‘Steady Eddie’ ready for more

‘Steady Eddie’ ready for more

While Eddie Lacy still isn’t getting as many carries as he would like – not that the Green Bay Packers second-year running back would ever actually say so publicly – Sunday night’s loss at New Orleans delivered a reminder to everyone that there’s another way to get him the ball.

And however coach Mike McCarthy does it, it seems obvious that one of the offensive goals for the second half of the season will be to up Lacy’s involvement in the offense to at least Sunday night’s level.

Although Lacy carried only 13 times in the Packers’ 44-23 loss to the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the New Orleans-area native made them productive, finishing with 59 yards (4.5-yard average, with a long run of 19).

But Lacy did most of his damage catching the ball, finishing with career highs in receptions (eight) and receiving yards (123), including a 67-yard gain on a screen pass – an element of the offense that had been collecting dust on McCarthy’s play-calling shelf before Sunday night.

Lacy’s 182 combined yards were the highest single-game total of his young NFL career, and his 123 receiving yards were the second-most by a Green Bay running back since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. (Only Eddie Lee Ivery, with 128 receiving yards at Tampa Bay on Oct. 12, 1980, had more.)

“That’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the complete player that he is,” McCarthy said as his players scattered about the country for their bye week. (Lacy, coincidentally, returned to Louisiana on Monday night.) “The opportunities came [Sunday] night.

“He’s a lot more than a big, 230-pound back. He can run it. He’s excellent in pass protection. … It was great to get him involved in the screen game. We really haven’t had a lot of opportunities there in-game. Eddie probably had his best game as a Packer. I was very pleased with how he played.”

With eight catches and 13 carries, Lacy had a season-high 21 touches against the Saints, but his involvement in the offense still isn’t what it was last season.

Throw out last year’s victory over Washington in Week 2, when Lacy suffered a concussion on his first carry (a 10-yard gain) on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Brandon Meriweather that forced Lacy to miss the next week’s game at Cincinnati, and Lacy carried 305 times in essentially 15 games (including playoffs).

He also caught 37 passes last season, meaning he averaged 22.8 touches per game. Through eight games this year, he has 126 touches, an average of 15.75 per game.

McCarthy obviously has no interest in using Lacy the way his predecessor, Mike Sherman, used franchise all-time rushing leader Ahman Green in the early 2000s. In 2001, Green carries 305 times for 1,387 yards while also leading the team in receptions (62, for 594 yards). In 2003, when Green set the team’s single-season rushing record with 1,883 yards, he carried the ball 355 times and also caught 50 passes for 367 yards.

Still, it’s reasonable to think that the Packers will want to get him more involved during the second half of the season than he has been so far.

Lacy’s season-high in rushing attempts this year came at Chicago on Sept. 28, when he carried 17 times, and he’s averaging 13.1 attempts per game. Last season, Lacy averaged 20.3 carries per game and had more than 17 rushing attempts in 11 of those 15 aforementioned games.

Nevertheless, his teammates haven’t seen him grouse about his role or ask for more action.

“He’s very steady. ‘Steady Eddie,'” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said last week. “He comes with the same attitude every day. Mondays after games, whether it is 14 carries for 105 yards or whether it is 14 for 40, he comes in with the same attitude.

“He’s a very positive person. He’s great to be around.”

Part of Lacy’s decreased workload has been the coaches’ decision to try to save him some wear-and-tear by playing No. 2 running back James Starks more. Starks, with 44 carries for 193 yards through eight games, has actually gotten the ball less than he did last season, when he had 94 carries for 522 yards in 14 games (including playoffs). Starks missed three games with a knee injury suffered against Cincinnati while Lacy was sidelined with the concussion.

The bigger reason Lacy is getting less work, according to McCarthy, is Rodgers’ return to full strength. Rodgers fractured his left collarbone on the opening series of a Nov. 4 loss to Chicago last year and missed the next seven games.

“Let’s not forget who our quarterback is,” McCarthy said Monday.

Oddly, though, Lacy had a career-high 29 carries in Rodgers’ last full game before the injury (an Oct. 27, 2013 victory at Minnesota), and he actually had more carries (153, or 21.9 per game) in the seven games he played with Rodgers than he had in the eight games without him (151, or 18.9 per game).

Asked why Lacy hasn’t gotten more touches, McCarthy replied, “I don’t understand what you don’t like about our offense the last couple weeks. I’m very comfortable. I don’t know the number of touches that Eddie has, but I’m very comfortable with the number of touches that Eddie has.”

Offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Monday that the coaches’ goal for the second half of the season is to get him at least 20 per game, which means getting him four or five more touches each week than he’s averaged so far.

“We want him to touch the ball, however that is accomplished. Whether it’s handing the ball off to him or getting him involved in the passing game,” Clements said. “He has good hands. If you get the ball to him out in space, it’s often times more beneficial. He’s running on smaller guys, and he has the ability to get some big plays.

“We’d like to get him about 20 touches, however they come about. That’s approximately what he had [against New Orleans]. Some games it’s going to be tilted more toward the run. [On Sunday night], he had it tilt a little bit more toward the pass. As long as he has the ball in his hands, he’s a weapon.”

As Clements pointed out, Lacy is probably a victim of the Packers’ failure to reach McCarthy’s stated goal of 75 offensive plays per game. The offense had 63 plays against the Saints, and only once this season – with 79 plays at Miami on Oct. 12 – has the offense reached that 75-play threshold. In fact, Sunday night was only the third time in eight games that the Packers ran more than 60 offensive plays.

“We’d like to get more,” Clements said. “And if we have more attempts rushing, have the ball more, able to extend drives more, then it will happen.

Lacy, meanwhile, just continues to do what he’s asked, however much or little it is, without complaint.

“As a football player, you want to score, you want to get 100 yards, you want to do everything that makes you look good,” Lacy said last week. “But I just want to be able to contribute, and that’s pass-blocking, getting out on the checkdown, the whole nine yards. I may not have 100 yards, I may not even get 60, but the yards that I do have definitely will contribute and make sure we’re in a great position to win the game, which is the ultimate goal.

“Like I always say, whatever my role is on the team, I’ll do it and I’m going to do it 110 percent.”

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.