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Eddie Lacy: Is He Still the Bell Cow in the Green Bay Offense?

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2014

Detroit Lions outside linebacker DeAndre Levy (54) prepares to tackle Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) during the second half of an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

Coming into the weekend, Packers running back Eddie Lacy had 77 yards rushing after two matches against the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets. A highly touted fantasy player after carrying the ball over 20 times per game last season (excluding his one-carry game vs Washington when he sustained a concussion), Lacy was ranked by Fantasy Pros, a conglomerate created to give consensus expert picks, as the fifth running back and also fifth overall player on their consensus boards.

To say the least, many expected a big year from Eddie Lacy. Behind him on the roster are James Starks, who signed a short-term deal with the Packers in free agency, DuJuan Harris, who had 157 yards in Green Bay in 2012 before being sidelined with an injury for the entire 2013 season, and fullback John Kuhn. On paper, the combination of talent and volume was expected to vault the Pro Bowl and Rookie of the Year running back into the national conversation.

Even in the preseason, people were impressed with the Alabama product's play. Bleacher Report's own Cian Fahey made the Marshawn Lynch comparison, which has been made over and over since the 2013 draft process.

Eddie Lacy really is just Marshawn Lynch minus a few years.

— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) August 23, 2014

Three weeks into his season, though, he hasn't lived up to the hype. After touching the ball 42 times, he finished the Detroit Lions game with only 151 yards for the season. To put that into perspective, he had 319 touches for 1,435 yards in 2013. Extrapolating the data from his first three games would net him 224 touches for 805 yards and no scores during 2014.

The dropout is steep, almost six touches per game and a yard per touch fewer than his rookie season. Even if he's being fed the ball at the rate he was last season, his drop in production would cost him in the ballpark of 300 yards on the year. Three football fields of equivalent production accounted for just over a fifth of his numbers in 2013.

Losing a fifth of your production isn't good, but some think Lacy has lost more than just that. Against the Lions on Sunday, the Packers increased James Starks' touch count with eight carries. Comparatively, Eddie Lacy had 11 carries on the day, only three more than the perceived solidified backup. Now, Starks touching the ball eight times isn't crazy, but it's not a normal occurrence. James Starks is a talented back in and of himself, assisting Green Bay during their title run during the 2010 season. During the time of his and Lacy's tandem, though, Starks has only had as many touches as he had against Detroit four times.

Two of them were when Eddie Lacy was out of participation due to a concussion sustained against the Washington Redskins. The other two came to end the season, against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears. Why is it significant that this came at the end of the season? Many who have played the sport at a professional level bring up the "rookie wall" for late-season falloffs by first-year players. The jump from 12 to 13 college games is simply just less demanding on the body than a 16-game schedule in a 17-week span.

So, in 2013, there at least seems to be some reasoning for Starks' increase in touches. In 2014, he's simply had higher volume when spelling the former member of the Tide. He's done well with the opportunity, too, averaging just under two yards per carry better than Lacy on a snap-to-snap basis. The third running back on the roster, DuJuan Harris, also had three carries against the Lions, adding to his single rush against the Seahawks in Week 1.

Are the Packers simply going in a different direction at running back with the way Lacy's performed? Is he still the definitive bell cow that many projected him to be?

To see if the split is about average league-wide, we'll look at the numbers from players who had as more carries than the Packers running back coming into Week 3. There are 20 players on this list according to ESPN.com. We'll exclude data involved in injuries, such as Arian Foster, Bobby Rainey and Marshawn Lynch to paint a clearer picture. After Week 3, by hand calculations, 13 of them had as many or more touches than Lacy.

Justis Mosqueda

Of the five players with more carries entering Week 3 and more touches entering Week 4, it's hard to argue that anyone with a higher percentage of touches isn't a bell cow, true No. 1 running back. LeSean McCoy has a case, but even then, his fellow running back Darren Sproles is used in very specific ways and situations. Underneath him, though, are almost all players in running back by committee offenses.

Justis Mosqueda

Zac Stacy is splitting time with Benny Cunningham. Stevan Ridley is in a Patriots offense that is famously against having only one feature back. Terrance West and undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell are sharing the backfield in Cleveland. Trent Richardson is giving up more carries to Ahmad Bradshaw than expected. In Buffalo, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are splitting time as the feature of a play almost evenly.

So, is Green Bay going running back by committee, or is Eddie Lacy still the guy in Title Town? Based on the statistics above, he's right on the fringe. With only three games as the sample size, it's an unruly statement if someone can tell you absolutely yes or no. It should be a question that's brought up coming into Week 4, when the former-second rounder faces the Chicago Bears, who'll be coming off a short week from playing on Monday Night Football. If his production doesn't kick up a notch against that defense, a committee might be in store for green and gold.

Maybe the Marshawn Lynch comparisons are true. He found early success and hangover regression from said early success before finding himself as a fifth-year player in Seattle. For the Packers' sake, let's hope it doesn't take Lacy locating success in a new venue for him to find himself.

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