I come not to bury Ryan Grant, but to praise him.
Grant is a vital cog in the Packers machine. He is a tough runner who has given the team a ton of production over the years, years that saw him on par with Adrian Peterson when you look at pure production, be it yardage, touchdowns, whatever.
But there's a better runner on the team now in the form of James Starks. You know it. I know it. Hell, the Packers have got to know it. James Starks and Ryan Grant most likely know it. Oh, they'll say the right thing, each of them. They're doing what the coaches ask of them, etc.
But those coaches, Mike McCarthy, Joe Philbin and Jerry Fontenot, are doing their team a disservice by trotting out Grant as the de facto starter each week. There is absolutely no reason Starks should not be on the field if he's healthy enough to play. He's clearly the more dynamic runner and receiver.
And the excuse that Starks needs to work on his pass protection simply doesn't hold water anymore. He's more than held his own the last two weeks. Grant is actually much-improved in this area as well, but not in such a dynamic way as it necessitates keeping Starks off the field. Hell, even his own position coach concedes that Starks is better at protecting the quarterback at this point.
From Bob McGinn:
"I was really charting touches more than total plays," running backs coach Jerry Fontenot said. "In certain situations, I tried to manage it by personnel groups and sometimes by situation."
Fontenot said Starks got the nod over Grant in spread sets because of "his ability to run in space" and "his ability to digest what the defense is giving us and being able to pass protect."
Although Starks gave up a fourth-quarter sack, Fontenot said that it probably was fair to say that he was more dependable in protection than Grant at this point. Starks' edge in protection isn't reading defenses but actually blocking a rusher, Fontenot said.
"In normal down and distance situations, I think they're pretty equal," said Fontenot. "Whenever you get in space and have to operate out of the shotgun, then obviously James is probably more suited for that."
Starks made a bad error in the fourth quarter, missing blitzing safety Roman Harper and allowing Rodgers to be sacked.
“Other than that play, I thought he did pretty well,” said Fontenot. “But the importance that we put on keeping the quarterback upright, that one play can give you an overall negative outcome.”
Now, I am in no way shape or form saying that Grant doesn't have a valuable role to play on this team. He does. He's a tough, powerful runner who knows the system like the back of his hand, never gives up the ball and almost always gains yards after contact.
With that said, he takes way too much time to get to the line, let alone get through it. On run after run yesterday we saw Panther safeties crashing down and turning what could have been decent gains into minimal ones because of Grant's labored efforts at attacking the defense from deep I formations.
It's time for the coaches to gently but firmly put Grant on the sideline save for when Starks needs a breather. They're only cheating the offense by not doing so.
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