Bill Streicher/USA TODAY

Building a Backfield Easier Said Than Done for Packers

Based on James Starks' productivity, the Packers probably should be lessening his workload. However, that's easier said than done. Here's why.

A month ago, the Green Bay Packers’ top running back was a wide receiver.

Now, the Packers have some depth, with the return of James Starks and the addition of Christine Michael to join with versatile Ty Montgomery.
That’s given coach Mike McCarthy some options, and he feels like he needs to do a better job of utilizing his newfound depth.

“We need to roll them in there better,” McCarthy said on Thursday. “James had a lot of opportunities last week. But Ty Montgomery deserves more opportunities and I definitely want to get Christine Michael more opportunities.”

In his three games since returning from knee surgery, Starks has played 142 of a possible 207 offensive snaps. That’s 68.5 percent. Montgomery, who had a combined 230 rushing and receiving yards against Dallas and Chicago before missing the Atlanta game due to complications with sickle-cell trait, has played 66 snaps since Starks’ return, or just 31.9 percent. He played only 16 snaps (22.5) in Monday night’s win over Philadelphia. Michael made his Packers debut last week and carried once for 4 yards.

With Montgomery’s production and Michael’s potential, McCarthy knows he must get a more balanced rotation in the backfield.

“We’ve got to find a healthy flow there, and that’s really what the week of practice is for,” McCarthy said. “I’d like to get a little more flow, but that really all depends on how we decide to play the game as far as no-huddle, no no-huddle and this and that. But that’s what game-planning’s for and really the flow of the game dictates some of that.”

Based on production, it’s clear Montgomery and Michael need to play more. For the season, Starks has carried 57 times for 141 yards, an average of just 2.5 yards per carry. In his three games back, he’s carried 33 times for 99 yards (3.0 average) with a long run of 11. Montgomery has carried 29 times for 147 yards (5.1 average). In other words, Montgomery has rushed for more yards on about half as many carries. And Michael was Seattle’s leader in rushing yards (469) and rushing touchdowns (six) before he was released last month.

Starks, however, has experience in his favor. When your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, protecting him is paramount. Starks has never been an elite pass protector but he’s big and strong and has been doing it for years. He isn’t likely to miss a blitz that would imperil Rodgers.

“James knows the offense inside and out,” McCarthy said. “You don’t blink when he’s in there, and I feel that way about Ty. Ty Montgomery’s done a great job making that transition, and Christine Michael has picked it up really fast. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen there. It’s like anything: As coaches, we’ve got to create opportunities to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands. And when we do that, good things happen. Now, it’s December football. We need to run the ball more as a football team, not only for us offensively but for our defense, time of possession. Just hitting the 35-(minute) mark on time of possession last week; we’d like to be there every week, ideally. It’s the part of the offense that really we haven’t been able to use as a primary focus. So, it’s important to get that going, and we’ll see how it works out this week.”

Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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