PHILADELPHIA PA - JANUARY 09: James Starks #44 of the Green Bay Packers avoids the tackle of Ernie Sims #50 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2011 NFC wild card playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 9 2011 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Eons ago when the Falcons squared off against the Packers, they had one huge advantage: The Packers had no running game. Their leading rusher that day was Aaron Rodgers, and I have to imagine that fans of the green and gold cringe whenever their MVP-caliber quarterback has to bear that burden.
I fully expect this to be a contentious topic, but I'm going to plow ahead because plowing is what I do. Thanks to the Packer fan contingent in my own family, I've been subjected to a fair amount of praise for one James Starks, the rookie running back who spent basically the entire year injured. With Ryan Grant out, I heard the coaching staff was high on the kid but easing him in, and he finally got his chance against Philadelphia.
Was his 23 carry, 123 yard performance a fluke? Many think so, and even Packers fans are cautiously optimistic about the guy. I don't believe the Falcons have the luxury of taking him lightly, however, since the Packers kept the regular season tilt awfully close with no ground game to speak of. He's not going off for 100 yards against the Falcons' stout run defense, but even the players are acknowledging that he could be a problem.
Lest you think the Eagles' rush defense is easily torn asunder, remember this: They ranked right in the middle of the pack for yardage and touchdowns (about 15th in both) and during our last meeting, they held Michael Turner to 45 yards on 15 carries. There's nothing overly impressive about them, but there's nothing to suggest that Starks would have an easy time high-stepping his way over 100 yards.
Thankfully, he's only a concern on the ground, as the Packers showed no interest in involving him in the passing game. That might have something to do with the fact that Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn are both better blockers and pass-catchers, but it means that when Starks is in, the Falcons can be ready. It's going to be incumbent on the defensive line to generate push at the point of attack, because several of Starks' best runs against the Eagles were toward the middle, where he has the acceleration to dart through brief holes in the line and get into open space.
The Packers are certainly a more dangerous team with balance, though the Falcons must still make stopping Aaron Rodgers the priority. Weigh in with your thoughts about stopping Starks.