Green Bay Packers

The Key to Unlocking Aaron Rodgers Is, Um, Aaron Jones?

Photo Credit: Kim Klement (USA TODAY Sports)

Aaron Rodgers‘ incredible throws will make the highlight reels following the Green Bay Packers’ 35-17 win over the Detroit Lions on Monday night. But it was evident that the Packers’ offense is at its best when Aaron Jones is doing the heavy lifting, allowing Rodgers to pick his spots.

The Packers’ defense allowed the Lions to march down the field from the opening kickoff to take an early 7-0 lead, but Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur didn’t overreact and stuck to the game plan, which featured a heavy dose of Jones to start the game. Jones had six carries for 30 yards on the Packers’ 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and punctuated it with a four-yard touch-pass reception from Rodgers to open the scoring.

On the second drive, Green Bay didn’t attempt any run plays and went three-and-out. Drive No. 3? Three carries by Jones for 19 yards and three receptions for 23 yards, including a one-yard catch for a touchdown.

The Jones numbers there aren’t eye-popping, but they’re consistent. Those two touchdown drives featured nine carries and 49 yards for Jones, more than five yards per carry. Those three receptions came on easy throws by Rodgers. With the ball in Jones’ hands so much, the offense’s focal point began to shift away from Rodgers just a bit, which is when he can be deadly.

After trailing 17-14 at halftime, the Packers scored on the first three drives of the second half, but the opening possession of the third quarter set the tone for the remainder of the game. Rodgers aired out a beautiful rainbow to Davante Adams down the right sideline that converted a much-needed 3rd and 12 — and then some. Three plays later, the quarterback fired a laser at an impossible angle into the chest of Robert Tonyan for a 20-yard touchdown pass that gave Green Bay the lead for good.

The setup for this play? Two rushes by Aaron Jones for 11 yards (he’s very consistent) and a catch for 10 yards. Rodgers took a bad sack, turning into pressure for a loss of 10 yards. But with the ball so often ending up in Jones’ hands, he became a valuable decoy on the shot play to Adams.

Of course, it takes a high level of execution to complete a pass like this one. But any pass play conceivably is possible with the arm talent of Rodgers and the all-around ability of Adams.

After getting an important stop on fourth down, the Green Bay defense turned the ball back over to Rodgers, who needed to manufacture a drive with a combination of penalties and pressure on the defense. Once the Packers got the ball into the red zone, LaFleur dialed up an option for Rodgers to find Jones in space out of the backfield, and the recently highly-paid running back did the rest for his third touchdown of the afternoon.

The fact of the matter is that Rodgers will be turning 38 in December, while Jones is at the peak of his powers in his age-26 season. The Packers felt good about Jones’ ability when they gave him 4-years, $48 million back in March, much to the chagrin of many in the don’t-pay-running-backs camp. Rodgers can ramp up his fastball when needed but is perhaps best suited only to dial it up when the situation calls for it.

The Green Bay front office has put a considerable amount of talent around Rodgers. While he might not always be happy with who the sixth wide receiver is on the depth chart, the No. 1 running back has proved to be more than capable of doing the heavy lifting. And while their numbers haven’t been called too often yet, Jones has reinforcements in AJ Dillon and Kylin Hill, who will help carry this offense.

Rodgers had good numbers. He finished an efficient 22-for-27 for 255 yards and four touchdown passes. But only one of those scoring tosses was entirely on him. Jones totaled 23 touches for 115 yards, and it was clear that the Lions needed to focus more on stopping the run than the pass. That exact point is where the Packers can be their best because that’s when Rodgers can kill you as he did on Monday night.

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