At the same time his passing game has gone in the dumper, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy must now deal with the possibility that the one consistent producer he does have on offense, running back Eddie Lacy (ankle), won’t be able to help him much four days from now when the Chicago Bears come to down.
To make matters worse, Lacy’s backup, James Starks, underwent surgery Sunday for what a source said was an arthroscopic procedure on his knee, making it a long shot that he’ll be able to help out Thursday night. The source said his recovery may take several weeks but he was being considered “week to week” and a lot would depend on how the injury responded to physical therapy.
“I would say Pat – Dr. McKenzie – felt very good about the surgery,” McCarthy said. “Personally, I haven’t talked to James yet, so I can’t really give you a timeline. But they feel it’s something quick, so it’ll definitely be on the front end of whatever the prognosis is.
Though Starks might be back soon, McCarthy doesn’t have a true halfback on the roster beyond Lacy and Starks and may have to rely on receiver Ty Montgomery to play more than the 35 snaps he logged in the 30-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night.
Right now, it’s too early to tell whether Lacy will be able to rebound quickly enough from the pounding he put on his sprained left ankle to be a factor against the Bears.
“We’re working through the process, frankly,” McCarthy said. “There’s a number of things going on still – testing and so forth and so forth. I really don’t have all the information. I think obviously the stress points of our game-day roster for Thursday will be the running back position and the corner position.
“Any time you’re dealing with your 53-man roster, how you’re going to forecast how you’re going to line up with the 46, you’ve got two positions that need attention and, frankly, these injuries that we have, they’re not of long-term IR (injured reserve) nature.”
From the offensive standpoint, there couldn’t be a worse time for the running game to come up short.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing possibly the worst football of his career and was responsible for two of the four turnovers the offense committed against the Cowboys. His final passing numbers might have looked fine – 31 of 42 for 294 yards and a touchdown with an interception (90.8 rating) – but they don’t reflect the number of off-target throws, poor decisions and general ineffectiveness of his game.
The only thing the Packers are doing well offensively is run the ball with Lacy, who carried seven times for 45 yards in the first half against the Cowboys and finished with 65 yards on 17 carries after wearing down in the second half. Starks had been completely ineffective until injuring his knee against the New York Giants (24 carries for 42 yards, 1.8 average) and Montgomery and Randall Cobb have a combined 10 carries for 18 yards this season.
Given the way the Cowboys played Rodgers – keeping both safeties back and sometimes dropping eight into coverage – the Packers desperately needed an effective run game. At this point, McCarthy’s best bet for helping Rodgers get back on track is to take pressure off him with running yards.
“The best way to make a quarterback successful is to start with the run game,” McCarthy said Sunday night. “And through the run game we have the ability to play-action pass and that carries into the drop backs. “So, hey, it’s not working as clean as we’d like.”
General manager Ted Thompson had the option of adding another running back to the roster prior to the Cowboys game – rookie Don Jackson was available to be signed from the practice squad – but chose not to risk taking another player off the 53-man roster, which would have been necessary to add Jackson.
McCarthy was angry, a source said, after the New Orleans Saints claimed quarterback Joe Callahan off waivers. He was under the impression that Callahan would clear waivers and be able to return to the practice squad, but that didn’t happen and he lost a player he was very high on.
If the Packers were to sign Jackson to the 53-man roster, they would probably have to cut somebody. They can’t afford to cut a cornerback because of how many injuries they have there and they still have the belief that they’ll need all seven of their wide receivers at some point this season.
Thompson could risk cutting Jared Abbrederis or rookie tackle Kyle Murphy or safety Marwin Evans to make room for Jackson. But he and Thompson don’t think they’ll be without Starks for every long and don’t want to give up a player they think has a bright future.
“It’s a long year,” McCarthy said. “If you start making roster moves, it’s just really never one factor that factors other positions, because, frankly, you have players that you may have to jeopardize putting out there.
“Joe Callahan, the plan with Joe was to be here, and you take that chance, you accept that risk, and that’s what happens. So those are things that you have to weigh in. We had an ongoing three- or four-day conversation last week, and it’ll be the same here. We’ve just got less time to do it.
“It’s never, ‘Give me another running back.’ Or, ‘Give me another corner.’ Because it’s a long year. You have 53, plus you’re counting practice squad guys. That is the chess match right there. If you’re talking about chess match in the game of football, it’s managing your roster.”
The other consideration is that Montgomery did some very good things on offense working both out of the backfield and as a fifth wide receiver. Montgomery was the offense’s most productive player, catching 10 of 12 targeted passes for 98 yards, several of which came with him starting in the backfield.
McCarthy has had Montgomery working with the running backs in practice and thinks the 6-0, 216-pound receiver can help him carrying the ball. However, Montgomery coughed up the ball twice, including one he lost, and has a ways to go before being a natural carrying the ball.
“I thought he did some good things coming out of the backfield,” McCarthy said. “To do the whole thing, that’s what we’re working toward because any time you can create more flexibility for a playmaker, especially with the state of our running back situation, that’s part of it. It will definitely help us.
“I was pleased with his performance, outside of he needs to take care of the football, which is No. 1. Obviously, he lost a fumble and had the other fumble on the sideline, but he did a lot of good things yesterday afternoon.”