First it was right tackle Bryan Bulaga (left knee injury), and then it was running back Eddie Lacy. The Green Bay Packers suffered one blow after another during their 36-16 Week 1 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The team first announced on its official Twitter account that Lacy left the game and was being evaluated for a concussion after colliding with Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor in the fourth quarter. Bleacher Report's Jason Cole later confirmed the suspicions:
Eddie Lacy concussion was confirmed #Packers— Jason Cole (@JasonPhilCole) September 5, 2014
For Lacy, this is scary stuff. During his rookie season, he suffered his first concussion as a pro against Washington, which resulted in him missing a week of action. Hopefully for his sake, this isn't a recurring issue.
To say that Lacy is important to the success of this offense is an understatement. What he did in the absence of Aaron Rodgers last season was nothing short of remarkable. From the dreaded Monday night game where the star quarterback went down all the way up until Rodgers returned in Week 17, Lacy carried this offense, picking up 666 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
His overall rookie-year totals were significant. Lacy won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors thanks to 1,178 yards on the ground and 11 touchdowns. Countless times on film, Lacy showed his desire to get in between the tackles and shred defenses with his Marshawn Lynch-like style of running.
Prior to Lacy shattering the 1,000-yard rushing mark, the Packers hadn't had a running back eclipse that total since Ryan Grant in 2009. Heading into this season, the hope was that Lacy would be able to keep defenses honest and help open things up for Rodgers to air it out.
Head coach Mike McCarthy knew a healthy Lacy was vital, and Mike Spofford of Packers.com wrote about how McCarthy's plan was to keep the bruising tailback fresh throughout preseason and training camp:
Lacy has taken a large number of reps in practice – far more than in last year’s training camp – and McCarthy appears to be focusing on that work to get Lacy and the offensive line in tune with one another, while sparing Lacy too many full-contact hits and tackles that would come against a preseason opponent.
The plan was executed to perfection. Unfortunately, that didn't matter going up against a stout Seattle defense in the season opener. Lacy was tuned up but could never get things going. Averaging just 2.8 yards per carry, he picked up 34 yards before leaving the game.
Even with his health uncertain, the good news is backup James Starks has been effective in relief appearances. He looked especially sharp against the Seahawks, finishing the night with 37 rushing yards on a mere seven carries.
Starks isn't nearly as a powerful or commanding of a runner as Lacy is, but in spurts he can be effective. If Lacy is forced to miss a week or two, Starks has spent enough time in this offense to help pick up the slack.
However, Starks' production on the field should never be confused with what Lacy can do with the ball in his hands. There's a reason Lacy had 284 carries last season to Starks' 89.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) calculated the number of missed tackles Lacy forced last season at 56, behind only Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy. Outside of being a powerful runner who can fend off defenders, Lacy is also elusive.
In just his second year, that's why the hype is so real. If he's sidelined for an extended period of time, it's going to be a serious problem for this club. Being able to wear a defense down in the trenches and run the ball with a purpose allows the Packers' passing attack to decimate defenses with play action.
It also takes pressure off Rodgers. Though it's fun seeing the 30-year-old spread the ball around coming out of five-wide sets—something fantasy football owners must love—having Lacy back there makes the defense shift its focus elsewhere for good chunks of the game.
The recipe for the Packers to have a successful year comes down to the health of Lacy and an offensive line that plays together as a cohesive unit.
We know that Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will be able to provide plenty of fireworks, but Lacy finding a way to get past this latest concussion and back into the starting lineup is the storyline to watch moving forward.