How the Packers Can Get the Most from Healthy Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin
Entering the 2013 season, the Green Bay Packers were expected to be one of the few legitimate Super Bowl contenders to emerge from the NFC.
Well, Rodgers and Co. have certainly lit up the scoreboard through the first three weeks of the season, ranking second in the league in passing offense (326.7 yards per game) and in scoring (32 points per game).
Part of the problem has been turnovers (Green Bay had four in its Week 3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals) and part of the problem has been a defense that currently ranks just 27th in the league (29.3 points per game allowed).
The ability to score points at will is great, but it isn't enough to win games when a team cannot take care of the football or prevent opponents from scoring.
While ball-security issues likely won't be fixed overnight, and a defense can only be tightened up so much, the Packers do have one option to help turn things in their favor moving forward.
They can utilize their stable of young running backs.
Green Bay drafted not one, but two extremely talented runners back in April—Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin.
Lacy was widely regarded as the top running back available heading into the draft, though he wasn't the first back selected. That honor went to Giovani Bernard, taken 37th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Instead, Lacy fell to the Packers at No. 61, where it appeared that he would immediately become the workhorse back Green Bay has been lacking in recent years.
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However, the Packers decided that one back wasn't enough and selected Franklin, who amassed 1,734 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012, in the fourth round.
Lacy and Franklin give the Packers a lethal one-two punch in the backfield to complement veteran James Starks.
Unfortunately, the Packers have suffered through a number of injuries in the backfield already this season. Lacy has been out since suffering a concussion against the Washington Redskins in Week 2 and Starks suffered a knee injury against the Bengals the following week.
Naturally, the timing of the Packers' bye week was a blessing.
According to ESPN's Rob Demovsky, Lacy has been cleared and both he and Franklin (foot injury) were full participants in Monday's practice.
This means that both rookie runners will be available for the Week 5 matchup with Detroit, which brings us back to how the duo can affect the Packers' game plan for the remainder of the season.
The presence of Lacy and Franklin provides the Packers with the ability to bring balance on the offensive side of the football, which is important considering the state of the team's defense.
While there are very few teams that are likely to be able to completely contain Rodgers and the Green Bay passing attack this season, the Packers defense is going to have just as much trouble against high-powered offenses like the one it will face against Detroit (ranked fourth at 30.5 points per game).
The best course of action for the Packers is to keep opposing offenses off the field as long as possible, especially when playing with a lead (see the Cincinnati game for proof).
Lacy and Franklin give the Packers the freedom to do this in a variety of ways.
For starters, both rookies are capable runners. Lacy, at 5'11" and 230 pounds, is a prototypical between-the-tackles style of runner who can grind out yards and time on the clock.
Franklin (5'10", 205) is a swift and nimble runner who can make big plays look easy, as evidenced by his 7.9 yards-per-carry average in his Week 3 debut.
Lacy appears more physically suited to be the team's primary ball-carrier with Franklin as a change-of-pace option. However, it is worth noting that Franklin did carry the ball 788 times during his collegiate career.
Expect the Packers to lean heavily on the physical running style of Lacy, especially late in games with Franklin capable of taking over whenever necessary.
The two give the Packers a solid combination with which to keep defenses honest, control the tempo and the clock, and to keep the other team's offensive playmakers off the field.
Against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, the Packers took a four-point lead with just 8:26 remaining in the contest. However, the defense couldn't prevent San Francisco from scoring 10 unanswered points and earning the victory.
Had the Packers been able to chew up a couple of more minutes of clock throughout the game, or keep the 49ers off the field in the final minutes altogether, the outcome might have been dramatically different.
The duo should also help the Packers avoid turnovers, at least in the form of interceptions (Franklin's fourth-quarter fumble punctuated the Packers' collapse against Cincinnati).
Not only can the pair provide a capable rushing attack to go with Green Bay's aerial assault, but it can also give Rodgers a receiving outlet out of the backfield.
Both players have shown the ability to make plays catching the ball. Franklin had 33 receptions for 323 yards in 2012. Lacy had 22 for 189.
Swing passes and screens to Lacy and Franklin should be seen as high-percentage throws that should minimize the potential for an interception. They can also be used to spread out defenses and prevent defenders from stacking the box against the run.
In short, the ability to utilize a healthy Lacy and Franklin changes the complexion of the Packers offense, which has long been built to win a shootout.
With these two in the fold, the Packers should now have the ability to dictate the pace of each contest and to close out games when playing with the lead, which has clearly been an issue so far in this young season.
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