MINNEAPOLIS – Though this is a new season, Mike McCarthy remembers what Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings did to the Green Bay Packers’ defense last year. And on Sunday, he wasn’t going to let Peterson do that again.
“That was our focus, coming in here, I make no bones about it,” McCarthy said after the Packers held Peterson to just 13 carries for 60 yards – while the Packers’ running backs ran 36 times for 151 yards – in the Packers’ 44-31 victory over the Vikings at the Metrodome.
“I’ve always felt that their offense starts with Adrian. Adrian’s a great player. … He creates a momentum, a personality, an attitude, an adrenaline on their sideline, especially in this stadium. So he was definitely our focus.”
That’s exactly what the Packers’ 1-2 punch of Eddie Lacy and James Starks did for the Packers on Sunday night. While they didn’t put up the numbers Peterson did against the Packers in two games last season – 409 of his 2,097 rushing yards last season, or 19.5 percent, came in his two games against Green Bay – Lacy and Starks certainly set a tone.
Both healthy for the first time since the first quarter of the Packers’ Sept. 15 victory over Washington, Lacy narrowly missed his second 100-yard game of the season, running for 94 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. Starks only had seven carries but made them count, running for 57 yards and a touchdown. The 182 rushing yards – including 31 from quarterback Aaron Rodgers – tied a season high for the Packers, set Sept. 22 against Cincinnati.
The running backs have been given more opportunities this season, but Lacy said the “key” to his – and the running game’s – success this season has been the play of the guys up front.
“It’s the offensive line,” Lacy said. “They study play and study play and they never give up. They have a drive. Their mindset is, if we’re running the ball, we’re going to give you the holes. It’s a combination of the offensive line, and us being patient and hitting the holes they give us.”
The Packers have found success after the reshuffle of the offensive line in the offseason, but the defensive line has been setting a tone, too, this season. Defensive end B.J. Raji said winning the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball has been a focus.
“We talk about it week-in and week-out: We want to dominate the line of scrimmage,” Raji said. “It started back in camp, and I’m real proud of the way our offensive line dominates the line of scrimmage. And defensively, we’re doing a good job of dominating the line of scrimmage. We’re still not perfect, but when you can hang your hat on something … and this year, this team, it’s physicality.”
Added nose tackle Ryan Pickett: “Our front has been physical this year. We’ve been able to run the ball and stop the run. That’s a formula for our success. You just watch the film and on the offensive line and defensive line, we’re playing with an edge. I don’t know if we had it last year, but we definitely have it this year.”
The Packers entered Sunday night ranked third in the NFL against the run, allowing only 79.0 yards per game and only 3.4 yards allowed per carry. The last time the defense was ranked this high was in 2009, when they were No. 1 in the league against the run. That season they set a franchise record for fewest yards allowed per game (83.3). The run defense is a far cry from where the Packers were last season – 17th in yards allowed per game (118.5) and tied for 23rd in yards allowed per rush (4.5).
On offense, Rodgers said the running game has not only helped balance out the Packers’ passing game, but it has exceeded his expectations.
“It definitely has,” Rodgers said. “Eddie’s done a great job, and then to get James back this week, he’s a slasher in every sense of that word. He made some great cuts tonight, big touchdown run for us. Eddie was just pounding it. He’s tough to bring down, he’s like a bowling ball in there. I’m really proud of the job those guys did but the offensive line against deserves a lot of credit.
While Lacy said that having Starks healthy again has helped him, center Evan Dietrich-Smith said it doesn’t matter to the offensive line who is in the game.
“To be honest, we don’t really notice who’s back there,” Dietrich-Smith said. “We just make sure that we’re blocking whatever’s called. They do a great job seeing the hole, running with vision, being patient, setting the blocks and we don’t really know. We go out there and block and those boys run that ball and it’s been working well.”
Lacy said he noticed one of the benefits to having Starks back is that the two running backs can give each other breaks, and “keep each other fresh throughout the game.” McCarthy said that extra rest – and sharing the carries – is important, especially given the “hard” way that Lacy plays.
“You never really want to just go run one guy 30 times,” McCarthy said. “I’ve said that from the beginning. Everybody wants the 1,5(00), 1,600-yard rusher; I’ve always been happy with a 1,100-yard rusher because I’m planning on being in the playoffs. So I want him running the same way in January and February as he runs in September, October.
“You’ve got to be conscientious of that. Especially with Eddie Lacy’s running style, this guy's not juking people, he’s running through arm tackles, he’s a forward-lean runner. So you definitely want to get into some type of rhythm running the football. Both of those guys hit that today. That’s the way you want to call plays, just to get favorable down and distance, you can be aggressive in the pass game if you want to, and you still hand it off to these guys to get the hard yards.”
But while his coach is carefully monitoring his workload, Lacy said he usually doesn’t know during the game how many times he has gotten the ball.
“I never know how many carries I get,” Lacy, whose 29 carries were the most he said he’s had at any level, said. “When my number is called, my thing is just to go out and get positive yards. I figure out everything after the game, then I’ll be amazed, like ‘Whoa, I had that?’ But when you’re out there, you don’t think about it, you’re just grinding for 60 minutes.”
Sarah Barshop covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/sarahbarshop.
There are no games scheduled for today.
There are no games scheduled for today.