Packers rushing to victory

Lacy helps improved running game
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The Green Bay Packers have a running game.

Not only that, it’s the kind of running game that is helping the Packers win games.

Rookie running back Eddie Lacy’s performance Sunday — 23 carries for 99 yards — is exactly the reason the Packers committed to improving the running game and moving away from a pass-happy, one-dimensional offense.

Following a 15-1 season in 2011, but a one-and-done playoff run, the Packers’ coaching staff identified the running game as the only way to improve on offense. That year the Packers’ offense set records for yards and points, but was famously one-dimensional. It was good enough to win games, but not championships.

Lacy, who has been part of a backfield that is averaging 141 yards rushing per game and is ranked No. 5 in the NFL in rushing, ran the ball hard Sunday. While few of his plays were flashy, and he didn’t reach the end zone, Lacy’s running threat changed the flow of that game.

Without Lacy the Packers likely would have seen a familiar script: an all-pass offense would conclude its drives quickly and put the defense back on the field, a tired defense would give up points in the second half, the score would tighten and the Packers would need to get lucky to come out on top in the fourth quarter.

Instead, the Packers offense had lengthy drives, including a nearly 8-minute drive to start the game. The Packers also had drives of 5:05 and 4:35. The Packers won the time of possession battle, 32:19 to 27:41. In the fourth quarter, the Packers held the ball for 9:35, while the Lions held it for 5:25.

“We stalled a few times in the red zone, but we were able to create long drives, run the play clock down, keep our defense fresh on the sideline,” Packers receiver Randall Cobb said.

Holding the ball gives the defense a chance to rest. Instead of wilting in the second half, the defense held the Lions to three punts and a turnover on downs before giving up a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“I feel very good about the run game. It’s going good,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s being balanced, it helps our quarterback and will continue to help our perimeter as we move forward.”

The only thing keeping Sunday’s game from being a blowout was the Packers’ inability to get in the end zone.

Teams haven’t yet changed how they play the Packers, but that will come as the Packers prove the running game is a real threat. Once teams do react to the running game, the Packers can dictate what they want to do.

“As much as we want to throw the ball, we want to run the ball, too,” Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. “It allows us to get better coverages on the back end. As an offense we’re more of a threat. We enjoy it.”

Sunday will be another test for the Packers’ new-found confidence in the running game. Baltimore has the sixth-best rushing defense in the NFL.