September 15, 2011

Packers’ backfield should be owned by Starks and Kuhn, not Grant

In the season opener versus the New Orleans Saints, the Green Bay Packers’ running backs weren't exactly difference makers. No worries, they didn’t have to be because Aaron Rodgers was filthy. But at some point this season the Packers’ backfield will need to produce, so it’s worth discussing the ideal mix of backs depending on the game situation. Let’s dive into key situational moments the Packers will encounter this season and which Packer running-backers are fit to fill each role.

Third/Fourth and Short (4 yards or less): James Starks with a side of John Kuhn
Though our sample size is small with Starks, I can’t remember the last time he didn’t carry for at least one yard. He always falls forward, has above average vision and wins the majority of one-on-one battles with open field tacklers. If McCarthy is calling a pass play, specifically a deep shot (which we know he often does on third-and-short) Kuhn needs to be on the field for blocking purposes; he’s also a more than capable receiver and tends to entertain in the open field a la his epic hurdling of a defender or shoulder-lowering blows to smaller defenders.

Third/Fourth and One (or less): John Kuhn
When the Packers need power and short yardage, John Kuhn is the answer. As the strongest back on the roster, there isn’t much to discuss about why Kuhn is the man. Kuhn takes pride in finding first down markers and converting. If Green Bay’s offensive line can’t open a hole long enough for Kuhn to pick up a yard or less – they’re tired, lazy or confused.

Three/Four Minute Offense and Leading: James Starks with a side of Ryan Grant
Considering the offense will need to burn clock and keep the ball moving, Starks is the best option mainly for his pass catching ability and endurance. McCarthy’s play-calling can turn conservative in these situations meaning dink-and-dunk passes and shotgun draw plays become staples. Both aforementioned plays require good back vision, patience and tackle-breaking ability – all of which Starks does better than Grant. For a change of pace, and by change I mean slower, Grant may be useful to keep defenses off balance. Not sure if either Grant or Starks is a noticeably better blocker than the other, so I’m calling them even on that front.

Three/Four Minute Offense and Trailing: James Starks or Alex Green
No huddle mode is in effect here but not at the hurry-up level yet. McCarthy will call easy completion plays to get Rodgers into a rhythm, which is why I like Green and Starks. Both should be given opportunities to make open-field plays. I specifically like Green as an outside runner on HB-sweep type plays, something we’ll occasionally see in this situation from the Packers.

Two Minute Offense and Trailing: James Starks
When it’s crunch time, the second-year back from Buffalo should be on the field. He is the Packers’ most complete back, has better big-play potential and runs harder and faster. No reason to doubt his mental toughness, ball security or smarts – he’s shown he can be a difference maker on the biggest stage and the kid is oozing with confidence.

It’s no accident Grant isn’t mentioned much above. Say what you will about Ryan Grant’s history in this league: a few 1,200+ yard rushing seasons, a 200+ yard playoff rushing performance…and what? Not sure what else there is and I don’t think it matters anyway. James Starks is the franchise running back and the sooner the Packers realize he deserves 70 percent of the touches, the sooner they become a TRUE multi-dimensional offense capable of keeping the best defenses guessing run/pass on every play. Then we’ll see how great this Packers team can really be.


  1. I agree 100% w/ your assertion WRT Starks being the better RB. Regarding the 70% PT's a Quote from a JSO PackerInsider article: "...What was interesting is that Starks was on the field for 45 of the 61 snaps (73.8%) in which the Packers used a running back. While Grant started the game and played eight of the first 10 snaps, McCarthy leaned on Starks more and more as the game went on."

  2. Hi Cpheph1 - Thanks for the comment! Interesting stat you point out there - looks like the coaches are on the same page with at least of few of the points I make.

    Another great performance by Starks and nice 40+ yard run he had as well.

    Shane Arman