The beauty of the NFL is there is no offseason. The NFL Scouting Combine is this week. Free agency is right around the corner. And the 2016 NFL Draft comes after that. Fan bases are rabid, anxiously anticipating their teams' next set of moves to take the necessary steps up the ladder.
And there's one big issue that the Green Bay Packers must take care of in order to get back to being a true title contender. It's huge. It's enormous.
Look, the Packers need to make other moves to surround Aaron Rodgers with the proper talent. But I truly believe there's one place to start: getting Lacy focused mentally and in the right shape physically.
Lacy rushed for over 1,110 in each of his first two NFL seasons and, lo and behold, Green Bay ranked thirdand sixth in total offense. I truly believe the Packers should've won Super Bowl XLIX. They suffered a complete meltdown on Championship Sunday, losing that game more than the Seahawks won it. And I'll always maintain that those Packers would've beaten the Patriots.
It would be a shame if the team -- if this core -- never gets back to that level of play. The road back begins with Lacy redefining his own core.
The 25-year-old running back showed up for last season overweight and underconditioned. Yes, it was a bad brew. Lacy posted career lows across the board -- in carries (187), rushing yards (758), rushing touchdowns (3), yards per carry (less than 4.1) and receptions (20) -- and, what do you know, the Packers' offense plummeted to No. 23.
After the season, Mike McCarthy didn't mess around. The Packers head coach is typically pretty savvy when it comes to the press, usually very protective of his players. But McCarthy didn't pull any punches when it came to evaluating his running back: "Eddie's got a lot of work to do. I'm stating the obvious. His offseason last year was not what it should be and he never recovered from it. He cannot play at the weight he did this year."
In his first two years, Lacy gave Aaron Rodgers the offensive balance he desperately needed, the balance McCarthy craves. He gave the Green Bay defense -- which had been maligned at times -- a blow. Lacy was a perfect fit.
But last year, Lacy's lack of preparation and dedication doomed Green Bay. Yes, the team had a bevy of issues, but Lacy was the biggest one (shameless pun intended -- again).
I caught up with Randall Cobb during Super Bowl week on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports." During our chat, I asked a simple question for the always candid and professional Packers wideout:
Cobb was pretty clear: "I think that question will be answered this offseason. Eddie is a talent, he's a special talent. He's been able to do some things and get by with some things in the past. We know what he's capable of, we believe in Eddie. That hasn't changed. He's one play away from breaking away, like he did in the Arizona game. We know what he's capable of, but I think he can take his game to another level if he does a few different things. I think this offseason will be something to tell that."
This is exactly my premise. The Packers' most vital issue in the offseason is making sure the maturation light flicks on for their running back. His coach is watching. His teammates are watching. Lacy holds the key to the Packers getting back to the Super Bowl.
OK, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that, yes, Jordy Nelson didn't play a single down last season, thanks to a torn ACL in August. Nelson, of course, is Rodgers' go-to guy. He's a top-five wideout in the NFL, a dynamic weapon who makes Cobb and the entire receiving corps better. I thought Nelson's preseason injury was a big deal when it happened -- but I didn't think it would cripple the season. Lacy's disappearing act greatly exacerbated the problems. When I asked Cobb how Nelson's absence hurt the Packers, the wideout provided some honest analysis:
"Jordy is an unbelievable player. His ability, obviously his deep-ball ... his ability to make the catches deep. We have a package of plays primarily for Jordy, for those big plays. We didn't hit enough of those this year. I don't even know if we took those shots this year. We didn't have a guy who could do what he does."
But then Cobb circled back to the Pack's lack of ground control:
"We tried different things and nothing seemed to work for us -- we couldn't get the running game going, weren't making plays downfield that we made in the past. It was very frustrating."
Frustrating indeed. In fact, I don't think it's hyperbole to state that 2015 was a massive disappointment for Green Bay. At this time last year, McCarthy was buzzing about the Packers' potential going forward, explaining how some additional growth could spawn "the best offense pro football has seen." Then the 2015 campaign began, and the attack simply never maintained high-octane consistency.
What's crazy: While the Packers' rankings dipped dramatically -- and so did the feel when you watched them play -- they did make the playoffs and win a road contest by three scores at Washington. And they barely lost -- on the road, in overtime -- to a great Arizona team. The window for this core to win another title might be teetering a bit, but it is far from closed. Especially if Nelson, who will have had a full year to recover by the time next season begins, returns to form. (And I expect him to do everything in his power to do just that.)
Now, the Packers' approach this offseason will be monitored. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn, always plugged-in on all things Pack, reported last month that Mike McCarthy is "fed up" with Ted Thompson not spending in free agency, instead opting to build through the draft. Thompson's approach has been ultra-successful -- McCarthy and Thompson have won a lot of games together. But personally, I do think adding veterans that fit McCarthy's plan would be wise. This team could use some instant-impact talent upgrades at various spots. The time is now. Because the Packers all know how they will be judged.
"We feel we are the gold standard of football," Cobb said. "Every day we walk into that building, we see those trophies, we see those banners, we are surrounded by greatness. We hold ourselves to a high level. When you don't play at a high level that we've been accustomed to in the recent past, it's very frustrating."
And the frustration is beginning to boil. That's normal. But the further removed from the last Super Bowl triumph, the more frustrating it is going to get.
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