GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Eddie Lacy's coaches are confident the rookie running back can overcome his breakdowns in pass protection that have become a sore spot in the past two games.
After allowing two sacks in Detroit and another against Atlanta, the rookie from Alabama has been charged with 4 1/2 in 12 games.
That's more than any running back in Green Bay has yielded in a full season in more than 20 years. Ahman Green, in 2001, and Travis Jervey, in '98, each allowed three.
Lacy's protection problems are the lone blemish on his strong first season.
He leads all rookies in rushing with 887 yards and joins San Diego wide receiver Keenan Allen, Cincinnati running back Giovani Bernard and Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon as leading candidates for offensive rookie of the year honors.
Even though the Packers regard pass protection as vital as any segment of their running backs' job description, the staff isn't alarmed by Lacy's blocking.
"He's got assignment challenges that he'll learn from," coach Mike McCarthy said at mid-week. "I think, fundamentally, he does a good job."
Lacy allowed 1 1/2 sacks in San Francisco, but the coaches attributed that to being nervous and timid in his first game. Then, in his next nine games, he didn't allow a sack.
"He's gotten a lot better during the course of the year," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Thursday. "The more he's in there the better he will be. Certainly it's not because of lack of effort. He's a good blocker."
In Detroit, the Lions ran a so-called "green dog" (blitz and engage) in the second quarter that fooled Lacy.
Assigned to block middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, Lacy went out on a check-down route prematurely. Tulloch delayed his rush for a count and, when Lacy left the protection, gambled that he could sack Matt Flynn through the open middle before Flynn could get the ball off to the uncovered Lacy.
The result was an 8-yard sack in 3.1 seconds on third and 6, and the Packers had to punt.
On the second play of the second half, the Packers were in their inverted wishbone formation when the Lions ran a zone blitz. It was the only time that defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham dropped a defensive lineman into coverage.
Safety Louis Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy rushed off the left side as part of a five-man pressure. Instead of going left to pick up Delmas, Lacy carried out a play-fake to Flynn's right.
Delmas was on top of Flynn in 2.8 seconds for another 8-yard sack, and the Packers had to punt again.
On Sunday, Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan baited Lacy on a first down early in the second quarter.
Strong safety William Moore walked up to the left of the line as free safety Zeke Motta walked up to the right. At this point, Lacy is instructed to make a verbal call alerting teammates he would block to the back side (Moore) and leave Motta to the front side.
Failing to make that call, Lacy proceeded on his play-action fake to the right of Flynn. Motta dropped into the deep middle but Moore crashed in from the left.
Lacy saw Moore and tried to maneuver around Flynn to make the pickup, but he was too late. Moore got to Flynn in 2.3 seconds, the ball came loose and the Falcons recovered to set up a short touchdown drive.
"They got him," McCarthy said. "They had both safeties on the line of scrimmage and he got bluffed out of it. Once he got caught he had to back around the quarterback."
Lacy said the look by the Falcons wasn't what the Packers had prepared for.
"It was just a different look," he said. "That don't mean I'm struggling."
McCarthy, Clements and Alex Van Pelt, who coaches the running backs, all said Lacy's study and work habits were fine.
"Has a good understanding of football," said McCarthy. "Very instinctive young man. He's a natural. Some guys just naturally see it."
Before the draft, three NFL personnel men were asked about Lacy's pass blocking for the Crimson Tide.
One said it was average. Another said he would be tough enough to do it.
"He's got to do a little better job in pass protection," said the third scout. "His awareness is a little bit suspect. But all that stuff can come if he'll just buy into it."
Lacy has done well on the weekly tests on blitz pickup for running backs, according to Van Pelt.
"When you're as complex in protections as we are it's going to take some time," said Van Pelt. "The one last week was a little different for a rookie. It's advanced, but I wouldn't say it's difficult."
Van Pelt expressed confidence John Kuhn would have handled the sack by Moore had Kuhn been on the field instead of Lacy. Of course, Kuhn entered the NFL in 2005 and, according to Van Pelt, hasn't allowed as much as a pressure let alone a sack all season.
"It's a lot easier when John's in there because John usually directs the traffic," Van Pelt said. "Obviously, it was a costly sack-fumble.
"It's growing pains for Ed. I'd be surprised to see that happen again.
"The last two weeks have been more the mental part of it than the physical part. He's been really good up to that point."
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