Lacy and Franklin: Missing links to championship Packers team?
Jonathan Franklin, Eddie Lacy. Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY - Protection, Connection, Reflection: a simple mantra that Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has declared the theme for the 2013 season.
Simple concepts with far-reaching goals. Protect the ball, protect the quarterback.
Connect the plays and move the ball down the field with precision, center to quarterback, quarterback to receiver, receiver to end zone.
And then there’s reflection. The team appears to have reflected on past mistakes and is crafting a plan to move back toward that surgical efficiency that had carried the team all the way to Super Bowl XLV.
Enter the Packers' recommitment to the running game and how it will change the entire feel of the offense this coming season.
By drafting Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin this past spring, the Packers are no longer settling for just a one-dimensional passing offense and a piecemeal rush. Of course, that’s not a bad problem to have when your quarterback is consistently one of the best in the league.
But when an offense scheme is strictly in the air, it becomes predictable and easier to defend.
It means no more cookie cutter short pass on first down, followed by a lofted attempt to push the ball a little closer to the end of the chain on second down, and then a one-yard cannon ball shot up the middle from John Kuhn to try to move the sticks.
This became such a familiar routine that the entire stadium would be hooting Kuhn’s name even before he took the field.
If the fans were accurately calling the next play, chances are the opponents were figuring it out too.
It means that Lambeau Field will no longer be featuring Aaron Rodgers’ rush for three yards as the “rush of the half” on its giant screens in the end zone because his brief sprint with the ball was the most explosive part of the running game in 30 minutes of play.
Rodgers was the team’s second highest rusher last year with 259 yards. His average run was 4.8 yards per carry, longer than each of the 6 running backs’ averages.
His runs were featured because, unfortunately, there wasn’t much else to showcase.
But Aaron Rodgers was literally running for his life each time the ball was snapped.
With little ground game, defenders knew the ball would likely remain in the quarterback’s hands. As the pocket collapsed and each receiver was covered in turn, it often meant Rodgers either needed to offload the ball or take off running.
Of course, it wasn’t the sole reason, but it likely contributed to many of the 51 times that defenders sacked him.
Lacy and Franklin are an investment in a diversified offense, something the Packers have not seen in several years.
Sure, defenses can still throw everything and the kitchen sink at Rodgers as he steps back in the pocket, but they will be doing it at their own peril.
All he needs to do is hand the ball off, and it’s off to the races.
Lacy is cut from that same SEC cloth that fashions championship offenses year after year. Strong and explosive, he can turn on a dime and leave defenders in his dust.
It was only a few months ago when he shredded some of the best college defenses in the nation. It was only a few months ago when he ran for 181 yards on 20 carries and scored twice against Georgia in the SEC championship and was named the MVP of the BSC Championship game, destroying Notre Dame’s powerful defense for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Then there’s Johnathan Franklin. While he doesn’t have the immediate name recognition as Lacy, he is equally a power all-purpose running back in his own right. He can block with the best and has nimble hands to receive, including a 40 yard bomb this past year.
Like Lacy, he was a significant ground threat in college. Even when UCLA lost, he still managed to put up impressive statistics. By the end of his senior year, Franklin had rushed for 1734 yards on 282 carries with 13 touchdowns on the ground and 2 in the air.
For an MVP-caliber passing game to remain a threat, it is essential that Rodgers’ offense be paired with an equally dangerous ground game. It forces other teams to hedge their bets.
Will they risk it all and assume Rodgers’ accurate arm will carry the offense, or is he just a decoy for a deadly rush? That guessing game only makes Rodgers a more terrifying adversary when it’s harder to predict what the next play could be.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, or so the saying goes. But investing in Lacy and Franklin is a first step in protection.
Adding their expertise on the ground brings the element of cohesion and connection to the missing elements of the offense.
As for reflection, time will tell if these two young men are the missing links that will help carry the team toward a fourteenth championship.
Kelly Hodgson (@ceallaigh_k on Twitter) who grew up across the river from Lambeau Field, is the co-host of the podcast "Out of the Pocket" at Packerstalk.com. Her other Packers musings can be found at PocketDoppler.com.