It’s not 2011 anymore, but it sure felt like it watching the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers tied a franchise record with 480 yards passing, James Starks became the first Packers running back to surpass 100 yards since Brandon Jackson did so against Washington on Oct. 10, 2010, and the Green Bay defense held Robert Griffin III in check.
It all added up to a 38-20 victory for the Packers over the Redskins in a game that could have been even more lopsided had Mike McCarthy not shown some mercy on his home turf.
Rodgers was about as good as he could be, completing 34-of-42 passes to six different receivers. James Jones had a career day, catching 11 balls for 178 yards after being shut out in Week 1. Randall Cobb continued his ascension into the realm of elite wideouts with nine catches for 128 yards. Jordy Nelson picked up two touchdowns and Jermichael Finley still seems on the brink of breaking out, posting a solid six-catch, 65-yard day.
McCarthy spread out a bad Washington defense, and Rodgers picked it apart drive by drive. Nothing shocking, just a reminder of the potential this aerial attack has.
The surprise came from the running game, especially given the fact that starter Eddie Lacy carried the ball just once before suffering a concussion on a helmet-led tackle by safety Brandon Merriweather. Enter Starks, who ran aggressively and efficiently, totaling totaling 132 yards on 6.6 yards per carry.
Starks, who at one point was fifth in the pecking order at running back during the preseason, pounced on his chance and galloped for a career-high 132 yards. He made the most of his 20 carries, hitting the holes in the offensive line hard and showing a good burst around the ends.
“I know this is what I’m capable of doing,” Starks told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I just have to keep rolling. It’s one game. I have to continue to get better, do things right each and every play and try to be a better player.”
That’s the thing. It is just one game. Whereas very few will be surprised if Rodgers approaches 500 yards passing again, it will be surprising if Starks continues to produce at this level.
Lacy will have to pass a series of NFL-mandated concussion tests to return to the practice field this week, but it might behoove the Packers to take caution with their rookie running back, given that Green Bay has a bye week following this upcoming week’s contest with Cincinnati.
That should give Starks another opportunity to prove his value to the coaching staff, but that will come against the Bengals’ third-best weighted defense in the league from 2012, according to Football Outsiders, a group that now includes former Steelers stud linebacker James Harrison.
The Packers are definitely a pass-first team, but there has been a greater focus on establishing the run game in order to help keep Rodgers healthy and in the case on Sunday, wear down the clock en route to a victory. Starks wore down a bit as the game wore on, picking up two yards or fewer on six of his last seven carries.
Is Starks’ performance an indicator of long term success? No. But is it indicative of the progress the offense is making? Yes. Don’t look for a repeat performance against Cincinnati, and with Lacy likely returning to the fold after the bye, look for the Packers to continue to strive for balance for the remaining 13 games.