Packers strive for balance against Vikings

January 2, 2016


In this Nov. 26, 2015, file photo, Green Bay Packers' Eddie Lacy runs for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, in Green Bay, Wis. Lacy got a fresh start and ran all over the Dallas Cowboys. Now the goal for the Green Bay’s top running back is to stay on track for the season’s final three games as the Packers look to capture a fifth straight NFC North title.

GREEN BAY — The rushing yards have been hard to come by for Eddie Lacy in a challenging season for the Green Bay Packers' lead running back.

Lacy likely will fall short of a third straight 1,000-yard season. But the Packers, at their best when Lacy is churning out yards, have a favorable matchup as they look to end the regular season with a fifth straight NFC North title.

Lacy has rushed for at least 90 yards in all five games he's played against the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers went 4-0-1 in those productive outings by Lacy and could use another lift from their workhorse back Sunday night when they host the Vikings to decide the division champion.

"Eddie is always looked at as a primary contributor when we do our game plan," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "So I'd say his contribution is needed."

Whether they can beat the Vikings may depend on if the Packers' battered offensive line can create rushing lanes for Lacy and James Starks, who also is expected to be part of the game plan despite his recent fumbling issues.

Starting tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga have been hampered by ankle injuries. Bulaga was knocked out of the Packers' 30-point loss at Arizona on Sunday, a game Bakhtiari didn't play.

While Bulaga is probable, Bakhtiari is questionable for Sunday's game after he didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday. The team had its customary day off from on-field work Friday.

"I'm going to give him every chance to play in this game," McCarthy said of Bakhtiari.


Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) bump helmets prior to the start of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday Dec. 13, 2015, in Green Bay, Wis.

Green Bay's interior linemen also have been dealing with an assortment of injuries in recent weeks.

After the Packers gave up a season-high nine sacks in their last game, McCarthy is hoping to get better balance out of the offense, which ranks 24th in the NFL for total yards, but is No. 10 with a rushing average of 118.3 yards.

McCarthy said the goal going into each game is for the running backs to touch the football 35 times. Green Bay came close to that in its convincing 30-13 road win over the Vikings on Nov. 22. Lacy, Starks and fullback John Kuhn combined for 31 rushing attempts and also caught two passes.

As a team that day, the Packers had a nearly symmetrical run-pass ratio with 34 rushing attempts and 36 pass plays, which included two sacks.

"We were efficient with our play style and our execution," McCarthy said. "We ran the ball the way it's supposed to be run. We didn't make a lot of mistakes in the game. That's the style of play and level of execution that we're going to need this week."

Even as he plays with a rib injury that has nagged him the last two games, Lacy is ready to carry a heavy load Sunday. He is listed as probable.

Lacy ran for 100 yards on 22 carries in the earlier meeting with the Vikings, his first of only three 100-yard games this season. He has rushed for 724 yards this season, well off his prolific numbers of 1,100-plus yards each of his first two years as a pro. In his five games against the Vikings, however, Lacy has run for 534 yards and five touchdowns with four 100-yard games.

And he said the rematch against Minnesota carries a sense of urgency because of what is on the line for both teams.

"It's really about all of us being on the same page," Lacy said. "One person can't do it by themselves, and when we're all on the same page, we're able to have success, whether it's running or passing."

NOTES: CB Sam Shields and DT B.J. Raji are questionable for Sunday as they continue to recover from recent concussions. The veteran starters have been limited participants in practice this week. McCarthy said both players still must be cleared from the league protocol for head injuries before they can play again. ... DT Mike Daniels (groin) and LB Mike Neal (hip) also are questionable. LB Jayrone Elliott (quadriceps) and TE Justin Perillo (hamstring) are out for the second straight game.



Associated Press