The final scoreboard on Sunday said the Packers had put up 29 points, but that number was a mirage, one propped up by a furious fourth-quarter comeback that, while impressive, eventually came up short.
More telling for Green Bay was the measly seven points it could barely scrap together during the first half in Carolina, a performance that put the Packers in an early 20-point hole and led to their eventual 37-29 loss to the Panthers. It was the team's second defeat in two weeks and the first losses in consecutive weeks for Aaron Rodgers since 2010.
Offensive struggles have been nothing new for Green Bay, now 6-2 and tied with the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. In Week 4, the Packers scored just 17 points against the 49ers. The next week it was just 24 against the Rams. In Week 8, they put up just 10 against Denver.
Those are not totals you expect to see from a team being led by an all-time great quarterback. But even a player as majestic as Rodgers occasionally needs help, and that's where the Packers have failed this season.
Invisible run game
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was succinct when diagnosing his team's offensive issues following its Week 9 loss.
"Running the football, not getting the quarterback hit -- those two things right there will give the quarterback a great opportunity to be successful," Mike McCarthy said Monday. Later on his press conference, McCarthy tabbed the player at the heart of those problems.
"They don't come much better than Eddie Lacy," he said. "He's not doing some things well right now, but he's trying to correct them, and it's my job to help him."
Saying Lacy isn't "doing some thing well right now" is kind of like saying the captain of the Titanic wasn't a great navigator. It's true, yes, but it also severely understates the situation. This year, Lacy is averaging 3.7 yards per rushing attempt, has fumbled three times and has only ran for 308 yards. That's barely more than the 303 rushing yards Russell Wilson -- a quarterback! -- has amassed. The advanced stats don't paint a better picture, either. Football Outsiders has Lacy ranked as the 27th-best running back this season.
Against the Panthers, Lacy ran for a grand total of 10 yards on five carries. Seven of those yards came on one rush and all five of those handoffs came in the first half.
The Packers tried to get their run game going, they tried to give their defense a break and give Rodgers some help, but they couldn't. So, Carolina was able to build a cushion big enough to sustain a 21-point second-half assault.
Lacy's inability to create anything when given the ball was a major reason why.
"I don't have an answer for you," Packers associate head coach and offensive play caller Tom Clements said Monday when asked about Lacy's lack of production, via ESPN.
That's likely because there's more than one.
What happened to Lacy?
For starters, Lacy has been dealing with injuries this season. He sprained his ankle in Week 2 and hurt his groin Sunday. But other issues seem to be at play here.
From ESPN's Rob Demovsky:
Lacy may not have been this big in either of his first two seasons. Although no one will disclose his exact weight (he's listed, conservatively, at 234 pounds), it's no secret around the organization that he's heavier than many would prefer.
This isn't the first time in Lacy's career that his weight has been raised as being problematic. During training camp of his rookie year, a photograph in which Lacy looked like an offensive lineman went viral.
Wait... did Eddie Lacy EAT Johnathan Franklin? Look at the difference btwn these photos. Just an unflattering angle? pic.twitter.com/AvJDICHT6J— David P. Woods (@davidpwoods) July 29, 2013
Then this offseason, Lacy was once again asked whether he plans on slimming down. His response was that he had never paid attention to scales before and that he wasn't planning on starting.
Time for a change?
But whether it's his weight, the injuries or something else entirely, what's clear through eight games is that Lacy has not been the best running back on the Packers' roster. James Starks, his backup, has outperformed him in every measure. He's averaging 4.3 yards per carry and has 19 catches for 167 yards. Lacy, on the other hand, has pulled in just 10 balls all season, for a total of 93 yards.
Against the Panthers, it was Starks who was on the field when Green Bay mounted its comeback. His six catches for 83 yards, mostly off screens, helped lead the Packers into the game, and more than made up for his 39 rushing yards on 10 carries.
On Monday, Green Cay's coaching staff acknowledged that it might be time to start putting the ball in Starks' hands more frequently.
"James Starks has done an outstanding job so he deserves the right for playing time," Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Here's the good news for Lacy (and those unlucky owners who bet their fantasy football seasons on him): Last year, 711 of his 1,139 yards came during the second half of the season. And following the Packers' Week 7 bye Lacy said that during film study he had noticed that he wasn't getting his pads as low as he would like.
Perhaps Lacy addresses that issue, emulates last year's results and soon transforms into the running back who many once considered one of the best in the league. But with how slow Lacy has looked in recent weeks, it's hard to see that happening. Right now Green Bay's best option is handing the ball to James Starks. The sooner the Packers recognize that, the sooner they can end their losing streak and climb back up to the top of the standings.
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SB Nation presents: The most impressive teams of Week 9