Run, Raji, Run: A look at the pros and cons of the Packers’ rushing options
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With the team’s 10-0 record, there aren’t too many complaints that can be registered against our Packers. The team is off to its best start since 1962 (and long removed from the Thanksgiving Day beating the Lions handed the team that year). Aaron Rodgers has pretty much already won the MVP. Jordy Nelson has justifiably established himself as an unlikely household name. Additionally, KUUUUUUHN!!!
But Sunday’s 35-26 besting of the Buccaneers was actually much closer than the nine-point margin suggests. A rare Rodgers pick in the waning minutes kept Tampa alive. The rarefied error happened in a situation usually reserved for the running game. One problem; the Pack doesn’t exactly have one of those.
While Green Bay has managed to skate by (and then some!) with next-to-no rushing attack—with its rushing dwarfed by passing yards at a 3-to-1 ratio—the team’s remaining schedule brings five games against teams with winning records. And as autumn turns to winter, a quintet of outdoor games in cold-weather cities makes establishing a viable rushing attack all the more vital to Green Bay’s remaining unscathed the rest of the season and into the playoffs.
Barring an unlikely Human Centipede-like procedure affixing James Starks and Ryan Grant (which Commissioner Roger Goodell would probably fine the team for anyway), no Packers tailback will eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season. Yet staying more committed to the run and cobbling together a formidable backfield can only serve to help Green Bay down the stretch and take at least some attention off of the pass. The A.V. Club takes a look at some of the team’s rushing options.
Ryan Grant – 73 carries, 267 yards
Pros: It seems it was only two years ago that Ryan Grant was a back with a pair of 1,200-yard campaigns under his belt. Mostly, it’s because he was. As the feature back from 2007 to 2009, Grant rushed for 23 touchdowns and about 3,400 yards.
Cons: We couldn’t help but notice when Joe Buck said Grant was only Green Bay’s starting running back in name at this point. For one, we thought it strange for Buck to be correct about something. Also, it’s apparent that Grant has pretty much lost his role with the team and has seemingly peaked. Beyond a 92-yard performance against the Bears, Grant has yet to amass more than 40 rushing yards in a game this season, and hasn’t gone further than 14 yards on any single carry. He hasn’t seen the end zone since 2009.
James Starks – 120 carries, 541 yards, 1 TD
Pros: It took until week 15 for James Starks to make any impact in his injury-abbreviated rookie season last year. But his clutch playoff performance carved a lasting spot in Green Bay’s backfield. Even with Grant back in action, Starks has all but usurped the feature back role. Starks is also fourth on the receiving team with 28 receptions.
Cons: Though Starks looks probable to play Thursday, he’s presently nursing a knee injury.
John Kuhn – 9 carries, 15 yards, 3 TD
Pros: John Kuhn, what with his Shippensburg education and his try-hard white guyness, appeals immensely to most Packer backers. His atypical running-back build and lack of skills make Kuhn a favorite among fans ... who are also primarily people with atypical running-back builds and little rushing talent. Don’t let Kuhn’s 1.7-yard average fool you. Three of his nine totes went for touchdowns. Without the goal line to stop him, who knows how many yards Kuhn could have at this point? 18?
Cons: Is a fullback.
Aaron Rodgers – 48 carries, 176 yards, 2 TD
Pros: In addition to his incomparable right arm, Aaron Rodgers is also deceivingly swift of foot. His athleticism has the ability to keep plays alive and move the chains.
Cons: The sight of Rodgers on the run is enough to make the entire state gasp. Though he’s gotten better about sliding, it’s difficult not to see the fate of the season hanging in the balance each time Mister Rodgers advances beyond the line of scrimmage.
B.J. Raji – 1 carry, 1 yard, TD
Pros: Last week’s one-yard touchdown plunge by B.J. Raji didn’t just open up a dune buggy-sized hole in Tampa Bay’s defensive line, it also opened up a mythical world of wild new possibilities in the minds of many Packer fans. The unexpected carry is probably on every team’s radar now, but it served its purpose in what looks to be the one and only time it’ll be implemented this season. Still, it’s good to know Green Bay has an emergency short-yardage back on hand.
Cons: We see absolutely nothing wrong with Raji’s new role in the running game. However, one could argue against relying on a 337-pound nose tackle to carry the ball regularly. It borders on being too awesome.
Tim Masthay – 1 carry, 6 yards, FUM
Pros: In Raji-like fashion, punter Tim Masthay’s heads-up run instead of allowing a sure-blocked punt showed he was a resourceful and brave punter who was unafraid to risk his life and limb for a few extra yards.
Cons: Him dropping the ball twice during that six-yard breadth, neither time while being so much as touched, showed he probably shouldn’t factor into the running game.