Lacy's Performance Too Good for His Own Good

Lacy (Benny Sieu - USA Today Sports)

Eddie Lacy has been running so well that the coaching staff has had a hard time getting him off the field. Thus, Lacy's coming off three consecutive games with more carries than he ever had at Alabama. We put Lacy's workload into a historical perspective.

Eddie Lacy's career is off to a great start.

And that's posed something of a dilemma for the Green Bay Packers the last few weeks.

Just how do they give their hard-charging running back a break so he can not only stay fresh for the end of games but for the end of the season?

"He's running so well right now that you hate to take the hot hand off the field," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said on Thursday.

Lacy is coming off consecutive games of 23 carries for 99 yards vs. Detroit, 23 carries for 120 yards vs. Baltimore and 22 carries for 82 yards against Cleveland.

Lacy's career high for carries at Alabama? Twice he had 20 rushes: in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia and a month later in the BCS Championship Game against Notre Dame.

During his three seasons at Alabama, Lacy carried 355 times. As a senior, he carried 204 times — or 14.6 times per game. Only seven times in his career did he get more than 15 carries in a game. So, while Lacy is a big, powerful man capable of absorbing some punishment, the team acknowledges it might not be in Lacy's best interests to go from a guy carrying the ball 12 or 15 times against college athletes to 20-plus times against professionals as a rookie.

"Yeah, obviously, it's something that we keep an eye on over the course of the season," Van Pelt said. "Do I think he can carry it 20, 25 times a game? Yeah. But is it healthy and the best for the team? Maybe, maybe not. It puts him at risk of wearing down late in the season when we're going to need him."

With a brawler like Lacy, conventional wisdom suggests he'll wear down defenses. And while that's certainly true — his huge 9-yard run late in the Baltimore game came when he blew through the safety — the stats suggest that's not entirely the case. In the first halves of games, he's averaged 4.8 yards on 38 attempts. In the second halves, he's averaged 3.8 yards on 45 attempts. By carries, he's averaged 4.5 on carries one through 10, 4.1 on carries 11 through 20 and 3.6 from carry 21 and beyond.


Lacy breaks into the open field vs. Cleveland. Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports

Lacy has carried the ball 83 times. Depending on how you want to do the math, he's either on pace for 221 carries (83 carries in six games), 265 carries (he's only played in five games) or 328 carries (if you exclude his one-carry game vs. Washington).

In Packers history, there have been only five seasons of 300-plus carries: Ahman Green had 355 in 2003, Dorsey Levens had 329 in 1997, Edgar Bennett had 316 in 1995, Ryan Grant had 312 in 2008 and Green had 304 in 2001.

While Lacy says he "didn't have a problem" with the workload, the Packers' concern is shared by most of the league. Over the previous 10 seasons, there have been just 17 rookie running backs with even 200 carries in a season. Of those 17, only five had 250-plus carries. And of that small group, only Alfred Morris and Doug Martin last season and Matt Forte in 2008 got to 300 carries. If you use the 328-carry threshold, Lacy would trail only Morris' 335 attempts in 2012.

Among this year's rookies, Lacy leads the league in carries, with Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard next with 67. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell and St. Louis' Zac Stacy have 51 and 50 carries, respectively.

A healthy James Starks would help. Starks has missed the last three games with a knee injury. Not coincidentally, Lacy's had 22 or 23 carries in all of those games. If Starks can play like he did against Washington and the first half of the Cincinnati game, he'd give the Packers the ability to lighten Lacy's workload. And that would give the team the potential for a strong one-two punch for December and, perhaps, January.

"Hopefully we'll get James back up this week," Van Pelt said. "He's had a good week of practice. With him and Franklin, we should be able to spell him some carries. ... You're always looking to give Eddie a break here and there, maybe two series in the first half and a series in the second half."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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