Midterm Report: Running Backs

With the Packers enjoying a much-needed bye, we continue our position-by-position report on the team with the running backs. The Packers, who haven't been nearly as effective running the ball since Cedric Benson's injury, will move forward with Alex Green and James Starks.

Packer Report's position-by-position midseason review continues with the running backs.


The Green Bay Packers are hoping Cedric Benson can return from a foot sprain sustained in Week 5 at Indianapolis. He's eligible to practice after the Nov. 18 game against Detroit and he'd be allowed to play two weeks later against Detroit on Dec. 9.

In the interim, the Packers will proceed with the recipe used against Arizona, when Alex Green and James Starks combined for 28 carries and 114 yards.

"We kind of split it up in different areas," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said on Monday. "James was handling the standard, non-no-huddle situations and Alex had the no-huddle situations. I think that's a good way to go. It gets guys focused in on what their responsibilities are. There are some different run schemes that we use in each situation, so it complements those guys. They get to do what they do well in each of those packages."

To be sure, it's an apples-to-oranges comparison, but in Benson's first four games, the Packers averaged 3.83 yards per attempt. In the four full games since Benson's injury, the average dipped to 3.37.

Whoever's in there and regardless of the blocking, the Packers simply need more. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Starks has averaged 2.3 yards after contact, Benson 2.2 and Green 2.0.

Report card

-- Alex Green: Green (87 carries, 272 yards, 3.1 average) has been something of a feast-or-famine proposition. He's got runs of 41 and 21 yards. Without those, he's averaging a shade less than 2.5 yards per attempt. Other than his 15-yard run at St. Louis, he averaged about 37 inches per attempt in that game. On the bright side, he's been solid in pass protection in John Kuhn's absence and hasn't fumbled. Running with some patience against Arizona, he finished the first half of the season on a positive note with 11 carries for 53 yards – a 4.8 average. Grade: D-plus.

-- Cedric Benson: Benson (71 carries, 248 yards, 3.5 average, 1 touchdown) was better than advertised. He was quick to the hole, made the right reads and generally got a little more than what as blocked. Through four games, he was on pace for 912 rushing yards and 1,216 all-purpose yards. A chronic fumbler during his years with Cincinnati, Benson put the ball on the ground late in the game at Seattle but Jeff Saturday recovered to avoid a disastrous turnover. He could return for the stretch run. Grade: C.

-- James Starks: Starks (23 carries, 80 yards, 3.5 average) missed the first five games after sustaining turf toe in the preseason opener. After getting some mop-up duty against Houston, not playing against St. Louis and carrying once (and dropping a pass) against Jacksonville, Starks got 17 carries for 61 yards against Arizona. It was his most carries in a regular-season since making his NFL debut in December 2010. He ran with vision and power against Arizona but also got beat a couple times in pass protection and fumbled. For the Packers, ball-security and pass protection are the priorities. If Starks can't do those things, he'll have no role once Benson returns. Grade: D.

-- Brandon Saine: Saine was a core member of the special teams for the first six games before a season-ending knee injury at Houston. He recorded one tackle. Saine did not play on offense but the coaches and quarterback Aaron Rodgers like his intelligence and versatility. Grade: D.

-- Johnny White: White has played special teams the last two weeks but has not recorded any stats. He was signed off waivers from Buffalo after Saine's injury. Grade: Incomplete.

-- John Kuhn: It's been a quiet but meaningful season for Kuhn, who has one touchdown this season after back-to-back seasons of six. His most noteworthy play was a 5-yard run on a fake punt against New Orleans. He's carried the ball just 11 times for 39 yards this season after 84 attempts in 2010 and 30 attempts in 2011, but he's served as the third-down back because he's earned Rodgers' trust in that role. Kuhn was inactive the last two weeks because of an injured hamstring. Grade: C

Number to note

Alex Van Pelt, on Alex Green: "He was a lot more patient runner this week. He's just so excited to get to hole sometimes that it happens too fast for him, so you slow him down a little bit and I think he did a nice job of emphasizing that during the week and carrying it over to the game.


484: At his current pace, Green would run for 454 yards. That would be the team's lowest season-leading figure since midseason addition Darick Holmes led the way with 386 yards in 1998. Before that, the lowest figure was Michael Haddix, who had 311 yards in 1990.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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