Eddie Lacy, James Starks give Packers option to run more

GREEN BAY, Wis. – If you don't think of Eddie Lacy and James Starks as one of the best running back duos in the NFL, you probably should.

Consider this: They're the only twosome who played together the last two seasons and totaled more than 3,000 rushing yards where the No. 2 back -- in this case Starks -- had at least 800 of those yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

So if the Green Bay Packers want to rely more on their running game to make up for the season-ending knee injury that Jordy Nelson sustained in Sunday's preseason game at Pittsburgh, then coach Mike McCarthy and play-caller Tom Clements certainly have that option.

While Lacy has been the workhorse, rushing for 2,317 yards combined in his first two NFL seasons, Starks' total of 826 yards the last two seasons has helped the Packers rank sixth in the league in rushing yards during that stretch.

Ask Lacy why he and Starks make an effective combination, and he points to their differing styles.

"My running style pretty much wears out defenses," said the 5-foot-11 and 234-pound (at least) Lacy. "And his, they have to chase him, so that makes them tired, too. So it's a combination of constant hitting and constant chasing. Two completely different styles, so it works out pretty good."

The longer, leaner Starks, however, doesn't think they're as different as they look.

"I'm more of a slasher," said the 6-2, 218-pound Starks. "But he can slash, too."

Whether it's Lacy’s battering-ram approach or Starks' speed-based style, the goal is the same.

"The number one thing with both of those guys is they break tackles," said Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, a former NFL running back. "When you're evaluating a runner or really anyone who has an opportunity with the ball in their hands, the question is what are you doing? Are you breaking tackles or are you making defenders miss? And when you look at both of them, that stands out more than anything else.

"They are different, but they thrive in the position that we put them in."

Starks put it this way: "You can run them over or make them miss using juke moves. He's a little bigger than me, so that makes it a little different. I guess it helps us out in the way because I'm a little faster."

It will no doubt take time for the Packers' post-Nelson plans to emerge, and as long as Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback, they're going to rely heavily on his right arm. Last season, they dropped back to pass on 60.7 percent of their offensive plays, which was right around the league average of 61.1 percent. In 2013, when Rodgers missed nearly eight games because of his broken collarbone, they were slightly under the league's drop-back average.

If McCarthy wants to skew more towards the run, he should be fairly confident his backs can handle the workload. Perhaps the best part of the Lacy-Starks combination has been their durability. Lacy has played in 34 of a possible 35 games (including playoffs) in his two seasons. In that same time, Starks, injury-prone early in his career, has answered the call in 32 of those 35 games.

The two have developed a bond off the field as well, having trained together for part of this offseason at EXOS (formerly API) in Pensacola, Florida. Some might consider that remarkable since Lacy essentially took Starks' starting job. Remember, it was Starks who started in Super Bowl XLV for the Packers, but injuries prevented him from keeping the job.

"Eddie came in here and did his job when I was getting hurt, and I wasn't being durable," Starks said. "That's how many guys lose their spots in the National Football League. I have to prove myself to be a durable back and continue to perform and a high level and be there. Eddie did a great job of doing that. Him coming in and doing all of that and more, I have no problem sitting back and watching him and trying to help him be the player that I wasn't at that time. He can learn from a lot of mistakes I’ve made."