Monday, 19 October 2015

Eddie Lacy sees limited playing time

Packers running back James Starks runs 65 yards for a touchdown against the Chargers, the longest of his career.

James Starks starts, racks up 112 Green Bay — The first inkling of running back peculiarity arrived 2 minutes, 38 seconds after kickoff Sunday, when the offense for the Green Bay Packers took the field for its opening possession.

Out trotted quarterback Aaron Rodgers, fresh off his worst performance of the season in a multi-interception game against the St. Louis Rams. Out jogged wide receiver Randall Cobb, hamstrung still by a bum shoulder and disgruntled by a consistent double coverage. Even right guard T.J. Lang emerged from the huddle, pushing through a knee injury suffered last week.
Noticeably absent was the team's starting tailback, Eddie Lacy, whose bouncing dreadlocks and stout frame lingered on the sideline in a dab of early foreshadowing.
James Starks galloped 25 yards on the first play from scrimmage to kick-start the first 100-yard game of the season for a Packers' rusher. He scored two of his team's three touchdowns Sunday in a hard-fought 27-20 win over the San Diego Chargers, who received a transcendent performance from quarterback Philip Rivers, though most of the postgame questions sought to pry loose a reason for Lacy's diminutive workload. He carried the ball four times for 3 yards and saw a significant reduction in playing time.
"We're a one-two punch team," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's really no different than the way we operate. We went with James first just because he's been playing extremely well, and Eddie has been a little banged up."
Though McCarthy did not expand on what exactly is bothering Lacy, it's possible the right ankle of his franchise running back is more problematic than the team has let on. Initially injured against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2, Lacy missed the first practice of the following week and was a limited participant in subsequent days. He suited up against the Chiefs eight days after the injury and did not miss any further practice time.
In fact, the ankle appeared to be progressing well as recently as this week, when Lacy practiced with a normal tape job for the first time. Gone was the bulky, over-the-shoe taping known as "spatting," which he wore the last three games and provides extra support for the ankle. Lacy expressed optimism about possibly playing without it against the Chargers.
And while he took the field Sunday, Lacy denied that the injury limited his playing time.
"My ankle is all right," Lacy said.
"It was OK," he said when asked again. "I spatted it for like a mental thing. My choice."
"I'm cool," Lacy said, pressed about his ankle a third time.
In the locker room, teammates chose from one of two possible explanations for Lacy's limited presence within the offense. Some, like Starks, were surprised at the question and believed Lacy to be perfectly fine. Others, like left guard Josh Sitton, said they had no idea if there was something wrong.
Only one player — a member of the offense — mentioned the injury as an ongoing problem. "He's still trying to get his ankle together," the player said.
Whatever the reason, Starks, who said he found out he was starting in the huddle before the first play, assumed the role of featured back on an afternoon in which the Packers ran the ball 12 fewer times than any game this season. He combined with Lacy, Rodgers and receiver Ty Montgomery, who had one carry, for just 17 rush attempts.
Of those 17, Starks received 10 and produced 112 yards.
"I would have liked to see us run the ball a lot more if you were going to draw up the game and play it differently," McCarthy said. "That part didn't work out that way, but James obviously had a huge day."
Starks bookended the Packers' opening drive with a 25-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage, after the offensive line opened a tremendous lane on a toss right, and a 5-yard receiving touchdown six snaps later, when he dragged defenders across the goal line after snagging an inside shovel pass from Rodgers.
But the run that defined Sunday's game, a run that spotted the Packers a double-digit lead and some breathing room before the 503-yard Philip Rivers show lurched into overdrive, came on the second offensive possession.
Running left, Starks slammed into the back of fullback John Kuhn, his lead blocker, on a play that seemed destined for a smidgeon-like gain. Except Starks spun right, back toward the wide side of the field, toward an almost unthinkable amount of open space vacated by a defense that badly lost contain.
He turned the corner and accelerated down the sideline for a 65-yard score, the longest run of his career. While Lacy, with his ankle spatted and his helmet donned, simply watched from the bench.
Like he did in the win over Seattle, Starks stole the show.

"I'm ready at all times," Starks said. "I don't care if I'm coming in second, first, whatever. Any opportunity I get, I just try to make the most out of it."yards

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