Packers need Starks to ignite ground game in Atlanta

Posted Jan. 12, 2011 @ 1:53 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Each Wednesday throughout the season, PFW executive editor and resident Packers expert Dan Arkush identifies one player, coach or area of the team that is most under the microscope. This week, Packers RB James Starks is the choice.

A lot of Packers will be on the spot Saturday night in Atlanta, but none moreso than red-hot rookie RB James Starks, who could be a real force for the Falcons to reckon with should he pick up where he left off last Sunday against Philadelphia.

The long-legged sixth-round draft pick — who didn’t make his pro debut until Dec. 5 after taking a really long time to fully recuperate from a mid-May hamstring strain — made his presence felt in a very imposing manner in the 21-16 win over the Eagles, exploding for 123 yards on 23 carries, a performance that shattered Travis Williams’ single-game postseason team rookie record by 35 yards. Williams had set his record in 1967.

Arguably the biggest reason the Packers came up a tad short in their 20-17 loss to the Falcons in Week 12 was that, aside from the scrambles of QB Aaron Rodgers, they had virtually no ground game. In that first game in Atlanta, Packers running backs managed only 26 yards on 11 carries and whiffed consistently in key short-yardage situations.

One week later, Starks broke the franchise record for yards by a running back in his first pro game with 73 in a convincing win over the 49ers. But after gaining only eight yards on six carries one week later in an upset loss to the Lions, Starks landed in head coach Mike McCarthy’s doghouse, presumably because of poor practice habits, and was inactive the next two games.

Starks burst back out of the woodwork big time against the Eagles. With an upright style reminiscent of former NFL great Eric Dickerson, he should enable Rodgers & Co. to come at the Falcons’ tough, underrated defense with a much more balanced attack this time around.