Trent Stutzman

Good Cop/Bad Cop: Packers Running Backs

Created on Sept. 18, 2013 2:00 PM EST

The Green Bay Packers seem to have a formidable duo at the running back position.

Rookie Eddie Lacy showed promise throughout the preseason and in Week 1, while James Starks broke out for 132 rushing yards this past Sunday. Should head coach Mike McCarthy decide to go with only one instead of splitting up carries, whom should he go with? Here’s a good cop/bad cop look at the situation.

Eddie Lacy

Good cop: The Packers drafted Lacy in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft to become the franchise running back. Aaron Rodgers has desperately needed a quality rusher to complement his passing skills for several years. General manager Ted Thompson usually doesn’t draft running backs high, so the fact he took Lacy in the second round shows how Thompson believes he can be Rodgers’ guy. Lacy provides another key ingredient this offense has been starving for. On short-yardage situations, he has the power and athleticism to pound out tough yards. No more John Kuhn getting stuffed at the line or McCarthy exhausting all his short-yardage passing plays too much.

Bad cop: Everyone knew Lacy’s talent was first-round worthy. His injury concerns, though, caused him to fall a round later than he should have. Not even three weeks into the regular season, and his doubters already seem to be right. He might miss Sunday’s matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. A franchise running back needs to be dependable.

James Starks

Good cop: Unlike Lacy, Starks has a track record of success when he’s healthy. Everyone remembers his performance in the 2010 playoffs; the balance he brought on the ground was incredibly vital to the Packers’ Super Bowl run. When given more opportunity, he has played better. In 2011, when he tallied 133 rushing attempts, his average was a healthy 4.3 yards per carry. In 2010 and 2012, when he rushed a combined 100 times, his average lowered to 3.6 yards. And while it’s only one game, he proved Sunday his potential when given a full game’s workload.

Bad cop: Starks has a proven track record compared to Lacy’s potential in another area – injuries. Lacy very well could become injury prone, but Starks reached that claim long ago. Part of the reason Starks was such a surprise in the 2010 playoffs was because he barely played in the regular season due to injuries. He stayed healthy in 2011, mostly because he and Ryan Grant split carries. But in 2012, he again couldn’t stay on the field. It doesn’t matter how good you are; if you can’t stay healthy, you’re not helping your team.

The verdict

Right now, Starks has the higher ceiling when healthy, but he has a harder time staying on the field than Lacy. In the future, however, Lacy’s ceiling is definitely higher. That’s why this one is a no-brainer. Once Lacy is healthy, he’s got to be the choice. He needs to be given the majority of carries, if not all of them. Another solution would be to split the carries between the two evenly for just this year to help prevent injury to both of them, but both perform better with a bigger workload. Overall, Packers fans should feel very pleased about the running back situation. They might both have injury problems, but if you can just get eight games out of each, you’ve got a full season of quality running back play.

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