The Green Bay Packers struggled to beat the Carolina Panthers, 30-23, in their Week 2 matchup as Cam Newton dialed in another yard-heavy performance, but faltered, throwing three interceptions. The Packers came out extremely flat, falling behind 13-0 before finally getting on the board.
In such an uninspiring team performance, James Starks stood out for the Packers offense.
Against the Panthers, Starks only carried the ball nine times, but gained 85 yards on the day for a staggering average of 9.4 yards per rush. Starks helped spark the Packers offense in the second quarter as the Packers put together an 11-play, 81-yard touchdown drive ending in a John Kuhn plunge from the 1-yard line.
To start the season, the Packers have used a running-back-by-committee system with Starks and Ryan Grant splitting carries. Grant has seen action on the opening drive of each of the first two games, but Starks has seen quite a few more snaps than Grant.
Over the first two games, Starks has been the more productive of the two running backs, taking advantage of his 21 carries by gaining 142 yards for an average of 6.8 yards per carry. Starks' 6.8 yards per carry is only second to Michael Turner's 6.9 yards per carry for running backs that have carried the ball more than 20 times over the first two games.
On the other hand, Grant has also had success, carrying the ball 15 times for 65 yards, giving him a respectable average of 4.3 yards per carry. Grant has not matched Starks in finding the end zone, as Starks scored against the Saints in Week 1 and Grant has yet to score.
Both have contributed to the passing game, with Starks catching three balls and Grant catching four. Starks has taken his for 30 yards while Grant has only gained 19 yards on his four receptions in the first two games.
In Sunday's game, the Packers had just gotten the ball back early in the third quarter as the defense came away with its second straight turnover after Morgan Burnett punched the ball out of Steve Smith's hands and Charles Woodson recovered.
Momentum was turning as the Packers got the ball back with a chance to add the already 17 unanswered points they scored to take a 17-13 lead. The ball was at the Packers 32-yard line with 9:14 to go in the third.
On the first play of the drive, Rodgers handed the ball off to Starks, who burst through the middle of the offensive line, cut to the right and raced down the sideline before being pushed out of bounds for a 40-yard gain down to the Panthers 28.
The drive resulted in a field goal, giving the Packers some much-needed breathing room at 20-13.
Starks also came up big on the Packers' final scoring drive of the game, as the Packers started with the ball on their own 4-yard line after stopping a Newton scramble on fourth down. Leading 23-16 with 3:09 to go, the Packers entered their four-minute offense to run out the clock.
On first down, Starks burst up the middle getting into the second level of the Panthers defense. As he broke towards the left side of the field, he was tripped up before turning the play into an even bigger carry, but settled for a cool 12-yard first down run.
The run allowed the Packers to take a chance on the second play of the drive, as Rodgers converted an 84-yard completion to Jordy Nelson.
"We're in a four-minute offense and they have to stop the run," McCarthy explained to reporter following the game. "We ran it well on first-down, James had an 11 or 12 yard run there on first down. We came back and were able to take advantage of the box with the full fake, Aaron gave him a strike, and Jordy finished it."
Following another impressive performance, it seems more and more clear that Starks is placing himself ahead of Grant early in the season. Both will continue to get carries for now, but Starks has done more and helped the team with his success.
Against the Panthers, the Packers dropped backed to pass 31 times and ran the ball 21. In their opener against the Saints, the Packers threw 37 times and ran 27 times.
They will need to find more opportunities to run the ball in the coming weeks, especially with Starks looking to be a potentially emerging star at the running back position.