When the Green Bay Packers invade M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, all eyes understandably will be on quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Pack's high-octane passing attack.
But Rodgers and the Packers have a new weapon as well this year: rookie running back Eddie Lacy, a 5-foot-11, 230-pound bruiser out of Alabama whose presence only helps the passing game.
"He’s a hard-nosed, Alabama running back who can hit you downhill," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. Pees pointed out that with the way the Packers spread three and four receivers out wide, "You don’t necessarily need the quick guy who can get the edge, because you’re kind of spread out on defense most of the time anyhow. If a guy can get downhill and break tackles, that’s the kind of back you need."
As defensive lineman Chris Canty explained, defenses have to respect Lacy enough that play-action can be highly effective.
"He draws the defense up, and that opens up the play-action passing game, the vertical passing game, and a lot of other things that they're very good at doing," Canty said.
The Packers selected Lacy in the second round of the 2013 draft (No. 61 overall) to help a running game that ranked 20th in the league with 106.4 rushing yards a game. Alex Green led the team with just 464 rushing yards.
Through four games this season, the Packers rank fifth in the league with 141.0 rushing yards a game.
"Production is way up and it gives us a chance to be more balanced," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "At the end of the day, I think it’s really helped our football team.”
It hasn't all been Lacy.
Lacy, who has 38 carries for 150 yards and one touchdown, sustained a concussion in Week 2 and missed the Bengals game. James Starks and rookie Johnathan Franklin have also shared the workload, though Starks is out with a knee injury sustained against the Bengals.
That figures to increase the workload for Lacy, who is coming off his best game yet this past week against Detroit, with 23 carries for 99 yards.
"Guys have been making comparisons this week to [Trent] Richardson, I think more because they’re both from Alabama than anything else," Pees said. "But there are similarities in the fact that they’re both downhill runners, strong, can carry the pile and break tackles."
Canty said that just from watching film, "It's clear that Eddie Lacy is a heck of a football player. I think one of the things that's understated about his game is he's just a tough, tough guy.
"There's not going to be a lot of one guy tackling him to bring him down," he added. "It's gonna have to be 11 hats to the football."