The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl last season without the help of a dominant running game or a true feature back.
Until rookie James Starks jumped off the PUP list and finally saw some action, the Pack's rushing attack was virtually non-existent and barely averaged over 100 yards per game. Green Bay's backfield will look much different at the start of this season, and it will undoubtedly be better than last year's.
Ryan Grant, who had two consecutive 1,200 yard seasons before his injury, is healthy and running with the first team. Starks should only improve with experience after an impressive postseason and, although he'll be second on the depth chart, he'll see a fair amount of snaps.
Fullback John Kuhn has been ideal in short yardage and goal line situations, and was recently re-signed to a three year contract. On the other hand, Brandon Jackson was released after failing to revive the running game after Grant's departure last season.
Jackson, who was best as a third down back, became expendable after the Pack drafted Alex Green out of Hawaii. Green has the potential to replace Jackson as a pass-catching threat on third down, but he probably won't see too many carries. Even so, he provides depth and the Packers know just how important that is.
With Grant returning as the starter and Starks sharing carries, odds are that Aaron Rodgers won't be the team's second-leading rusher again in 2011. The offense looks to be less one dimensional on the road to a repeat, but how does Green Bay's improved backfield match up with the rest of the NFC North?
It is certainly better than the Lions, who have already lost rookie Mikel LeShoure for the season, forcing the franchise to hope that Jahvid Best can improve on his rookie season in which he was hampered by turf toe. Third-stringer Maurice Morris is currently sidelined with a fracture in his hand as well.
Matt Forte, who has often played through injury, is the Bears' best offensive player and a dual threat out of the backfield. The team also added Marion Barber this offseason for short yardage situations—an improvement on now third-string back Chester Taylor.
While Chicago has a solid crew of ball carriers similar to their up-the-road rivals the Vikings' Adrian Peterson could be the top running back in the league and has an excellent backup in second year Toby Gerhart.
It is clear that Peterson propels Minnesota's backfield to the No. 1 spot in the NFC North with Detroit coming in last. But the Packers can make a strong case for beating out the Bears for the second place slot.
After the Pack's passing game carried them to a Super Bowl victory, even a decent running game in 2011 would simply be a luxury—no matter where it stands in the division.
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