Green Bay Packers Running Game: the Six-Legged Monster

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Green Bay Packers running back James Starks dives into the endzone for a touchdown .

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.

JAMES STARKS

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.

RYAN GRANT

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.

JOHN KUHN

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.

OFFENSIVE LINE

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.

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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  • Jim Remsik

    You give too much credit to the RBs finding their rhythm. There is *WAY* more at work.

    * The Offensive Line finding their rhythm.
    * The Defense wearing down (why you see more Kuhn in the 4th Quarter)
    * Fresh-legged RBs

    • Chad Toporski

      Your second two bullets are definitely factors to remember with their performance, though I thought I gave enough credit to the o-line for their efforts.

  • Ron LC

    The Oline was a little rugged in the NO game. With little coordinated reps in the pre-season they played well. I expect improvement each week. The RB’s will continue to improve.

    I just can’t understand why Neal is going to hold down a roster spot for rehab that will take two months, at least. The Oline needs some depth.

    • Michalske

      If they find an O-line backup they like on Waivers, I am sure they will pick him up. But remember the Packers are usually way down on the waiver wire (HGreen and Walden were *scores* last season), and trades aren’t arranged overnight.

  • Wagszilla

    I was impressed with the run game against NO.
    Even with Grant who I’m generally pretty “down” on.

    That being said:
    -The Saints have a notoriously bad run defense.
    -Starks needs to work on his pass protection (I’m fine with releasing Jackson but seriously he was AMAZING at protecting Rodgers)
    -The OLine messed up on that screen to Grant that could have gone for 6.

    Still, very encouraging start.

  • Shavager

    Ground game produced more yards than any game before Starks got his chance last year. Great to see ARodgers NOT the leading rusher for Pack. O-line was great-TJ Lang and Clifton made excellent blocks on Starks TD run. Packers need to be thinking FA D-lineman with Neal out. Knee injury + surgery = rehab =out for a while, might be better to IR him and try for Tommie Harris or Gerald Warren to play NOW.