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Running back Eddie Lacy carried the ball 305 times for the Green Bay Packers in 16 games, including the playoffs, on his way to the NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year Award last season. In 11 games, he had at least 20 rushing attempts.
This season, Lacy didn't run the ball more than 17 times in any of Green Bay's first 10 games. But he enters Monday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons having carried the ball 46 times for 223 yards in the Packers' previous two contests -- cold-weather wins over the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots.
It's that time of the season, the former Alabama standout said.
"Whether we ran the ball early or the whole season or whatever, this is when it really counts, especially because of the weather," Lacy said.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy won't say the Packers were trying to keep Lacy strong for the stretch run by limiting his carries and using backup James Starks more earlier in the season, but guard Josh Sitton said it certainly looks that way.
"His number of carries wasn't a whole lot, really, until the Minnesota game," Sitton told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "That's by design, I believe, with Mike getting James a lot of reps early in the year. I've always said that (Lacy) is the guy you're going to see the benefit of after Carry 20 and after Game 10. Late in the season when we need to pound it, you're going to see the benefit of Eddie Lacy."
Lacy said he feels stronger entering the Packers' final four games of the regular season than he did last year, when he had to carry the Green Bay offense with quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined for seven games by an injury.
"I definitely feel a lot more fresh now down the stretch than I did last year," Lacy said at the Packers' practice facility last week. "Me and Starks, we've been switching a lot, too, and we didn't run the ball as much at the beginning. I definitely think that helped out."
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Lacy has 175 carries for 770 yards and six touchdowns and 31 receptions for 352 yards and three touchdowns this season. On Monday night, he'll face the 21st-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. Atlanta is yielding an average of 118.2 yards per game on the ground. Lacy doesn't read much into that because the Falcons held him to 65 yards on 20 carries when they met exactly a year ago.
"I'm expecting a tough game," Lacy said. "Just because of the way things look on paper, you just can't automatically expect that to happen when we play them. I think they're going to come in and they're going to give us everything they have. It's not going to be easy. As running backs, you just have to grind it out and see what it looks like after the end of the game."
The Falcons and Packers square off at 7:30 p.m. CST Monday on ESPN. The temperature for kickoff at Lambeau Field is forecast to be 31 degrees.
By Mark Inabinett | al.com | December 7, 2014