Senior writer jclombardi highlights Packers headlines.
Starks expands Packers’ ground game: Though James Starks made a good first impression in his NFL debut Sunday, 18 carries weren’t enough to gauge exactly how good he is or will become for the Green Bay Packers. Starks rushed for 73 yards against a team, the San Francisco 49ers, that had no film on him. On the other hand, when he was on the field the 49ers pretty much knew he was going to get the ball, especially during a clock-eating, 17-play drive late in the game, and he still averaged 4.1 yards per carry. He didn’t fumble, was decisive with his reads, mostly got what he should have gotten and had one nice 16-yard run in which he broke two tackles. “Well, I’m not ready to put James’ plaque up here,” said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. “But he’s off to a good start.” What Starks does give the Packers is another option at running back. The rookie joins Brandon Jackson, Dimitri Nance and John Kuhn in a suddenly crowded backfield. It will be interesting to see how coach Mike McCarthy uses them over the final four weeks of the regular season. Will Starks supplant Jackson, who leads the team with 527 rushing yards, as the No. 1 back? How will Kuhn and Nance be used? “There really are no depth charts,” McCarthy said Monday. “Brandon Jackson has done an excellent job and will continue to do so. .?.?. I’d really like to get into more of a rotation now that I know I have three halfbacks.” Four, counting Kuhn, who plays a hybrid halfback and fullback role and gets most of his carries in short-yardage situations.
Notebook: Jenkins–The Packers’ second-best pass rusher almost certainly will be out for Sunday’s game at Detroit and perhaps the following week at New England. Even against the Lions, who at 2-10 are staring at another top-five draft pick, losing Jenkins could be critical. The Lions’ 42.3 pass attempts per game rank second in the NFL, so the Packers’ defense certainly could use Jenkins’ seven sacks. Jenkins had two sacks in Sunday’s 34-16 win against San Francisco, one on a second-and-goal at the 2 and the other on a third down from midfield, giving him three in two games. Without Jenkins, rookie C.J. Wilson, who has played sparingly the last several weeks since the addition of Howard Green, or Jarius Wynn, who has been inactive for the last three games, will get more playing time. Also, fullback Korey Hall (knee spain) likely will miss the game. Receiver Brett Swain (knee contusion) should be fine. Four-point stance– Game balls went to Rodgers (offense), Jenkins (defense), Diyral Briggs (special teams) and Quinn Johnson (big hit). Punter–Despite Masthay’s rocky introduction to a December day in Green Bay, his net average of 33.0 yards on three punts (one inside the 20, no touchbacks) was better than his standout counterpart, Andy Lee (32.4, no inside-the-20s, two touchbacks). “We need to be better, but that’s what it’s all about playing there at Lambeau Field,” McCarthy said. The Packers also won the battle on kickoffs, starting at their 32-yard line on average compared to the 49ers starting at their 29. Short-yardage situations–Packers went 5-for-5 on third-and-1, with Rodgers throwing two touchdown passes and John Kuhn running for first downs on all three of his attempts. Playoffs--In the race for the NFC North title, Chicago is 9-3 with games against New England, at Minnesota, New York Jets and at Green Bay. Those teams will be a combined 32-16 after tonight’s Patriots-Jets game (barring a tie). The Packers (8-4) close at Detroit, at New England and home against the Giants and Bears. Those teams, depending on the Patriots’ outcome, will be 28-20 or 29-19.