Allen Lazard’s success didn’t start early this season but it does start early every day.
Lazard started the season on the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad and played 21 snaps on offense during the first five weeks of the season. It wasn’t until Aaron Rodgers helped pry Lazard off the bench in the fourth quarter against Detroit that Lazard emerged as a possible X-factor for a potential playoff run.
“I just try to be the same person every single day,” Lazard said on Wednesday. “I try to wake up at the same time. One thing I try to focus on is making my bed every single morning. That way, I start off with the same routine and I finish the day the same way. It’s just little things like that – cleaning up my room, doing the dishes. I try to stay clean around my house. If I can keep my house clean, I can keep here and my mind a lot more clean, as well.”
Lazard might be a big factor for the Packers for Sunday’s showdown at San Francisco.
The 49ers are 9-1 and atop the NFC due in large part to a dominating pass defense. They are No. 1 in the NFL against the pass (142.5 yards per game), tied for No. 1 in sacks (39), and No. 2 in yards allowed per passing play (4.86), 20-yard completions allowed (10) and opponent passer rating (72.3).
More impressively is how the 49ers have fared against No. 1 receivers. In 10 games against the opposition’s top receiver, the 49ers have yielded 39 receptions for 425 yards and two touchdowns. On average, that equates to 3.9 catches, 42.5 yards and 0.2 touchdowns. Only one No. 1 receiver had a big day: Cincinnati’s Tyler Boyd in Week 2 caught 10-of-10 targeted passes for 122 yards. The next week, Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster caught 3-of-7 passes for 81 yards – including a 76-yard touchdown.
Ever since, it’s been total domination. The past seven games, the No. 1 receivers have caught 24 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown. That’s an average of 3.4 receptions for 27.7 yards. They haven’t had a single play of longer than 20 yards.
If the 49ers can have the same kind of success against Green Bay’s Davante Adams on Sunday, it will be up to the rest of the receiver corps to pick up the slack. Lazard has emerged as by far the most consistent and productive option. The past five weeks, Lazard leads the team with 18 receptions (24 targets; 75.0 percent) for 220 yards and one touchdown. Running backs Jamaal Williams (17 catches, 111 yards, four touchdowns) and Aaron Jones (16 receptions, 204 yards, three touchdowns) are next. They’re followed by tight end Jimmy Graham (15 catches, 178 yards, one touchdown) and Adams (14 catches, 159 yards, zero touchdowns in two games).
Of the rest of the receivers, Geronimo Allison has caught 13-of-20 passes (65.0 percent) for 107 yards and zero touchdowns, Jake Kumerow has caught 8-of-13 passes (61.5 percent) for 142 yards and one touchdown and Marquez Valdes Scantling has caught 5-of-10 passes (50.0 percent) for 185 yards and one touchdown.
The disparity is even more pronounced the last three games. Lazard has caught 11-of-15 passes (73.3 percent) for 113 yards. Valdes-Scantling, Allison and Kumerow have combined to catch 11-of-21 passes (52.4 percent) for 109 yards and zero touchdowns.
“He’s definitely reliable,” Rodgers said of Lazard. “It starts with his habits. He has really good habits. You guys know I talk about it in the offseason a lot, the way that you approach your job is very important to your opportunities. I think it’s a direct correlation between your preparation and the opportunities you get because if you know what you’re doing, you’re already ahead of the game for the most part. If you can go out and gain confidence executing that responsibility, you get the trust of the coaching staff and myself, you find the ball coming your way a little bit more often. So, I’m very proud of the way he stepped up. It’s never been too big for him.”
With that trust forged on the practice field during training camp, Lazard has gone from zero to hero – a fact he hasn’t shied away from considering during his remarkable rise to prominence.
“Every day, I take a step back and just realize the progress I’ve made over the past year, past five years and the journey that I’ve had through this life,” he said. “I’m very grateful for this opportunity I’ve been given. Everything I’ve done to put myself in this position is because I earned it and I worked my butt off. I know that if I want to keep the success going, I’ve got to keep doing the same thing.”
Doing the same thing started with that morning routine. It’s a lesson he learned between his sophomore and junior seasons at Iowa State. Lazard doesn’t recall who provided the impetus, other than he played in the NFL.
“Basically, he had told me that if you wake up at the same time and if you make your bed, you’re starting the day off with the same routine and you have the same mind-set going into every day,” Lazard said. “Whatever happens the rest of the day, I know my bed’s made and I know I did what I needed to do to put myself in a situation to be successful.”
It seems like an odd lesson – what possible correlation is there between making your bed and catching passes? – but it’s one Lazard took to heart.
“I was like, ‘Well, I’ve never made my bed,’” Lazard said. “What I’ve learned is the small things really help more so on the bigger things. It may just be making my bed … another thing that I do is I always make sure, if someone leaves a bottle in the team meeting room, I always pick it up. One thing (Iowa State coach Matt) Campbell told our team was humility before honor. To me, that means making sure I’m doing all the dirty stuff, making sure I have the humility of picking up someone else’s trash, helping someone else along. Maybe I don’t want to do that – maybe it’s a little more extra effort or time consuming – but I think that, in the end game, plays a big role.”
A big role is what Lazard seems destined to play for the rest of the season.