Lions conspire to contain Packers' potent backfield

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy was one of the top young running backs in the NFL his first two seasons, eclipsing 1,100 yards in 2013 and 2014.

The Packers' James Starks is averaging 4.3 yards a carry.

So far this year, though, there’s no denying Lacy is the second-best back on his team as James Starks is averaging 4.3 yards per carry — 334 yards on 78 runs — compared to Lacy’s 3.7-yard average — 308 yards on 83 carries.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters this week that Starks is the team’s No. 1 back right now, and the Lions are preparing for him to be the top option Sunday at Lambeau Field (1 p.m., FOX).

“I just think when you watch him he’s just a more productive runner at this point,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “Yards per carry, the ability to break a big run; I think that’s what separates him right now. Lacy’s a quality back, but right now, I think Starks is a guy that gives them some big-play capability running the ball.”

Starks had a 65-yard touchdown run in the Packers’ Week 6 win over the Chargers and two other runs of 20-plus yards. Lacy’s season-long run is just 16 yards.

Starks — 6-foot-2, 218 pounds — has also been a bigger factor in the passing game with 19 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns while Lacy — 5-foot-11, 234 pounds — has 10 catches for 92 yards.

“He’s versatile,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of Starks, praising his pass protection as well. “He can do a little bit of everything, but very dangerous guy, very explosive.”

Of course, with the Lions ranking 30th in run defense this season, they’ll have to be ready for all of the Packers backs. Plus, Lacy was the only player to run for 100 yards on the Lions last season when they had the league’s best rush defense, so they’re fully aware of what he can do.

“They’ve got a 1A, 1B, so they’re really nice,” Lions cornerback Darius Slay.

Of course, when a player has a disappointing season like Lacy’s, people try to explain why. He told reporters he’s not dealing with an injury and doesn’t think his weight is an issue.

Slay played against Lacy in college and thinks he is bigger now, though he thinks it’s extra strength that makes Lacy harder to tackle.

“They’re trying to lie on the (roster) and say he’s 230,” Slay said. “He’s 250. He’s 250! He’s big. … Way bigger now, but he’s got better hands now.
“He’s stronger. He’s having a tough year, but he’s going to bounce back. He doesn’t need to bounce back on us, though.”