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Numbers support Green Bay Packers' shift to James Starks over Eddie Lacy

By The Sports Xchange
Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright (50) tackles Green Bay Packers running back James Starks (44). Photo by Jim Bryant/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/5bce181cb1051d40ed334b2d8887b534/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright (50) tackles Green Bay Packers running back James Starks (44). Photo by Jim Bryant/UPI | License Photo

Mike McCarthy apparently has had enough.

After watching his previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers play poorly in two straight losses and a talented offense sputter for long stretches in those games, McCarthy dropped a doozy Wednesday.

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The head coach didn't hesitate to announce James Starks has supplanted a struggling Eddie Lacy as Green Bay's lead back heading into the game against the visiting Detroit Lions on Sunday.

"I would say James is our No. 1 back right now, just going into (the) Detroit (game)," McCarthy said. "He's playing very well, and he's earned that opportunity."

The notable midseason change comes with the Packers at a crossroads in their season.

They no longer are in firm control of the NFC North over which they have reigned the past four seasons. Green Bay's disappointing road losses to the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers has it tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the division lead with a 6-2 record.

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Fortunately for the Packers, they will stay put at Lambeau Field, where they have won 13 consecutive games since the start of the 2014 season. What's more, their opponent is a horrendous Lions team with an NFL-worst record of 1-7.

Plus, the arrival of the Lions couldn't come at a more perfect time for Green Bay to regain its winning form. The Packers haven't lost to their division rival in Wisconsin the last 24 games, including the playoffs, extending all the way back to 1992 - a league record for dominance by one team over another.

Three days after the Packers resorted to fighting one another on the sideline during the 37-29 loss to the Panthers, quarterback Aaron Rodgers refused to look back.

"We're 6-2, tied for the division lead, everything is right in front of us," he said. "We played a couple good opponents and haven't played up to our standard of play."

For the Packers' 25th-ranked offense to rediscover its familiar high level of play, Rodgers and McCarthy know the team's run production needs to pick up.

Green Bay still ranks in the top half of the league, averaging 115.6 rushing yards per game. Yet, the Packers haven't reached 100 yards their last two games and three of the past four outings.

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They also have only one 100-yard game by an individual. That was by Starks in the Oct. 18 win over the San Diego Chargers, when he carried the football just 10 times for 112 yards.

With Lacy held to five carries for 10 yards before he exited Sunday's game at Carolina in the third quarter with a groin injury, Starks surpassed the young standout as the team's leading rusher this season. Starks has 334 yards, compared to Lacy's 308, which puts the latter well off his pace of running for 1,100-plus yards each of his first two pro seasons.

Lacy accepted the demotion on the depth chart this week.

"This season, he's definitely been the better player between the both of us," Lacy said. "That's just the move. "Is it disappointing?" he added. "From a competitive standpoint, you could look at it that way. But, at the same time, as a team we like to win, and it's the best move for the team."

Lacy insists he's as healthy as can be, no longer bothered by an ankle injury he sustained in Week 2 and working through the groin injury back on the field in practice this week.

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Still, the workhorse has been a huge disappointment halfway through the regular-season schedule. Since running for a season-high 90 yards in 18 carries in the Week 4 win at the San Francisco 49ers, Lacy has run for only 78 yards in 33 attempts the last four games.

"You know, we had a lot of confidence in Eddie, and we know what kind of football player he is," Rodgers said. "He has a high football IQ. He has a lot of talent. We're going to need him throughout the season. He's a bruising back. You turn on the film of last year's game against the Lions in Week 17, and he looked incredible (with 26 carries for 100 yards).

"We just have to get him to 100 percent and keep him dialed in because we're going to need him."

Rodgers, though, likes what Starks can bring to the offense now with an expanded role in his sixth NFL season, all with Green Bay.

"He's earned some opportunities, and he's done a great job on screens the entire year," Rodgers said. "He's a very good running back. He has a very good attitude every single day. He's one of my favorite teammates, just the way he carries himself and prepares. He's earned an opportunity."

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Starks, who ranks fourth on the team with 19 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns, appreciates every chance he gets to play. "You never know when it's going to come, so I'm ready at every turn," he said.

SERIES HISTORY: 170th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 95-67-7. Green Bay looks to extend the longest streak of home dominance against one opponent in NFL history, having won its last 24 games against the Lions in Wisconsin going back to 1992 and including the playoffs. The Packers' last home loss against their longtime rival was 21-17 on Dec. 15, 1991, at Lambeau Field. The NFC North foes have split their season series the last two years and will meet again in a Thursday night game at Detroit on Dec. 3. The Packers won both postseason encounters in the wild-card round of the playoffs in the 1993 and '94 seasons.

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