Eagles are focused on Pack's big back

ASSOCIATED PRESS Eddie Lacy , a 5-11, 232-pound power back, gains some of his 150 yards against Chicago on Monday.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Eddie Lacy , a 5-11, 232-pound power back, gains some of his 150 yards against Chicago on Monday.
Posted: November 08, 2013

STOPPING THE Packers this week is largely about stopping Eddie Lacy.

Seneca Wallace is a veteran quarterback, and he'll be better with some time to prepare than he was when he was thrown into Green Bay's Monday night home loss to the Bears. But Wallace's arm shouldn't beat you, not if Nick Foles and the Eagles' offense are even half as impressive as they were Sunday at Oakland.

No, for the Packers to win Sunday, it sure seems Lacy and the running game will have to carry the load. The Green Bay offense became almost completely about Lacy when Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone on the first series of Monday night's game; Lacy (5-11, 232) finished with 150 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. Backup James Starks added 40 yards and a TD on six carries. Their 190 combined rushing yards dwarfed Wallace's total of 114 passing yards, Wallace playing in a regular-season game for the first time since 2011.

If the voting were held right now, Lacy, a second-round pick out of Alabama (No. 61 overall), would be the NFC's Offensive Rookie of the Year. He has 596 yards on 134 carries and four touchdowns. Lacy, who ranked eighth among NFL rushers heading into last night's Washington-Minnesota game, was the only rookie in the top 15.

"Of course," Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans said when asked whether Lacy was a major topic of conversation in the defensive meeting rooms. "He's a dynamic back. Watch him on tape. He's a big-time player, runs hard, doesn't go down on first contact. He's a special running back. It shows. That's definitely our top priority this week, stopping Lacy."

Gauging the Eagles against the run is a bit tricky, because there have been a few games when they got ahead and were more than happy to let the opposition burn some time by running the ball; Oakland rushed for 210 yards, while losing, 49-20. Also, early on, opponents were finding so much success in the air, they didn't need to run much. Generally, the Eagles haven't been bad - even after Oakland, the Birds ranked 15th against the run. But power backs sometimes have been able to punch a few holes. In that 15-7 loss to the Giants Oct. 27, Peyton Hillis climbed out of the recycling bin and rumbled for 70 yards on 20 carries.

"He's a downhill runner. Not too much different from Peyton Hillis. Probably a little faster," Eagles defensive lineman Clifton Geathers said of Lacy.

Rookie nose tackle Damion Square played with Lacy at Alabama, where Lacy was an understudy to Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson before finally getting top billing last year as a senior. Even then, Lacy's tendency toward injury and the obvious talent of true freshman T.J. Yeldon meant that he split the job.

"I honestly feel like Eddie is better with 17 to 20 carries than he is with 30 to 40 carries, from what I saw in college," Square said yesterday. "Trent was a 30-carry back, great production. Mark was a 25-carry back. But Eddie was more of a back where 17 carries was enough for him to hit on 150 yards or so."

Square said that practicing against Lacy, he mainly remembers Lacy's excellent spin move, and that "when you hit him, he knows how to deliver a real quick, last-minute blow, on the sideline or in the gap, to gain those 2 yards."

Starting rookie nose tackle Bennie Logan also is familiar with Lacy, having faced him whenever LSU played Alabama.

"Lacy was like the relief guy, but we knew when he came in, there was going to be more power football," Logan said. "Downhill football. He'll give you a juke here and there, but it was strictly north-south football when he was in the game. We've got to just gang-tackle, make sure we put 11 hats on the ball anytime he has the ball."

Defensive end Fletcher Cox, who also played against Lacy in college, at Mississippi State, noted that Lacy gets most of his yards after contact. "The first guy hits him, he keeps going," Cox said.

Lacy has gained 545 of his 596 yards and gotten 119 of his 134 carries in the last five games, after suffering a concussion in Week 2.

"It's just getting comfortable," he said on a conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters this week. "Just getting familiar with the playbook and allowing the game to slow down and come to me, instead of me overthinking and trying to do too much."

Lacy said he was able to refocus while recovering from the concussion, which caused him to miss the Week 3 game against the Bengals. He returned following the Packers' bye the next week.

"I took my time and pretty much just focused on the game itself, and it started to slow down. I was able to use my natural ability," he said.

Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis noted that the Packers went to a two-back look, with a fullback to pry open running holes, after Rodgers went down. With Rodgers, he said, they were more of a three-wideout team. Neither Lacy nor Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy was eager to discuss that observation with reporters, but it stands to reason, if you're going to run the ball in the West Coast offense, you're going to use the fullback more.

The Eagles would love to build a lead and force Wallace to beat them with his arm.

"It's a high-efficiency offense that's really built for a quarterback to quickly distribute the ball," Davis said. "You prepare for all of it, but you major in certain things. So we would have majored probably in one plan with Aaron Rodgers and now we'll adjust and see how they plan to do it."

Davis said Wallace notwithstanding, the Packers' offense has been leaning more on the running game lately.

"These running backs are playing real well," Davis said, including Starks in his assessment. Starks has 284 yards on only 47 carries, 6.0 yards per carry. "They're run-you-over, angry, downhill runners . . . when they commit to the run, like they have lately, they've got a solid offensive line, and they run behind their pads well with their running backs. It's a downhill, get-what's-there type of smashmouth running game you haven't seen from Green Bay for years, but it's there now."


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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