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With Starks out, Packers ground game a concern again

Quality running questions

Published: Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 11:53 p.m. CDT
Caption
(MCT)
James Starks had a good rushing game against the Vikings last Sunday, but it was cut short by a knee injury that will keep him out for multiple weeks. The Packers signed veteran Ryan Grant to help fill that void.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – With the reigning NFL MVP at quarterback, the Green Bay Packers are never going to be a pound-it-out, run-first operation.

Opposing defenses insist on playing their safeties deep in cover-2 schemes, a tactic meant to take away the Packers' downfield passing game while daring them to run. So the party line that the success of the Green Bay running game is measured more on the quantity of the runs than the quality is no longer valid.

Says who? Quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"I think we all have to admit here that it's about the production," Rodgers said on his radio show earlier this week. "It's a nice thing to say, that it's about the quantity not the quality, but who are we kidding here? It's about the production."

Coming off one of their most productive performances on the ground this season, when Alex Green had 12 carries for 58 yards and James Starks 15 for 66 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown against Minnesota, the Packers are looking to keep the momentum going Sunday night against Detroit.

But they've sustained another backfield injury.

Already without workhorse Cedric Benson, now done for the year after his Oct. 7 foot injury required season-ending surgery last week, coach Mike McCarthy expects Starks to be out "multiple weeks" with the knee he injured last Sunday. The team signed veteran Ryan Grant, the franchise's fifth-leading rusher, on Wednesday.

With Grant having spent most of the year out of football, save for a 1-month tour with the Redskins that ended Oct. 23, Green will again get a chance to be the go-to guy, a role he's held and relinquished multiple times this season.

"Whatever role they have for me, I'm ready for it," Green said Thursday. "I'm confident. I have no doubt whatsoever. I'm ready to go.

"I think early on, it was all new. To be able to sit back the last couple weeks, split carries with Starks, it was definitely good for me, to kind of take it slow a little bit. Now, I feel confident and ready to go."

While Benson was healthy, Green, whose rookie season ended with a major knee injury last year, carried just two times in the first four games. He dressed for two of those games without seeing any action.

But after Benson's injury at Indianapolis on Oct. 7, Green assumed the starting job and had three straight games with 20 or more attempts. In those three games, he rushed 64 times for just 154 yards, a 2.4-yard average, before Starks emerged as an alternative.

Against Jacksonville, Green carried 22 times for 54 yards while Starks had one carry for 8 yards. The next week, against Arizona, Starks had 17 carries for 61 yards and Green had 11 for 53. Then at Detroit, Starks carried 25 times for 74 yards and Green didn't get a single carry.

Against the Giants, Green carried 10 times for 30 yards and Starks had eight attempts for 35 yards.

Because Grant has played so little this season, McCarthy said Green "has to" be ready to carry the load. But long term, running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said the plan is to integrate Grant as well.

Lions at Packers

When: 7:20 p.m. Sunday

TV: NBC

Line: Packers by 6 1/2

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