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PFW executive editor and resident Packers expert Dan Arkush presents the fifth of five key matchups this week in advance of the Packers' Week Four game against the Broncos at Lambeau Field Sunday.
Packers running backs vs. Broncos run defense
With Ryan Grant ruled out due to a kidney injury, second-year RB James Starks is back in the driver's seat after a terrible outing against the Bears last week. For whatever reason, Starks just looked like he was out of it in Chicago, running very tentatively while gaining only five yards on 11 carries after looking very impressive in the first two games (21-142-1-6.8 yards per carry). Grant was a monster in the second half last week, burning the Bears with his one-cut misdirection bursts up the gut. Look for Starks to be used in a similar fashion against a Denver defense with Bear-like cover-2 and cover-3 tendencies.
A key for the Broncos' 14th-ranked run defense will be to maintain gap integrity, which they certainly did well last week in the team's 17-14 loss at Tennessee. With LBs Wesley Woodyard and Joe Mays leading the way with a combined 16 tackles, the Broncos limited the Titans to only 38 yards on 23 carries. Star RB Chris Johnson managed only 21 yards on 13 carries. Woodyard, who has been starting in place of the injured D.J. Williams (elbow; probable this week), Mays, and veteran FS Brian Dawkins are the Broncos' steadiest run defenders.
It's quite possible that Starks could be sharing some of the rushing load this Sunday with both FB John Kuhn, who has shown a knack for being very effective when Grant has been out, and rookie Alex Green, who has yet to carry the ball this season.