For a long time under head coach Mike McCarthy, the Green Bay Packers’ offense was all about the passing game. Sure, McCarthy said the right things about running the ball and maintained that it was a focus but it wasn’t and it was starting to become a problem.
Routinely, the Packers running game would falter when it was needed most. Packer fans surely remembers the many times that Green Bay failed to convert on a third or fourth-and-one because they were unable to get a yard running the ball or were too scared to run and ended up throwing.
Since 2005, the Packers have consistently ranked in the bottom third in the league in running the football, which placed more pressure on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, not only from McCarthy to keep the offense humming but also from opposing defenses.
Yet, all that changed when the Packers selected Eddie Lacy in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The former Alabama standout turned out to be a true difference-maker in Green Bay, racking up 1,435 total yards and 11 touchdowns on his way to winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Thanks to Lacy’s dramatic impact, the Packers running game vastly improved and went from one of the worst in the NFL to one of the best. After ranking 20th in rushing yards in 2013, Green Bay ranked seventh in rushing yards, fifth in rushing touchdowns and fourth in yards per carry last season.
This improvement was due largely to Lacy, who is arguably the Packers’ second most important offensive player behind Aaron Rodgers but as everyone knows in the NFL, you need more than one good running back to be successful and thanks to James Starks, the Packers have arguably the best 1-2 punch in the league at running back.
Starks, who came to Green Bay as a seventh round draft choice in 2010 out of Buffalo has had a career marred by injuries. As a rookie he missed most of the season before returning at the end of the year and starting all four playoff games en route to a Super Bowl championship.
Yet, in the two seasons that followed, Starks started just three games and played in just 19. When the Packers selected Lacy and Jonathan Franklin in last year’s draft, it seemed that Starks time in Green Bay was coming to an end.
However, Starks refused to throw in the towel and after producing his most impressive training camp, he was able to earn a spot on the roster as Lacy’s top backup. Then in a Week 2 win over the Redskins, Lacy went down to a concussion, which opened the door for Starks to show what he could do and he did not disappoint.
In a performance that showed his true talent, Starks dominated a Washington defense that looked like it grew sick of trying to tackle him. On 20 carries, Starks racked up 132 yards and a touchdown, while also adding four receptions for 36 yards. It was an eye-opening performance that showed just how much talented existed in the Green Bay backfield.
Starks, who is better suited to a backup role, thrived in spot duty. He played 13 games and carried the ball 89 times for 493 yards (5.5 YPC) and four total touchdowns. He also notched a number of long runs and gave defenses fit with his straight ahead running style that works like a charm against defenses that have already been wore down by Lacy.
McCarthy talked for years about establishing a tough, hard-nosed running game and thanks to 1-2 punch of Lacy and Starks at running back, the Packers can not only run the ball effectively, they may run it as well as anyone in the NFL this season. And now that the Packers can team the best quarterback in football with one of the top running games in football, defenses better watch out because Green Bay’s offense could be the best the NFL has to offer in 2014.