The Green Bay Packers as a team started off this season very slow, the same can be said for Eddie Lacy. The 2014 season saw Lacy take a step forward from what was already a pretty good 2013, but it didn’t come easy nor did it come right away.
While it took the Packers 4 games to right the ship, it took Lacy a little bit longer. Like the team as a whole, once Lacy got rolling, he became fantastic. Lacy’s season can be broken down into two segments, the tables below show those two segments: the first six games of the regular season and the last 10 as well as his total 2013 season for comparison.
[table id=35 /]
Eddie Lacy saw his carries, yards per game, yards per carry, and touchdowns per game all go up from the first six games to the last ten of the regular season. He also saw his attempts per game go up by three carries after the first six games.
None of that is a surprise because he simply wasn’t running the ball well at the start of the season. His total rushing yards per game and yards per carry average go up significantly from 51 yards per game on a bad 3.86 yards per carry to 79 yards per game on a fantastic 5.25 yards per carry after the first six games.
Despite carrying the ball three times more per game in the last 10 games, it doesn’t equal the amount of carries he averaged last year. Last season as a whole Lacy carried the ball 2.5 times more per game than he did this season in the last 10 games (5.8 times more per game than the first six games this season) and while his total yards per game is the same over those time frames, his average has gone up over a whole yard per carry the last ten games this year compared to his season last year. He was great the last 10 regular season games this year.
Arguably most importantly, Lacy is now doing what he struggled greatly to do last year and what made James Starks lead the NFL in yards per carry last season: He’s breaking big plays. Lacy had six carries of over 20 yards in the last ten regular season games. He had four carries of over 20 yards in his first 22 NFL games.
It is easy to say that the difference is that Aaron Rodgers is now his quarterback this season after Aaron Rodgers missed a large part of 2013, but the stats show that is not necessarily the case.
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I am not counting the game Lacy only had one carry as a game for Lacy (which would bring his per game averages down) nor am I counting the game where Rodgers only played one drive of the game as a game with Rodgers. Meaning Lacy had 8 games with Rodgers in 2013 and 7 games without him.
In 2013 Eddie Lacy ran best without Rodgers and it wasn’t really close. He had a 4.41 yard per carry average without Rodgers compared to the 3.85 yard per carry average with him in 2013. Common sense would say that Lacy would have fewer attempts per game with Rodgers and a higher yard per carry average since Rodgers’ ability to pass the ball opens up the box more. The exact opposite was true though.
He had a nearly identical number of carries in 2013 with Rodgers vs without him. Lacy had 154 carries in games with Rodgers and 151 carries without him. However he averaged over three more carries per game with Rodgers and his total yards per game didn’t seem to make much of a difference with or without Rodgers at roughly 84 yards per game.
Add in this season with Rodgers where Lacy is averaging only a little over 15 carries per game and you see Lacy’s attempts per game with Rodgers drop a carry and a half below what he did in 2013 without Rodgers and you see his total yards per game drop to 75.3 compared to the 83.25 per game without Rodgers.
Lacy ran for more touchdowns per game without Rodgers in 2013 than he did with him or than he has this season at .88 touchdowns per game without him. That makes sense though because you can argue that Lacy was more relied upon without Rodgers and they needed him to convert in the redzone.
Interestingly enough Lacy’s 3.85 yards per carry average with Rodgers in 2013 is nearly identical to the 3.86 yards per carry average he had in the first six games of this season. Maybe Lacy is just a slow starter or maybe Lacy just needed time to adjust to Rodgers being in the game, it’s not like Lacy saw a lot of elite passing out of shotgun at Alabama. The last ten games of the regular season blew any stretch Lacy has had as a pro out of the water with his fantastic 5.25 yards per carry.
There also could be another factor to it. Maybe Lacy ran better without Rodgers in 2013 because he knew he was the focal point of the offense and he would be called on a lot more frequently. This coincides with something that started after the 6th game this season: Lacy the receiving back.
[table id=37 /]
Eddie Lacy has turned into a totally different animal in the passing game over the last ten regular season games this year. He almost doubled his receptions per game, going from 1.7 to 3.2 receptions per game and he over doubled his targets per game, from 2.0 to 4.3 targets per game. This has caused him to see triple the yards per game receiving over the last ten regular season games compared to the first six.
If you add together the yards per game average from 2013 and the first six games of this season, they still aren’t as much as he averaged the last ten regular season games this year. Eddie Lacy also saw a huge spike in touchdowns. After not catching a touchdown in his first 24 NFL games, Eddie Lacy caught four touchdowns in his last eight regular season games of this year.
Eddie averaged 114 yards per game and 1 touchdown per game over the last ten regular season games. The first six games this season he averaged 64 yards and a half of a touchdown per game. That’s almost double the yards and double touchdowns.
Getting Lacy involved often in the offense appears to be an important key in keeping him as productive as possible, but so is knowing how to use him. Eddie performs drastically different in different formations and to different sides and areas of the line.
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[table id=39 /]
The tables above show that Eddie is better off if the offense is spread out with three or four wide and one or no tight ends. When you typically think about successful running teams, you probably think of big lineman and power formations. That is not the case for the Packers and that is not when Lacy is running the best.
There are a few reasons for this. When the defense is spread out to cover the pass like they would be when having to cover 3 or 4 wide receiver sets, it lessens the amount of people they can keep in the box. It also typically makes defenses go to a nickel or dime formation instead of a more base defense.
By lessening the number of people in the box, it means there are less people there to tackle Lacy. It also means that Lacy will have an easier time finding where to make his cuts and will simply have an easier time seeing the field as he attempts to get to the second level.
[table id=40 /]
The table above shows that Lacy prefers to be running out of shotgun and out of the single back formation when under center as opposed to a two back formation. He averages a measly 2.93 yards per carry in two back formations, compared to 4.91 yards per carry out of shotgun and lone setback formations. Part of that is because the Packers are more likely to run two back sets at the goal line, where there is less yards available to get, but even if that is the case you’d like to see more touchdowns out of Lacy from two back sets then.
Lacy’s rushing numbers out of those formations match up with how he performs with various amounts of wide receivers and tight ends on the field. The Packers are going to have more wide receivers if they are in shotgun and don’t have a second running back on the field. This is also going to keep the field in front of him clear, with him not having to rely on following a fullback through the hole, he is allowed to find it himself.
[table id=41 /]
The further away from the middle of the line Lacy runs the ball, the worse his yards per carry gets. On runs up the middle Lacy averages 5.13 yards per carry, better than the 4.6 yards per carry he averages to the left or right, and much better than the 3.88 yards per carry he averages around the ends.
In my opinion at least, Lacy runs better up the middle than to the ends because he doesn’t need to worry about finding the right spot to make his cut. Then once he makes the cut, he still needs to accelerate past the defenders, all the while likely going through the hole at an angle. When he is running up the middle he can just grab the ball and go. He can start accelerating the second he grabs the ball and any cut he makes is still going to be taking him in the direction his momentum is going. This also allows him to take on defenders head on and making it easier for him to break tackles and pick up an extra yard or two.
Overall it was a very good season for Lacy, with the last ten regular season games being much better than the first six. The biggest take aways for me from this season were Eddie’s ability to break the big play and become a threat out of the backfield. Both were things that we did not see from him last year. Next season I expect to see Lacy’s numbers grow as the team becomes more comfortable with how he likes to play and vice versa.
Mike Reuter lives in the Twin Cities and is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas. He is a mobile tech enthusiast, a 19 year Gopher Football season ticket holder and a huge Packers fan. Mike is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @uofmike.