someone who can burn a team deep if it focuses too much attention on Lacy. The return of Rodgers sets up a pick-your-poison type situation provided he’s playing to his usual standard.
Expect the Packers to make the Bears stop Lacy first.
“That’s a big part of our offense,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “And it has been for most of the year. We made a better commitment to being a better running team and we are, and we’re going to run it, we’re going to throw it, we’re going to do whatever gives us the best chance to win.”
At the time Rodgers got hurt, he and Lacy were starting to work off each other nicely. Lacy had a poor game to open up the season against San Francisco (14 carries for 41 yards), played just five snaps before suffering a concussion against Washington and sat out the Cincinnati game recovering from the concussion.
In the four games and one series after that, leading up to Rodgers’ injury, he carried 100 times for 415 yards and two touchdowns. Then Rodgers was gone and the offense swung heavily in Lacy’s direction, ending the growth of star quarterback and emerging star running back in the same backfield.
“We’re excited,” Van Pelt said. “Anytime you get a player like Aaron back, I don’t even care about running the football, it’s just great for your team, great for the locker room.
“The energy was amazing today, just the fact that knowing he’s going to be out there on Sunday, the guys were different.
“When you’ve got a guy like Eddie and Aaron back there, you’ll be able to run the ball into some decent boxes, and take advantage of that. The play-action game, all that comes with that. It’s exciting. It’s been awhile since we’ve had that combination going, and hopefully we can use it to our benefit this week.”