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From Bill Walsh to Eddie Lacy, the Screen Pass Comes Full Circle in Green Bay

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From Bill Walsh to Eddie Lacy, the Screen Pass Comes Full Circle in Green Bay

Eddie Lacy scores on a screen pass against the Chicago Bears by Benny Sieu—USA TODAY Sports.

Eddie Lacy scores on a screen pass against the Chicago Bears by Benny Sieu—USA TODAY Sports.

For two consecutive games, the screen pass has been featured prominently and executed near flawlessly in Green Bay.

In this past Sunday's win against the Chicago Bears, Packers running Eddie Lacy took a screen pass 56 yards for a touchdown.

The prior game against the New Orleans Saints, Lacy caught two screen passes on his way to a 100-yard receiving performance, including one for 67 yards that took the Packers all the way down to the three-yard line.

"I just didn't get a lot of opportunities last year, but I'm getting them this year and I'm making the most of it," said Lacy, describing how he's become more involved in the passing game.

As the distributor of the football, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was reminded of his childhood, back in the Bay Area of California, rooting for the San Francisco 49ers.

"I grew up watching Roger Craig, and Roger kind of redefined the position as a pass catcher with a 1,000-yard season catching and running, which is incredible," said Rodgers. "I was teasing Eddie about it after last week that he had the potential to be a 1,000/1,000 guy. But he's such a talented guy. He can do so many things for us. If he's not running real effectively, he can still show up in the pass game and get yards for us and get touchdowns."

It's perhaps ironic, the reference that Rodgers made to Craig, noting the influence the 49ers dynasty of the 80s and its impact on the Packers decades later, a generation later.

It's the six degrees of West Coast Offense innovator Bill Walsh.

Craig was drafted into the NFL in 1983 as a talented running back coming out of Nebraska, but it was Walsh that made him into a star.

Walsh, coach of the 49ers from 1979 to 1988 and winner of three Super Bowls during that time, developed Craig into a multi-dimensional threat, equally dangerous on the ground as he was grabbing passes from Joe Montana.

As a rookie in '83, Craig scored an impressive 12 combined touchdowns rushing and receiving. In just his second season in 1984, Craig became the first player to score three touchdowns in a Super Bowl, catching seven passes for 77 yards in the process that game.

It was in 1985 that Craig made history by becoming the first player to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in a single season.

The next season, Mike Holmgren came to San Francisco as quarterbacks coach, and saw what Walsh was doing with Craig.

Walsh retired following the 1988 season after winnning Super Bowl XXIII, and Holmgren took over as the team's offensive coordinator under George Seifert and continued using the same recipe for success with Craig.

Then in 1992, Holmgren got the chance to lead his own team when he was named head coach of the Packers. That same season, a young running back named Edgar Bennett was drafted by the Packers.

Under Holmgren, Edgar Bennett became the Packers' version of Roger Craig.

Maybe Bennett wasn't the same talent Craig was, but Holmgren got every ounce of ability out of Bennett, much of it through hard work, dedication and attention to detail, qualities that would serve him well later in life as a coach.

Bennett became a full-time starter in Green Bay in 1993, his second year in the NFL, when he caught 59 passes. The following year in 1994, he caught a career-high 78 passes. The year after that in 1995, he took 61 passes for a career-high 648 yards, good for a spectacular 10.6 yards per catch coming out of the backfield.

In 1996, Holmgren and Bennett won a Super Bowl together in Green Bay.

Fast forward to 2014. Bennett is now a respected position coach in the NFL as the tutor for wide receivers in the Packers organization and a candidate to soon become an offensive coordinator himself, much like Holmgren back in 1988.

Should it be any surprise with Bennett in charge of the blocking on the perimeter of the field, that the screen game has found new life in Green Bay?

Take the game against the Bears for example, when wide receiver Jordy Nelson took off on an all-out sprint downfield to catch up to Lacy and throw a key block en route to a touchdown.

"Did you see that?" said Lacy. "I really thought I was fast until I saw him pass me up. He made me look a little slow, but definitely, I thank him too. But everybody, the offensive line and those guys ran downfield."

And so the screen pass has come full circle in Green Bay.

It really never went away, but from Bill Walsh to Roger Craig to Mike Holmgren to Edgar Bennett to Jordy Nelson springing Eddie Lacy for touchdowns, it's taken on new life in Green Bay.

When the timing is right like it was against the Bears, the screen the pass really can be a work of art.

"The screen was a great team play," said Rodgers. "You had guys getting downfield, injured guys on the offensive line getting downfield making blocks. You had Randall (Cobb) and Jordy coming up big on some blocks. And that's how a four-yard pass turns into a 50-plus yard touchdown."

 

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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lucky953's picture

With the pass rush the Eagles will bring, GB's screen success is going to give Philadelphia something to think about. Packers win 38-24.

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