For better — and probably worse, according to most close team observers — the Packers’ ground game is back to square one after losing RB Cedric Benson with a foot injury. After being placed on the injured reserve-return list, Benson, who was starting to come on strong after a slow start in a Packers uniform, is officially out of the mix for at least eight weeks.
Whether the Packers will still have a shot at making the playoffs if and when Benson is able to return, will depend partially on how well the combination of Alex Green, James Starks, Brandon Saine and FB John Kuhn collectively fill what most insiders consider to be the huge void resulting from Benson’s injury.
All signs point toward the primary RB focus at least initially being on Green, the No. 1 back until further notice. But keep a close eye on Starks, who has been very effective on occasion (as was the case in Green Bay’s 2010 Super Bowl run) when he has been healthy enough to play. By all accounts, Starks is close but not quite fully recovered from a turf toe injury suffered in the team's first preseason game on Aug. 9.
Saine, who has yet to take a snap from scrimmage this season, and Kuhn are most likely to fill third-down roles with more emphasis on catches out of the backfield than runs.
But it would be a mistake to just assume the Packers will revert to the pass-crazy approach that was so successful last season, when the run game was simply an afterthought much of the time. Unlike last season, big plays downfield from the passing game have been few and far between — a development requiring the kind of balance that Benson was just starting to steadily provide before his injury.
“It’s tough for everyone: the quarterbacks, the receivers, the offensive line. Everybody knows what you are doing,” Packers C Jeff Saturday told PFW about relying on the pass too much. "I know from Coach (Mike) McCarthy’s perspective, he wants to be more efficient in the run game, just to keep everybody from being able to pin their ears back and play coverage behind (the pass rush).
“I think from our standpoint, as an offensive lineman, you love that because you can get those defensive linemen and linebackers tired and keep things fresh and keep them from stopping the clock.”