James Starks came out of nowhere in the wild-card round of the playoffs to provide the Packers with a running game, and as a result, a balanced offensive attack.
The Starks factor is one of the biggest differences between Saturday night’s divisional playoff game between the Packers and Falcons and their meeting just six weeks ago. Remember, QB Aaron Rodgers was the Packers’ leading rusher (51 yards) in the 20-17 loss. The Packers were again largely one-dimensional as Brandon Jackson accounted for 26 yards on 10 carries.
Is Starks a one-hit wonder, or is the Packers running game now on the radar? The latter is a scary proposition. NFL Network’s resident GM, Michael Lombardi, believes just the presence of Starks will make a difference against the Falcons.
“It takes the burden and the pressure of Rodgers to have to be perfect in the passing game,” Lombardi said. “But the factor is you have to defend it, and that will help Rodgers open some things up. [The Falcons] having to be balanced and defend the run game will really play in the Packers’ favor.”
Not to mention the Falcons will, at the very least, have to spend time preparing for Starks this week. That wasn’t the case a month ago. The Falcons had the league’s No. 10 rush defense during the regular season, but the new-found presence of Starks adds an interesting dynamic this time around.
Be sure to check out Steve Wyche‘s positional breakdown of who has the edge between the Packers and Falcons.