The success of Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson's draft-and-develop system requires rookies to play like veterans right away.
It does not work when early-round draft picks play the way running back Eddie Lacy did in the first half of the Packersâ 34-28 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. When Lacy played poorly, the offense stalled.
"Eddie needs to detail his work," McCarthy said the day after the loss. "Whether it's the runs, protection, our young guys were, it was their first game. And he was one of them. So, I don't want to say he was nervous, but he just needs to clean some things up.
"He's young, it's his first time really playing in the no-huddle type situation, going that fast. We have a lot on his plate, being a three-down player."
Lacy wasn't the only reason five of the offense's seven first-half possessions ended in either a punt or a turnover, including the rookie running back's fumble that set up the 49ers at the Packers' 14-yard line.
But he is the offense's biggest addition since last season and a potential answer to their recent running woes. He and DuJuan Harris were supposed to carry the load, but when Harris was declared lost for the season with a knee injury, Lacy moved to sole position atop the depth chart.
Against the 49ers, Lacy finished with 14 carries for 41 yards in a less than stellar beginning to a promising career, but he also showed with a few runs why the Packers are counting on him so much. McCarthy benched Lacy after the fumble, but brought him back to start the second half.
The rookie got the ball on four of the Packers' first five plays of the second half and put together consecutive runs of 3 and 6 yards to start the second possession. Soon after, Aaron Rodgers found the middle of the field open twice and hit receiver Randall Cobb for gains of 13 and 18 yards.
It's not a coincidence that Lacy's gains helped the passing game.
"I think the run action helps and the ones over the middle to Randall, or the ones at least I'm thinking of, they occurred in the second half," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said, referring to Lacy's slight improvement. "There were a couple off of action passes.
"But we started to run the ball a little better and it's going to have an effect on the defense."
It won't necessarily pull a team like the 49ers out of their commitment to keep two safeties back for pass coverage purposes, but success running the ball can cause the linebackers to bite on the run and not get as deep down the middle in coverage when it's a play-action fake.
Thus, players like Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finley have more room to work the middle of the field.
While the defense could easily be fingered for the opening-season loss to the 49ers, the offense definitely could have put a lot more pressure on the 49ers by scoring more than 14 points in the first half. Turning the ball over, once on Lacy's fumble and once on a Rodgers' interception, set up the 49ers in good field position and led to seven of their 14 first-half points.
"It was inconsistent," Clements said. "It was kind of feast or famine. We had five three-and-outs and two turnovers and then we had four touchdown drives. It was feast or famine, a little inconsistent, and we have to be more consistent, especially against a good defense."
McCarthy was especially upset about the way the game started.
On the second play of the game, Lacy apparently blew an assignment – most likely staying in to block instead of releasing into the flat – that resulted in Rodgers getting sacked. Rodgers was seen talking to Lacy to discuss the play right after it happened.
He had just 2 yards rushing on his first four carries. Guard Josh Sittonâs holding penalty wiped out Lacy's 10-yard run on the Packers' first possession of the second quarter, and the back's next carry was the fumble.
McCarthy pulled Lacy after that and replaced him with James Starks. The plan was for Lacy to play a lot and stay in the game no matter what the down as part of the no-huddle offense. He played 41 snaps to Starks' seven and John Kuhn's 15.
"I answered the question continuously through training camp, my goal for him is to be a three-down player and keep him in there and keep him playing," McCarthy said. "Because when he's in there, I mean, he's a fine young football player."