MINNEAPOLIS—If this is what a one-two punch in the running game looks like, the Packers will happily take it.
Injuries in the offensive backfield have made it a chore for the Packers just to have one punch running the football, let alone that one-two combination.
But Eddie Lacy and James Starks appeared as formidable a duo as the Packers have had in the Mike McCarthy era, combining for 151 yards and two TDs on the ground in a 44-31 victory over Minnesota on Sunday night at the Metrodome.
“We’ve put together seven straight games where we’ve been productive on the ground, but the thing with us is guys are never satisfied,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “When you have that type of attitude, you’re going to continue to get better.
“It’s no fluke what we’re doing. We’ve worked our (butt) off in practice, all throughout the offseason, to make the running game a point of emphasis, and there’s no better feeling when it pays off on Sunday.”
The ground game got really cranked up in the second half, as Lacy pounded out runs of 9, 11, 9 and 7 yards the first four times he touched the ball to open the third quarter.
Lacy then capped the 15-play drive with a 1-yard TD plunge, the third long scoring drive in the game for the Packers. Drives of 14 and 17 plays in the first half helped the Packers eventually own a more than 20-minute advantage in time of possession.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played so many long drives in my life,” Lang said. “It seemed like every drive was 14, 15, 16 plays. It wears on you, but it also wears on a defense.”
It also kept the Packers’ defense fresh and allowed them to hold Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson to just 60 yards on 13 carries.
“It almost seemed like there was no first and third quarter because they went by so fast,” defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. “Our offense did an awesome job running the football.”
Combined with Aaron Rodgers’ 31 rushing yards on scrambles, the Packers rushed for 182 yards in the game, including 130 in the second half. It marked the third time this season the offense gained at least 180 yards on the ground.
While Lacy pounded out 94 yards on 29 carries, Starks took over on a drive late in the third quarter and burst up the middle through Minnesota’s tired defense for a 25-yard TD. Starks finished with 57 yards on just seven rushes.
It didn’t seem to matter who was running the ball, but until very late in the game when Lacy’s carries got over two dozen, the Packers seemed to have a fresh pair of legs to grind away. Lacy and Starks are both power backs who can get tough yards as well as turn on the speed in the open field, and they simply wore the Vikings out.
“To be completely honest, we don’t really notice who’s back there,” center Evan Dietrich-Smith said. “We just make sure we’re blocking whatever’s called. They do a great job of seeing the hole, running with vision, being patient and setting blocks.
“Like I said, we don’t really know. We go out there and block and those boys run that ball, and it’s been going well.”
Starks had his best game of the season in Week 2 against Washington after Lacy was lost to a concussion. He was off to another strong start in Week 3 at Cincinnati but was knocked out with a knee injury.
That kept him sidelined for the previous three games, so the Lacy-Starks combination had in essence not yet made its debut.
It burst onto the scene in fine fashion on Sunday night. Lacy admitted he was pretty sore after grinding out 29 carries, but having Starks ready and able to give him a breather should help both ball-carriers as the season rolls on.
“Starks came back and contributed a lot, and that means a lot going forward,” Lacy said. “We’re going to have two good backs, three good backs with (Johnathan) Franklin, and we can still pass the ball, so I’m looking forward to see how we’re going to be down the road.”
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