Packers’ running backs make a dynamic duo
Mike McCarthy does not play fantasy football.
In fact, the Green Bay Packers coach teased one unnamed member of the press corps Monday for allegedly having running back Eddie Lacy on his team last year and asking weekly questions about his lack of early-season touches.
“[That writer] was beside himself every week because [Lacy] wasn’t getting enough carries,” McCarthy wisecracked Monday, one day after the Packers improved to 6-0 with a 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Lambeau Field. “But it worked out at the end of the year pretty good.”
That it did, as Lacy had his second straight 1,000-yard season last year and was more efficient (246 carries, 1,139 yards, 4.6-yard average) than he’d been as a rookie in 2013 (284 carries, 1,178 yards, 4.1-yard average).
But if you’re one of those fantasy footballers who was apoplectic during Sunday’s game about Lacy’s limited role – he carried only four times for 3 yards – because of the impact it was having on your hopes of striking it rich on Draft Kings, then McCarthy had some more bad news for you on Monday: The coach is serious about having Lacy and No. 2 running back James Starks share the workload when the team returns from its bye – and Lacy’s balky ankle is presumably healed.
Although it wasn’t as if Starks, who started the game with a 25-yard run and broke a 65-yard touchdown run later in the first half, was fed the ball all Sunday long; he carried just 10 times (for 112 yards) with the Packers running only 53 offensive plays. Of those, Starks played 28 snaps to Lacy’s 20.
But apparently McCarthy saw enough that he’s going to try to divvy up the touches and playing time more equitably between the two going forward.
“James Starks is an outstanding running back, so we want to be a 1-2 punch. At this point, I’m not really interested in running one of my running backs 20-25 times in a game,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think that’s the best thing for us. Right now, it’s not the best thing for them. The running back position is an extremely punishing position that can take a lot of hits. I think you have be conscientious of that.”
When it was suggested to McCarthy that this is a philosophical shift, the coach disputed that notion, saying, “It’s really always been the mindset. This isn’t really something new. … There [were] stretches last year we did this, too. We didn’t talk about it.”
That is true, as the two were certainly in job-sharing mode early last season. But over the past two regular seasons, Lacy has gotten three times as many carries as Starks (530 to 174). Last year, Lacy had double-digit carries in all 18 games the Packers played (including playoffs); Starks had two games in which he did not touch the ball a single time and two other games in which he had just a single carry.
In the Packers’ final eight games last year, including their playoff victory over Dallas and loss at Seattle, Lacy carried the ball 157 times to Starks’ 38.
Lacy’s game-by-game attempts over that span: 25, 21, 13, 15, 17, 26, 19, 21. Starks’: 1, 1, 10, 4, 7, 5, 5, 5.
Through six games this season, Lacy has now carried the ball 67 times to Starks’ 63, although the ankle injury Lacy suffered against Seattle on Sept. 20 certainly has factored into that.
Lacy had 19 carries for 85 yards in the regular-season opener at Chicago on Sept. 13 – while Starks had just two attempts for 2 yards – before hurting his ankle on his third carry against the Seahawks.
Starks finished that game with 95 yards on 20 carries, and although Lacy didn’t miss a start because of the injury, Starks actually carried the ball more (17 attempts, 32 yards) than Lacy did (10 attempts, 46 yards) against Kansas City on Sept. 28.
Before Starks got the starting nod against the Chargers, Lacy ran well at San Francisco on Oct. 4 (18 carries, 90 yards) before struggling against St. Louis’ vaunted front four last week (13 carries, 27 yards).
On Monday, McCarthy cited Starks’ play against the 49ers – “I thought he played extremely well in San Francisco and he’s done some big things,” the coach said – as one of the reasons for starting him against the Chargers. But Starks carried nine times for 28 yards against the 49ers (3.1-yard average) and was scarcely better than Lacy against the Rams (five carries, 17 yards, 3.4-yard average).
McCarthy also cited Lacy’s “bruising running style” as another reason for giving Starks the opportunity against the Chargers – and he certainly delivered, scoring two touchdowns in a game for the first time in his career.
“Eddie is pretty much like our whole football team. He’s beat up,” McCarthy said. “This week [off] will help him.”
After Sunday’s game, though, Lacy said his ankle was a non-issue, saying it was “all right.” And with his easy-going personality and close friendship with Starks, Lacy was nothing but supportive of his teammate’s performance against the Chargers.
“When Starks started off and had that big run right out of the gate, it’s hard to shut that down. You want to keep going and get what you can get out of it, and he kept rolling,” Lacy said. “I’m here to contribute, whether its 43 yards per game or 100 yards a game. At the end of the game, as long as we have a ‘W’ and we continue to move forward winning the game, that’s the main goal.”
Starks, meanwhile, called Lacy “my little brother. We only wish the best for each other and we grind together. It’s a long season. We’re going to try to make the most out of it.”
And apparently, they’ll be doing so in tandem going forward. Theoretically, of course.
“Really, I like the one-two punch,” McCarthy said. “And frankly, if one of them gets hot in a game, then hey, he may carry it 20 times.”