In the last few seasons, Green Bay has been paced by its passing attack and the capable arm of Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That won’t be the case this weekend.
The Packers might still throw the ball quite a bit, but Rodgers won’t be the one slinging it. Rodgers suffered a cracked collarbone and could be sidelined for several weeks. Seneca Wallace -- a 33-year-old who is 6-15 as an NFL starter -- will replace Rodgers (see story).
Even if Rodgers was the quarterback against the Eagles, the Packers' game plan would likely call for a heavy dose of running. Green Bay has had serious success with its running game this season. The Packers are second in the NFL with 148.6 rushing yards per game, and they’re tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns with eight.
“What they’ve been doing as of late is shifting to the big running back, because these running backs are playing real well,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “They’re downhill, run you over, angry downhill runners. And they’re getting a lot of production out of them.”
The Packers are led by rookie running back Eddie Lacy. The second-round draft pick out of Alabama has been excellent this season. Lacy suffered a concussion in Week 2 and missed the Packers’ third game. But since returning to the field, Lacy has excelled. In the Packers' last game against the Chicago Bears on Monday night football, Lacy carried the ball 22 times for 150 yards and a touchdown.
“Somehow, some way, he sees the lanes and can hit it with burst,” said Eagles defensive lineman Damion Square, who played with Lacy at Alabama. “He hits it at the right time. He can put his foot down and pick up speed. In one second, he’s a guy who can accelerate and hit a high speed. He’s not a long-distance guy. I can’t see him busting an 80-yard run, but he’s very, very powerful for 40 [yards]. He’s very, very powerful for 20 [yards]. He’s a guy who’s very patient in the gap, and a guy who has a spin move that I haven’t seen out of anybody that I’ve played football with. He’s a good, big, powerful back.”
Since Week 5, Lacy has averaged 23.8 carries, 108.6 rushing yards, and 6.5 yards per reception. His worst outing was an 82-yard performance against Cleveland in mid-October. And he’s scored a touchdown in each of his last three games.
“They’ve got their share of weapons,” Davis conceded. “The running backs are really playing well.
“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 smash-mouth running game you haven’t seen from Green Bay for years, but it’s there now.”
Green Bay has augmented Lacy’s performance by periodically rotating in James Starks, a speedier back. Starks is averaging 8.8 yards per carry this season. He also scored a touchdown in each of his last two games.
“It’s both of them – it’s Starks and Lacy,” Chip Kelly said when asked why the Packers have been so successful with their running game this year. “They’re two really big backs, and they’re both downhill runners and they’re physical. It’s going to take a lot of guys to get them down. Very rarely is one guy getting them down. They’re running through arm tackles. I think you have to get 11 guys to the ball.
“They made a concerted effort, even before [Rodgers] got hurt, to run the ball. And they have been running the ball pretty effectively before Aaron got hurt. So I think it’s a real concern of ours. They’re two big backs. They’re two physical backs. It’s a tough task when you have physical guys like that because you may have one unblocked guy at the point of attack, but you may need to have two or three. It’s about getting 11 guys running to the football and gang tackling.”