Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE
Other than linebacker, it's hard to name a part of the team harder hit by injury than the running back unit and it has shown in how they have performed.
If the quarterback position is in a good place right now, the next position group to get graded is in almost the opposite place. Of course I’m talking about the running back group. The Packers running backs started the year beaten up and looking a little sorry and unfortunately that has not changed much midway through the season.
At the beginning of the year the Packers offense looked like it was struggling…and possibly finding a new identity. At the start of the year the passing game could not seem to get off the ground, but the offense seemed to move along giving the rock to Cedric Benson. In fact you could make the case that he was the most valuable part of the offense through the first five games. If you doubt that watch how the offense performed against the 49ers and the Seahawks. In those game when the offense was pass centric they were eaten alive. Contrast that with the offense from the Bears game and the second half of the Seahawks game. In these match ups the offense flowed much more through Benson and the Packers were able to move the ball effectively.
Unfortunately this was not to last. As you know Benson went out with a foot injury and is not scheduled to return for at least another month. In his place comes Alex Green. Green has had mixed reviews in the four games that have followed. He did alright against the Texans. He did not have good games against the Rams or Jaguars. He performed very well against the Cardinals, however in a more limited role. Really he looks like a young running back who needs to learn how to find holes and wait for the play to develop. The good part of his game has been the passing assistance. He has come on strong in the screen game and blitz pick up. Green shows promise and burst, but is still looking…well green….to be the bell cow back this year.
The other option for the Packers is James Starks. Starks was expected to be the main back coming into the year but he got hurt. His turf toe injury kept him on the inactive list for the first few weeks of the year, but he stayed on the inactive list once he recovered….spending a couple weeks on the sidelines a s a healthy scratch. Eventually Starks made it to the active roster once Benson went down with an injury, but was slow to become a larger part of the game plan. Packer fans itching to see what Starks could do had to wait until week 9 against the Cardinals to really see a heavy dose of Starks running the ball. He did alright, and passed the eyeball test carrying the ball. He did fumble once though and failed to convert on a third and short in his one opportunity. Starks has always been an enigma….coming on strong in 2010 but then being a disappointment in 2011 and being injured most of this year. Could he be a solid solution and complement to Green and Benson?
The other part of this story is John Kuhn. Kuhn was putting together a rather good year this year. He was carrying the ball well in his few carries. He continued to be the best blocking back for the Packers. He also was a reliable safety value and valued special teams player. Then he got hurt too. This injury may have hurt more than the Benson injury since it profoundly hurt the Packers in their short yardage situations, as well as the passing game. Signs point to Kuhn returning after the bye, and hopefully the Packers are able to get him back in the fold this year.
Overall Midseason Grade For The Position Group: C
There are flashes of ability there, but injuries and inexperience have taken their toll. This is the least productive part of the offense and it has shown on more than one occasion. Hopefully the return of Starks, Kuhn, and Benson can turn this around and give the Packers a running attack down the stretch.