EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.– The Vikings control their own destiny Sunday against the Packers, and a major part of doing so will involve containing Packers running back Eddie Lacy.
Game planning never ends for an NFL team, and Lacy is a focus for Minnesota's defense heading into Week 17 with the NFC North championship on the line.
Since entering the league in 2013, Lacy has recorded 10 games with 100-plus rushing yards. Four of them have been against Minnesota. In the Vikings' first matchup with Green Bay this season (Nov. 22), Lacy rushed for exactly 100 yards.
"He's a good player," said Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer. "You've got to tackle him, you've got to get off of blocks. [The Packers] offensive line does a good job of not allowing you to get off of blocks. And we've got to tackle better."
The defensive line is integral in getting those tackles. Minnesota has been practicing all week without starting nose tackle Linval Joseph, who is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game. Joseph missed three games with a foot injury before returning for a majority of the Giants game, during which he recorded five tackles (three solo). If Joseph does not play, the Vikings could turn to a combination of defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Kenrick Ellis. Ellis has played eight games for Minnesota since signing with the Vikings in October, recording five tackles.
Lacy only rushed for 23 and 60 yards, respectively, against Oakland and Arizona the past two weeks, but he is always an offensive threat. Minnesota's rushing defense currently ranks No. 18 in the NFL, much improved from its No. 25 ranking in 2014.
The Vikings are coming off back-to-back wins, including a lopsided 49-17 victory over the Giants. They have momentum on their side heading to Lambeau Field for Sunday Night Football, and they'll look to stop Lacy from creating momentum of his own. According to Zimmer, a key to limiting Lacy is making that early stop, not allowing him to get his feet going.
"You've got to try and make him stop his feet. He gets a head of steam and he can roll you," Zimmer said of Lacy. "You've got to do a good job of being in the right place, getting off the blocks and getting more than one guy there. We can't be, 'You go make this tackle, I'm going to take care of my spot here.' You've got to hit and get off."
Linebacker Anthony Barr first played against Lacy as a rookie in 2014. Barr said Green Bay's rushing success is a credit to its offensive line and efficient blocking, but he also feels that Lacy is generally underrated in the league.
"He's a big dude. He's able to break tackles and keep his legs going," Barr said. "The [offensive line creates] seams for him, and he makes that one cut and goes north and south. It's going to take a full team effort to try to slow him down."
At 5-foot-11 and 234 pounds, Lacy's build provides him with strength at the line. Watching Lacy hitting holes is like watching a bull: head down, full steam ahead.
"He's been running like that since he got in the league," said safety Harrison Smith. "I see the normal Eddie Lacy: runs hard, runs downhill. He's got a sneaky bit of 'make you miss' in him that you wouldn't expect from a big guy. He's got a really good spin move to break tackles. You want to get a few guys around the ball."
Lacy is not afraid to take contact. He faces tackles straight on, and he will continue moving forward until humanly impossible.
The Vikings defense knows the importance of a group effort to contain Lacy.
"We have to get him down," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen. "Tackle him and get him on the ground. We can't let him have a game like he wants to have, you know? Get him on the ground and affect him in any way possible."
It's all part of the plan.