One thing that has been left out of the discussion this week has been the effectiveness of the Green Bay Packers running game during their 42-34 win over the New Orleans Saints. Hidden behind Aaron Rodgers’ deadly accuracy and Randall Cobb’s record-setting plays were three guys that together made a big difference: Ryan Grant, James Starks, and John Kuhn.
Before getting into the details, I do have one admission of guilt to make: I was skeptical of the “two-back system” coming into the game.
I didn’t doubt the abilities of Ryan Grant or James Starks; instead, I wondered whether their running attack would be less effective by splitting up the carries. In the past, many of us have criticized Mike McCarthy for not giving enough touches to the running back, and yet, by splitting up their carries, weren’t we preventing them from finding their rhythm?
And yet, somehow, that didn’t seem to matter in this game. Both Grant and Starks managed over 4 yards per carry and only two runs for less than positive yardage. Ten of their 24 first downs were gained on the ground, as were two of the five touchdowns from the offense.
Between the two running backs, James Starks looks to be the best runner by far. He has good vision, patience, and a hard running style. In this “one cut system,” he will shine brightly and often.
Starks’ biggest play of the night was his 17-yard touchdown run. While the line did an excellent job of initiating the blocks, Starks showed some nice dexterity by weaving through the hole created for him. After that, he lowered his pads and forced his way past two remaining defenders for the score.
Ironically, Starks was also the only running back to get stuffed during the game. Once for no gain, and once for a 2-yard loss.
The tried-and-true veteran of the group, Ryan Grant was solid but unspectacular. His longest run of the evening was 10 yards, though he managed 4.4 YPC on only 9 touches with a single reception of 5 yards.
While Grant will occasionally suffer from some running-into-the-pile syndrome, he did seem to improve his pass blocking for the game. Considering some of the recent blunders by Starks in that department, Grant might find himself in a few more third down situations than originally anticipated.
Local folk hero John Kuhn may have only two running attempts during the game, but boy did he make them count.
On his first attempt – which wasn’t even until the fourth quarter – he plowed through the line on second-and-1 to get the first down and keep the clock moving. Since that fullback dive worked so well the first time, Mike McCarthy dialed it up three plays later on New Orleans’ 1-yard line. Kuhn was barely touched as he crossed the goal line for the offenses fifth and final touchdown of the night.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his amazing special teams effort. His awareness to keep Randall Cobb on his feet during the kickoff touchdown return was a small thing that made a huge difference.
Finally, none of this would have been possible without the effort of the offensive line.
Chad Clifton, T.J. Lang, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton, and Bryan Bulaga all played an outstanding game last Thursday. Not only did they perform admirably against the pass rush, they also showed fans some run blocking that hasn’t been seen in a while from the entire unit. They gave all of the backs room to run and make plays.
While the New Orleans Saints were in the bottom half of run defense statistics last year, this performance by the Packers ground game was a solid start to the season. They will have their first major challenge in two weeks against the Chicago Bears, but if they continue to build on this effort, then many good things will happen.
This three-headed running attack is just what the doctor ordered for the Green Bay Packers offense.——————Follow @ChadToporski