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Green Bay Packers: Why James Starks Isn't the Answer at RB

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 20:  James Starks #44 of the Green Bay Packers carries the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field on November 20, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2012

The Green Bay Packers are a passing team, right? So it doesn't really matter who is lined up beside Aaron Rodgers in the shotgun, right?

Wrong.

Having a pass-catching running back that teams also fear on the ground could add a whole new element to the Packers' game.

Because Green Bay doesn't have this balanced attack, the New York Giants teed off on Rodgers, hitting him numerous times and producing four sacks.  Rodgers threw 20 incomplete passes, which is more than he had thrown in any game since a regular season game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 20, 2009.

So what can the Packers do to fix this type of problem?

They need to find a back who is comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield, is a good pass-blocker and can make defenses respect his running abilities.

Ryan Grant will probably be gone for the 2012 season, leaving the Packers with James Starks and Brandon Saine to choose from in the backfield.

Starks, a sixth-round pick by Green Bay in 2010, broke onto the scene in early December of 2010.  The rookie back had been injured in training camp and finally made it off of the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list in time to get his first carries against the San Francisco 49ers.

Starks carried the ball 18 times for 73 yards in that game.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 23:  Aaron Rodgers #12 hands the ball off to James Starks #44 of the Green Bay Packers while playing against the Minnesota Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on October 23, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Adam
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

In his first postseason appearance, which was one month later against the Philadelphia Eagles, Starks gained 123 yards on 23 carries to help Green Bay win, 21-16.  This was the Packers' rookie record for most rushing yards gained in a postseason game.

In Super Bowl XLV, Starks had 11 carries for 52 yards in the Packers' win.

However, this year has been one of confusion in the backfield for Green Bay. Despite going 15-1 in the regular season, the Packers were ranked 27th in the run.  Grant carried the ball 134 times and Starks carried it 133 times.

Starks would have gotten the majority of the carries had he been healthy, but he was hampered by an injury in December that cut down his playing time.

This said, clearly Starks is not a durable, consistent running back that the Packers can rely on to help them make another postseason run.  He has been injured in both of his NFL seasons so far and only has one touchdown in his career.

He catches the ball well out of the backfield from time to time, and had 29 catches in the 2011-12 season. But with two drops against the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs, he's proven that even that part of his game isn't quite up to par.

As far as blocking goes, the Packers are much better when Grant is lined up in the backfield.  He is a little thicker and is quicker to pick up the blitz.

So with Grant gone and Starks not providing the Packers with what they need out of a running back, what should the Packers do to make sure that this part of their game serves them well in the upcoming season?

There are several options.

The first and most simple option would be to give Saine a bigger role and see how he responds.  Nothing about his 18 carries in the 2011-12 season were sensational, but who knows what he might do if given the opportunity. He did catch 10 balls for 69 yards for Rodgers this season.

The second option would be to pick someone up in the middle rounds of the draft that will push Starks through training camp.  This may be a mistake because draft picks can be used a lot more wisely than on a running back.

Another option would be to look at free agent running backs. Not a lot of people are giving this option much of a look, but there is some talent out there to be had if the Packers are willing to put out a little money for it.

Three guys that would be worth looking at are Matt Forte, Mike Tolbert and Peyton Hillis.  Forte might be tough to pull away from the Chicago Bears, but if he gives the market a chance, it would be a great time for the Packers to fill a need and hurt a divisional rival at the same time.

Tolbert and Hillis are the types of backs Green Bay could use as well.  They are both excellent blockers, which would help Rodgers' peace of mind significantly. Both are also fantastic pass-catchers, another reason they would fit into the Packers' scheme. 

Finally, they are both bruisers that make defenses fear them.  The Packers need someone who will make defenses think twice about playing only five or six defenders in the box.

If the Packers do something to improve their running game, it will only help the passing game along, making Green Bay once again a serious Super Bowl contender.

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