Packers Film Study: Bob McGinn is Wrong About James Starks

ALLGBP.com All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Bob McGinn is arguably the most respected writer of all those who cover the Packers. His research is normally impeccable.  He’s an accomplished author, having written a fabulous book called, “The Ultimate Super Bowl Book.”

But he is wrong about James Starks. In a short “Notes” piece on Monday, McGinn states:

Rookie James Starks, a sensation against the Philadelphia Eagles, looked like just another running back Saturday night in the Green Bay Packers’ 48-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC divisional playoffs.

Starks carried 25 times and gained 66 yards, a paltry 2.6-yard average that paled in comparison to his 23 carries, 123 yards, 5.3 average six days earlier in Philadelphia.

I’m guessing Bob hadn’t re-watched the game again when he wrote this. Because if he had, he would have seen an offensive line whose run blocking could best be described as “sieve-like.”

Not to say the pass protection was any better, with Aaron Rodgers having to play the part of Houdini the great escape artist to lead the Packers to victory. But that’s a whole other article.  We’re just talking about the run blocking here.

Starks gained 123 yards against the Eagles because their defensive line is undersized and weak enough to make the Packers’ run-blocking look good. Against a solid, and big defensive front like Atlanta’s it was a party in the Packers’ backfield.

Forget about getting any push, the Packers’ offensive line couldn’t even hold the line of scrimmage. The fact that Starks gained a few yards on some of these plays actually showed he was much more than “just another running back”. Here are some examples:


And these were just a few. The common theme is that you see plenty of penetration into the Packers’ backfield. I could show you plenty more, but neither one of us have that kind of time. Now I’m not saying that Starks’ play was magnificent, but I think he did about as well as any top running back would have done with that kind of blocking.

And give Starks credit for his post game comments of not being satisfied with his performance and for not throwing his offensive line under the bus:

“I’m a lot better than that,” Starks said. “My standards for myself are a lot higher. I’ve got to pick my legs up. Break more tackles. I’ve got to break the big one.” “That’s something I have to look at,” said Starks when asked if he missed any holes. “I think I could have done better.”

No James, you didn’t miss many holes. A few times there were no holes and you still found a way to make positive yardage. When the Packers managed to hold the line of scrimmage and give Starks time to find an alley, he did quite well, thank you. Here are a few examples that show what just a little bit of blocking will do:

In these examples, the Packers maintain the line of scrimmage (one minor exception in the first play, but the linebacker is allowed to just run himself out of the play). Starks has time to look for a seam, or bounce it outside if none exists.

So Bob, I have to respectfully disagree with your premise. I re-watched the entire game, focusing on Starks and Rodgers. I think Starks did better than Ryan Grant would have done with this kind of blocking. Grant has his own strengths, but making something out of nothing is not one of them. We haven’t seen Starks’ style of running in Green Bay for a while, now.

I like it.

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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  • Ruppert

    Al, McGinn was more complimentary in his “ratings” piece this morning. Personally, I’m thrilled to death with Starks’ performance on Saturday night. I can only think of one play where he went wide to the right that he MIGHT have been able to get a little more out of by cutting back earlier. McCarthy loves to try to run against the Bears. Starks is going to see the ball a lot this week. He should have one goal right now: hang on to the ball. The Bears D is very good at ripping it loose.

    The fact that Brandon Jackson got 1 whole carry on Saturday should tell us all we need to know about how McCarthy views his running backs these days. And if Starks can just do on Sunday what he did on Saturday night, it will go a long way towards victory.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      I just read it, Ruppert. I also disagree with his offensive line rating. WAY too generous.

      • Ruppert

        It’s tough to be too hard on the OL when they blocked for a unit that rolled off five consecutive TD drives, including four 80+ yarders. Hell, I’m having trouble even watching the O linemen when I re-play it, because I can’t stop watching the QB. I do agree that the OL had some tough moments. But this is what they do. Clifton waved at Abraham all night. Did Colledge gain 30 pounds and I missed it?

        Remember how our O line got run over last time at ATL, and even at Detroit. It seems those guys have a really hard time against speed, especially on a fast surface, and especially on the road when the D can get off quicker. Given previous performances and previous results in similar situations, I’ll take this every time.

        PS, is it safe to say James Starks has helped you to get over Tyrell Sutton? :)

        • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

          haha, I was never THAT enamored with Sutton. I actually had higher hopes for Quinn Porter, but he got hurt and they didn’t keep a spot for him. Porter is now on Cleveland’s 53-man roster.

  • http://packerhq.com Packerhq

    Starks runs up right and has been injury prone his whole college career.
    I think too many people give Starks credit when the O-line has done a much better job of blocking rather then it being on Starks OR maybe Bjax really is just a below average back ?
    At any rate I don’t think we have seen enough carry’s to make any conclusions about Stark’s one way or another.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      “O-line has done a much better job of blocking.” Maybe I’m just a tough grader, but I disagree.

    • http://www.greenbaypackernation.com J.R. Augustine

      I’m still in the wait and see camp. A player has to put together more than a couple good games to convince me he’s the real deal. I’ve seen too many one season wonders to make hasty conclusions.

      That said,Starks is looking like he might be the real thing. I hope my concern over his injuries is proven wrong, and I hope he ends up being THE guy for years to come, but we’ll see.

      For right now he’s doing the job he needs to do to keep the Packers moving on. That’s what counts at this point.

  • Clay Toporski

    Really just a fantastic post. Starks looks incredible in these few runs, and I can see why he would have gone much higher if he had been healthy. TT definitely found himself a diamond in the rough. Time to get those Bears. By the way, they still suck!

    • JimR_in_DC

      Ted needs to keep building an O-line that can stand up to the bigger, stronger D-lines we face. Then we’ll really see an effective running game. Until then…fingers crossed and Go Pack Go! :)

      • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

        100% in agreement

  • Taryn

    The upright running of Starks is beating a dead horse already.The fact that he can gain yds on nearly every carry,whether 1 or 7 is a weapon the Bears as in Atl must deal with.
    The most important part of Starks running,which goes totally unmentioned by the naysayers,is the fact he keeps his pads level and drives his shoulders into the defender when he senses the hit and wins the battle.

    “Forward motion of any kind is a win-win”.

    • Taryn

      P.S. Be happy he isn’t auditioning for “Dancing With the Stars” as others too often appear to be doing.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      I’m with you on the “upright” thing. He’s tall for a running back, so he’s probably always going to look more upright than most running backs. I don’t see anything to be concerned about. Love the way he hits the hole.

  • Grant

    I haven’t gone back to look at the game again, but it seems to me that AR’s first two incompletes were both on screens, but I don’t remember if they were to Starks or Jackson, or even who was at fault with those incompletions.

    I’m just wondering if you have studied his abilities on screen plays.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      They were to Jackson. In both cases, the throws were poor, which is one of the few remaining issues Rodgers has.

  • http://www.kewtrav.com MPLS Pack Backer

    Totally agree. Starks is fun to watch because he finishes his runs. He reminds me of Grant in that way but doesn’t seem to get tripped up as much. I heard a nfl network analyst say that the run was not a priority mainly because there was so much candy out there for Rodgers against ATL. That will not be the case against Chicago. Starks and the O-Line have to play a bigger role.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      And he can change direction like Grant can’t. Expect a film study comparison in the off-season…

  • Bearmeat

    Running the ball against CHI will be harder that ATL was – granted our OL is better on Grass, but CHI’s front 4 is pretty stout against the run, and Urlacher is SO fast at getting in the RB’s face.

    If GB even gets a couple of 1st dns and 1 big (> 15 yds) from the running game, then the playaction will open up for a big hitter over the top.

    GB 17-13

    • http://www.greenbaypackernation.com J.R. Augustine

      Bearmeat: While it might be true that the Packers’ OL is better on grass, I’m not sure they’re better on Soldier Field grass. LOL. That field is awful.

  • FireMMNow

    I thought Starks actually had a better game against Atlanta than he did against Philly. I thought Sitton had maybe his worst game this year. He was not terrible, but he allowed more penetration than he usually does and Colledge was his normal inept self.

    Clifton has to have a better game against Peppers than he did against Abraham. The entire o-line has to play better.

    There are times when you cannot blame the o-line for a sack, but there are times when you cannot give the o-line credit of a scoring drive as well. Rodgers and the receivers played a great game, the o-line played an average game at best.

    • Bearmeat

      Dude, change your screen name. Like yesterday.

  • Chad Toporski

    Great stuff, Al. I especially liked the middle video in the second set. It really shows Starks’ ability to be patient, find a lane, and hit it with determination. Haven’t seen that in a long time.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      That’s my favorite one too, because it was essentially a double move. See’s nothing in front of him, looks wide left, the defensive player sees that and goes wide, Starks pauses and then shoots through the hole just created by that guy going wide. Awesome.

  • PackersRS

    Yeah, Al, just re-watched the game on NFL Network, and Starks was sensational. He had burst, power, vision, blocked well… The line did an average job (not poor, not good), and on garbage time, he was just asked to run it just for the sake of running it.

    Starks is the real deal, he’s playing as well as Grant in 07, and will be a great help to beat the Bears.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      yes, his blocking is coming along. Did you see his block on Rodgers TD run?

  • Pete Kliman

    I read the same article and was as surprised as you .Seems like McGinn concentrated too much on the final stats.I don’t remember if we ever had a back with Starks’elusiveness.He does remind me of Donny Anderson as far as number and body type.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      yes, as Ruppert mentioned above, he had better things to say in his follow up article (probably after watching the game again)

  • Honest John

    Good points, Jersey Al, and you’ve backed them up with video. I’m sold on Starks and given his history at Buffalo, he’ll probably run decent with the lousy Chicago field conditions.

  • Ron LC

    Al, Your opinion of McGinn is much higher than mine. I cringe every time Ol’ Bob goes to one of his anonymous sources to support his less than competent opinions.

    That said, thanks for doing the work of analysis that most of us can’t/won’t do. You know my feelings on the Oline. I had a good feeling going into the year and it looked ok for awhile. After a few games the performance started to degrade and has been, at best inconsistent, for the remainder of the year. Only a number things will help and it can’t happen before the Bear game.

    One, they need a dramatic talent improvement on the left side of the line. Clifton is showing his age and College is terrible. Wells is a good to very good Oline QB, but he can’t handle a direct bull rush from the big guys. Sitton is good and getting better. Bulaga is a rookie and still learning. That may not help against Peppers/Harris, et al.

    Two, I hate the lateral approach to run blocking. I don’t care what they call it is an awful approach to getting the run game going. As your cuts show so well the Atlanta Dline was playing in the Packer backfield most of the time. There will be no effective run game until that changes.

    Finally, after the season a change of Oline philosophy must take place. If this requires a change in coaches, so be it. Most important, Round 1 and Round 2 picks should be big, mean, quick, Olinemen. I’ll leave it to TT to determine who, but I have this persistent fantasy of Carimi and Moffet.

    For Sunday, MM must accept the reality of his Oline and game plan for it. Much like he did at Atlanta. The secret, actually not that much of a secret, is for GB to control the ball, generate long drives and score Td’s to conclude the drives. Once the Bears have to put the game in Cutler’s hands things will look up. As long as Forte is being used the Packers will not be in control of the outcome.

    • Taryn

      RonLC,I agree we need two OLmen but Carimi won’t be ours.Moffitt a better shot and would couple him with a guy from Georgia,Clint Boling who as much as you hate the ZBS plays well in it at 6’5 and 305 can be beefed up some,Zach Hurd of Conn at 6’7 325 can be seen at Senior Bowl.
      Also agree TT must accept reality and if he intends to have a better used run,he must get the tools on the OL.

      • Ron LC

        I do admit to my fantasies, but I’m old and have a hard time with change. The zbs allows penetration too easily and that penetration changes the original intent of the play. It’s time for the Packer Oline to play on the other team’s side of the LOS.

        • JimR_in_DC

          My dislike of the ZBS stems from the use of smaller, more agile blockers against larger, potentially stronger D-linemen. That may have been fine at one time, say 10 years ago, but I see larger, stronger (and also quick) D-linemen tossing the ZBS guys aside nowadays. I think ZBS will go the way of the Run and Shoot offense and the Dodo bird.

        • JimR_in_DC

          Oh yeah, I’m old too, Ron! :D

  • Philip

    ok, i’ve watched each video about ten times. in nearly every one of them daryn colledge whiffs on his first block very quickly, allowing penetration and then moves on to block a linebacker. He repeatedly ends the play not even blocking anyone or finding someone to block. The other linemen at least attempt to find someone to block and try not to allow penetration. I’m starting to think colledge is afraid of defensive linemen or physical contact, or he’s just intimidated by players his own size.

  • Ron LC

    One other observation, if you look closely, maybe not so closely, you’ll see Packer Olinemen in the vertical position looking back at Starks being gang tackled without a white jersey to be seen (slight exageration on my part).