GREEN BAY – The first make-or-break moment in a potentially pivotal season for running back Eddie Lacy occurred right away in Week 1.
On the Packers’ fourth offensive play of 2016, they faced fourth-and-1 from the Jacksonville 20. Mike McCarthy didn’t hesitate to go for it, and it meant something to Lacy for the head coach to call his number just three snaps after his first carry of the year had been stuffed for minus-2.
“Definitely. He gave me a chance and I made the most of it,” Lacy said after practice on Thursday. “If we’re ever in that situation again, I have the confidence there that he trusts me and I can go out and be able to get it.”
Lacy powered straight ahead for nine yards, getting a great double-team block from left tackle David Bakhtiari and left guard Lane Taylor, and a nifty cut-block from receiver Randall Cobb.
The conversion led to the Packers’ first touchdown of the season, and it underscored the emphasis McCarthy put on the running game in the preseason. He wants the offense to be capable of running the ball anytime it needs to.
That wasn’t the case in all situations against an active Jacksonville front, but Lacy managed a respectable 61 yards on 14 carries. The most disappointing moment was an outside toss for minus-2 on second-and-2 with about four minutes to go, with the offense needing probably two first downs to close out the win.
The highlight came earlier, in the third quarter, when Lacy burst through a hole on the right side, made an open-field cut on the safety, and was off to the races for 28 yards.
Most of the time in a one-on-one situation with a full head of steam, Lacy does one of two things – drop his shoulder or spin away. This time, he planted his left foot for a quick, sharp cut and never slowed down.
“It was a good feeling,” he said. “It makes (me) a little more diverse and makes the defender think a little more.”
He showed even better acceleration on a second-quarter screen pass, when he broke a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and darted up the sideline for 17 yards. He did a dramatic flip at the end of the play when the tackler went low and took his legs out. That wasn’t part of the plan, but he was no worse for wear.
Lacy doesn’t have the breakaway speed of some NFL feature backs, and he probably never will. If he can make the right reads, hit holes with the proper burst and make people miss here and there, he’ll get the yards McCarthy is looking for.
The somewhat modest workload of just 14 carries in Jacksonville was plenty on such a hot day, and Lacy hasn’t normally been a true workhorse early in the year anyway. The soonest in a season he’s ever had 20-plus carries in a game is Week 4, and that was back in 2013 as a rookie.
The last two years, he hasn’t hit the 20-carry mark until the 11th and 10th games, respectively. That could change if he gets rolling this week in Minnesota, though, because of his track record against the Vikings.
Of Lacy’s 10 career 100-yard rushing games in the regular season, four have come in the border rivalry, with the Packers posting three wins and a tie in those contests.
In what promises to be a loud and raucous opening of the new U.S. Bank Stadium, Lacy is the No. 2 attraction at running back behind Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. He doesn’t see the matchup as him vs. the all-time great, but if he can quiet the crowd at times to counter Peterson trying to rile it up, he’ll be doing his job.
“That’s every away game,” Lacy said. “We want to get in there, start fast and try to take the air out of the building.”
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