All season, the Green Bay Packers running game has been a mediocre one. With the season-ending injury to Ryan Grant, the Packers have been a virtually no-running team, committing more to the passing game than they usually do in a season.
With Grant's injury, Brandon Jackson stepped into the starting role, and experienced plenty of ups and downs as the main ball carrier, but the Packers still lacked enough of a running game to concern any defenses that came their way. The Packers needed a change of pace, a little something to spark the running game and help to open up their prolific passing game.
Enter James Starks.
The rookie drafted in the sixth round of 2010 out of Buffalo spent the first six weeks on the PUP list with a hamstring injury, and spent the next three weeks on the inactive list. He first took the field in Week 13 against San Francisco and ran for 73 yards in his first action in almost two years, and did pretty well. However, he would only gain eight yards on six carries in the Packers' upset loss against Detroit.
After the last few weeks of getting little carries, Starks brought sparks to the running game in the Packers' Wild Card victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, besting them 21-16, with Starks gaining 123 yards on 23 carries for the Packers. He also caught well out of the backfield, and ran between the tackles pretty well.
Starks received a bulk of the Packers carries throughout the game, and the coaches put a lot into him to run the football. As a result of his carries, the question is now this: Is Starks the better option over Brandon Jackson as running back?
Jackson has performed well throughout the season after Grant was hurt. He hasn't put up the big rushing numbers, and is primarily an end zone threat in the screen game. Starks, when given the chance, has proved himself to be more capable of running between the tackles and catching the ball smoothly out of the backfield better than Brandon Jackson.
The fact that Jackson didn't receive a lot of carries in the game may point to a sign of Starks progress after being activated to the roster halfway through the season.
Against the Eagles, Starks brought back an element that has been missing for far too long: explosiveness at the running back position. He made his cuts well, caught the ball well, had proper ball security and was a key element in ball control offense for the Packers; by keeping Michael Vick off of the field, he ended up doing less damage to Green Bay.
A player can't do any damage on the field if he's on the sidelines.
While Jackson still supersedes Starks in pass protection and knowing the overall system, Starks looked as though he was the starter, not Jackson. Had Starks not have been injured during the offseason, the running game for the Packers may have been quite different with Starks in the backfield.