While the Falcons have struggled on offense at times this season, we’ve seen one reason why: the late-blooming run game. Struggles have come on the defensive side of the ball as well as that’s primarily come in the form of opponents’ rushing attack. For a win this week, the Falcons can expect to have to slow down Green Bay’s top running back, rookie Eddie Lacy.
Last season the Packers gained 104.6 yards per game on the ground. That effort was good enough for 11th in the league, but in the offseason the Packers addressed the run game, bringing in second-round running back Eddie Lacy from Alabama. To say he’s gotten the job done is an understatement. Regardless of who is at QB for the Packers this Sunday, slowing down the run game should be job No. 1 for the Falcons defense.
This year Lacy has rushed for 822 yards and has added six touchdowns. He’s been the primary ball carrier in an offense who running game has improved immensely from last year to now. The Packers’ 130.3 yards per game this season is the eighth-best total in the league. On the other side of the ball, the Falcons are allowing an average of 135.4 yards per game this season and have given up 161 yards per game in their last three. Against Lacy and the Packers, that will need to improve and it will take a team effort.
“Eddie Lacy is a big, strong back that doesn’t go down easily,” head coach Mike Smith said this week. “I have not seen him taken down by a single tackler very often. He is a guy that is going to take two or three guys.”
Lacy has averaged 4 yards a carry this season, but last week against Detroit, he only gained 16 yards on 10 carries. He’s been held to less than 30 yards in two of his past four games, but the Falcons defense isn’t considering Lacy a candidate for the rookie wall that sometimes slows first-year players at the end of the season.
“He’s a very physical running back, a downhill runner,” Osi Umenyiora said. “He’s one of the best rookie running backs I think we’ve seen in a long time. We have our work cut out for us, but we just have to be physical.”
Smith has said multiple times in recent weeks that the only thing his team has been consistent with this season is being inconsistent. That inconsistency has definitely come against opponent’s running game and it’s led to big plays for opponents.
“The big yards that we give up are usually explosive plays,” Smith said. “That’s what we’ve done, given up too many explosive plays.”
Holding Lacy to minimal yards will reduce the impact Green Bay’s running game can have. As the Lions showed last week, an ineffective running game makes the Packers one-dimensional and as the Falcons have shown this season, it’s hard to win games when that happens. If the Falcons can contain Lacy, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to rush the passer more effectively, whether it’s Aaron Rodgers or Matt Flynn.
“We just have to get in situations where we’re playing more downhill,” Umenyiora said. “I think we’ve given up too many rushing yards. Teams have gotten us off balance because they’re able to run the ball. We’re never really able to pin our ears back and rush the passer the way we want to. If we can get the game in our favor and we’ll be able to do that and I think you’ll see an improvement in the pass rush.”
Getting to the QB will help against the Packers but getting a win on defense starts with stopping the run.
“I’ve watched a lot of tape on him this year,” William Moore said. “He’s a physical runner. One player hasn’t been able to bring him down yet this season. You’ve got to get 11 hats to the ball. That’s one thing Green Bay needed, his running ability out of the backfield. Now they’re a dangerous team.”