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By CHRIS HAVEL
Green Bay’s Lacy, Starks run through Dallas’ defense as Packers elevate play
The time for sulking is over. The time for playing is now.
Jordy Nelson isn’t coming back this season. That’s a fact. The Packers’ passing game isn’t going to be as electric as it was with their terrific all-pro receiver. That’s also a fact.
Here’s the truth: The Packers took a big step toward re-inventing themselves in an impressive 28-7 victory over Dallas on Sunday at rain-swept Lambeau Field.
The Packers’ victory, coupled with Minnesota’s 23-20 loss at Arizona on Thursday night, gives Green Bay (9-4) sole possession of first place in the NFC North. It also reinvigorated a head coach, two running backs and a stagnate offense. And it did all of that in a single afternoon.
The Packers’ rediscovered focus on the running game began to grow legs when McCarthy deemed it necessary to retake the play-calling duties. The change was made in the 9-day stretch between “Hail Mary” and “here we go!”
McCarthy acknowledged it wasn’t easy to make the change because of his great personal relationship with Tom Clements, who he named his play-caller in the offseason.
“But professionally it was what I had to do,” McCarthy said.
The Packers’ offense responded – not to the change – but to what it meant in practical terms of sticking with the run.
Perhaps Clements deferred too much to his Pro Bowl quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and was impatient with the run. Perhaps McCarthy was too reluctant to step in and demand what needed to be done. That much isn’t clear.
What matters is that McCarthy’s change is the Packers’ gain – one running play after another. Eddie Lacy rushed for 124 yards on a season-high 24 carries and a touchdown. His sidekick, James Starks, ran 11 times for 71 yards and scored on a pass catch and a touchdown run. Together, Lacy and Starks rammed away behind a Packers’ offensive line that finally got a chance to be physical.
“It’s definitely a springboard for us,” Lacy said. “We have three games left. We’ve got to finish these games out.”
The Packers put up 14 points in the second quarter and another 14 points in the fourth quarter. Without question, Green Bay’s two-headed running attack wore out the Cowboys’ defenders. It’s one thing trying to corral Rodgers in the backfield. It’s entirely another thing to take on Lacy helmet first.
Rodgers also played well while completing 22 of 35 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. His 99.5 quarterback rating – on a day when Green Bay rushed 44 times for 230 yards – was more than enough to get the ‘W’.
Rodgers isn’t buying into the play-calling being the problem. He believes it comes down to execution. The fact is it’s both. However, no play-calling is going to be successful if it isn’t backed up by terrific execution.
“It’s been about the (lack of) execution,” Rodgers said. “We haven’t executed really well. Today was a little better.”
The Packers were far from perfect, but their ability to run so effectively helps them in two ways: It allows their defense, which played brilliantly, to get some rest. It also forces opposing defenses to respect the run, which should open up the pass.
James Jones and his hoodie combined for four catches for 46 yards. Several were high degree of difficulty grabs. Randall Cobb also was big with eight catches for 81 yards with a long of 17 yards. Many of Cobb’s grabs also were difficult, but he hauled them. Davante Adams appeared to split time with Jared Abrederis and it will be interesting to see how that develops. Adams had two catches for an inconsequential 12 yards.
Defensively, the Packers were overpowering at times. The Cowboys’ Matt Cassel completed just 13 of 29 passes for 114 yards, a meager 3.9 yards per completion. He also was intercepted in the end zone by Sam Shields. Dallas dearly missed Tony Romo, although receiver Dez Bryant managed to play but also remain invisible.Bryant caught one pass for 9 yards.
Before Shields was injured in the first half, Bryant did nothing. Packers’ rookie Damarious Randall picked up where Shields left off and fairly smothered the all-pro receiver.
Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones wasn’t surprised by the Packers’ dominant performance.
“These teams, teams like Green Bay, they’re going to go to another level here as they get on near the playoffs,” Jones said. “That’s the way you do it in the NFL, and we weren’t up to it tonight.”
Dallas’ Darren McFadden rushed for 111 yards on just nine carries, including runs of 50 and 46 yards.
Other than the two big runs, and a 22-yard jaunt by Robert Turbin, the Packers’ defense allowed next to nothing. Clay Matthews and Co. have been playing well for the past month. With a renewed interest in successfully running the football thanks to McCarthy’s play-calling switcheroo, the Packers’ defense should continue to be strong.
That and Lacy’s return to form gives Green Bay a chance to make some serious noise in the postseason.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.