Eddie Lacy Goes Small to Go Big

Last week, Gary posted about Jordy Nelson’s return to the offense and how it should (hopefully) spark more big plays through the passing game. The Packers are also getting a notable name back on offense, though he technically didn’t go anywhere in the first place.

Big plays: A run of ten yards or more and any reception of 25 yards or more.

I’m speaking, of course, about Eddie Lacy. His weight issues last season are well documented, but he reported to training camp this year in much better shape, and should be ready to contribute to a running game that took a big step back in 2015.

The most obvious way Lacy can contribute is through the big play. For the purposes of our discussions, a “big play” is any run of ten yards or more and any reception of 25 yards or more.

Eddie Lacy has been a big play running back

Running back Eddie Lacy enters his fourth season with the Green Bay Packers in 2016.

Running back Eddie Lacy enters his fourth season with the Green Bay Packers in 2016.

Though it may be surprising for a big, punishing runner, Eddie Lacy has been a serious big play threat throughout his career. He can be a grinder in the run game, sure, but he is just as effective gashing defenses for 12 to 15 yards at a time.

For example, in 2013, Lacy was tasked with carrying the offensive load while Aaron Rodgers tended to his shattered collarbone. That year, Lacy tallied 29 “big” rushes on 284 carries. He was ripping off a big run one out of every ten times he was handed the football.

The next year, he was even better, piling up a whopping 38 “big” runs on just 246 carries. A full 15 percent of Lacy’s carries resulted in big plays.

In 2015, however, Lacy contributed just 19 “big” runs on 187 carries. Though it’s still over 10 percent of his total carries, the overall number was a precipitous drop.

Why the decline in big plays for Lacy?

The big play numbers give us the “what” of Lacy’s decline, and the raw numbers should point us to a why. The most obvious sign of regression appears in his availability and yards per carry average.

I recognize that it sounds simplistic, but it shouldn’t be a challenge for a professional athlete to be in good enough shape to stay on the field. Lacy didn’t accomplish that goal in 2015, and he needs to be better.

The yards per carry situation is a little bit more complex, and it’s admittedly not entirely Lacy’s fault. But between Lacy’s limited availability last year, his poor conditioning off the field, and myriad other factors including the loss of Jordy Nelson and an offensive line in flux, the numbers dropped, and they dropped in a big way.

As anecdotal evidence, think about the kinds of runs we saw from Lacy over the past two seasons. In 2014, Lacy was as close to a wrecking ball as a human being can come. I mean, look at what he did to poor Robert Blanton:

Compare that to 2015, in which Lacy averaged three yards per carry or less in seven of the fifteen games in which he appeared. Runs like this were essentially the norm, not the exception:

I’m not going to play the “there was a hole there and Lacy missed it!” game, but it is self-evidently a bad run. Those were all too common last year, and if Lacy wants to earn a second big contract, he has to banish those kinds of runs.

His 2015 campaign may be disappointing, but it gives us a benchmark to track his improvement. We’ve seen the pictures. He looks thinner. He’s said the right things. If he’s going to improve, it has to be on the field now.