A week ago, I published an article voicing my concerns with the lack of run game that the Green Bay Packers displayed in their Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Sure, the Packers were down by a sizable margin going into halftime. Still, even Peyton Manning suggested that the Pack should have run the ball more against the Saints during the broadcast of Monday night’s game with brother Eli.
Is Peyton Manning one of the football gods? Apparently so, because the Packers listened and relied heavily on the run as they dominated the Detroit Lions by a score of 35-17 in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football.
Aaron Rodgers looked like his usual self on Monday, painting the gloves of his receivers all night. Yet it was running back Aaron Jones who stole the show. Playing in his first game at Lambeau Field since the passing of his father, Jones was outstanding, scoring four touchdowns and tallying 115 total yards on the evening.
Three of Jones’ scores were technically receiving touchdowns, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by a Packers running back in quite some time.
That’s incredible. It’s also important to note that all four of Jones’ scores featured him in the backfield. His first touchdown was scored when Jones was put into motion and Rodgers dished him a shovel pass that he took four yards to the house. Jones’ second touchdown featured him lined up in the backfield and optioning to the right for a wide-open touchdown. Perhaps his most impressive score came in the third quarter when it looked like Jones would block from the backfield to give Rodgers some time to throw. Instead, he skirted through the line to get open for an easy pass and 11-yard touchdown. The Savannah, Ga. native capped off his stellar night with a meat-and-potatoes run up the gut from the one-yard line to seal the game for Green Bay.
Touchdowns of all shapes and sizes count the same. The fact that Green Bay scored four of their five touchdowns in run-favoring offensive schemes says a lot, even if a few of them were technically receiving scores. Look at the box score and it shouldn’t surprise you that 31 of the team’s 53 offensive plays from scrimmage consisted of a run.
Take a look at the stats. The Packers ran the ball 12 times in the first half on three offensive drives. They scored touchdowns on both drives that featured the run. The one drive that didn’t? Two incomplete passes and a sack of Rodgers that forced a three-and-out.
It’s hard to imagine that Matt LeFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett didn’t emphasize the importance of the run at halftime. Green Bay ran the ball 15 times in the half and all three scoring drives featured the run.
Why It Matters
It’s not like the Packers put up massive rushing numbers in the stat column. Ninety-six yards on 31 carries with one touchdown doesn’t seem like anything to write home about.
Maybe so, but surface-level stats don’t do justice to how important it is that Green Bay activated their running game.
It wasn’t shocking to see that starting wide receiver Davante Adams had 162 receiving yards on the night, including an electric 50-yard catch on third-and-long that set the offense up for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Take note, though: Adams was targeted nine times for eight completions. That number is potentially higher than what it will be throughout the season, especially when Green Bay faces elite defenses (the Detriot Lions are not a part of that cohort).
Rodgers and Adams have achieved notoriety as the best quarterback/wide receiver duo in the NFL over the past half-decade. That’s great, but it also means that defenses have doubled down on how to cover the tandem. Extra time studying film, new strategies, and new formations — you name it. And even with the current MVP at quarterback, it’s that much tougher to repeat previous domination when Rodgers and Adams both have targets on their back.
The Packers will need to utilize Aaron Jones more than they ever have before if they want to have a shot at a deep run, especially if the team’s defense continues to look the way it currently does. It’s why the organization signed him to a 4-year, $48 million contract.