In a year where Aaron Rodgers’ arm fueled most of the offensive production, the Green Bay backfield was left in the shadows. James Starks picked up where he left off in the prior postseason, leaving many to believe he would become the feature back by December. Instead, a late-season resurgence by Ryan Grant kept the backfield split through the final match in January.
Kudos to Mike McCarthy for calling plays around each of his backs’ strengths rather than inserting any back into running plays. Grant, a known liability inside the tackles, used his speed to turn standard sweeps into sizable gains. Starks resumed his role as the “slasher”, picking up the dirty yards inside. John Kuhn saw increased goal line work and remained a fan favorite, picking up a pro bowl nomination in the process.
The Packers didn’t get much of a look at rookie Alex Green in 2011 after the Hawaii product landed on Injured Reserve in November. However, Green Bay got great use of undrafted free agent Brandon Saine in the second half of the season. Saine showed his value as a third down back, and in particular, a screen threat. With Saine now a capable contributor to the running game, the likely loss of Grant in free agency becomes more affordable.
Despite a respectable year out of the Packer backfield, fans were left with a bad taste in their mouths as the season came to a close. The normally reliable Grant and Kuhn both coughed up the football against the Giants, after fumbling a combined 1 time throughout the regular season. While the fumbles weren’t necessarily game changers, they played a role in preventing the Packers from getting back in the game. To go along with the fumbles, pass protection from running backs in the playoff loss was less than ideal.
Overall, Green Bay running backs benefitted from the spotlight shifting even further away from the ground game than normal. However, we can’t discredit what the unit put on display when it came time to produce. Starks and Grant found a way to co-exist in a backfield that didn’t receive many goal line carries or glory. Further, the backfield got the job done without much depth, which casts a sunny outlook for 2012.