The secret of success for any good offense is finding ways to put the best playmaker in a position to produce. Aaron Jones is by far the Green Bay Packers‘ best offensive weapon, and the coaching staff game-planned to help the running back. He was the biggest difference maker in securing Green Bay’s first win of the season, a 27-10 victory over the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.
It was nothing near a perfect offensive performance by the Packers. It included two fumbles, one lost in a miscommunication between Aaron Rodgers and AJ Dillon, and only three points in the second half. But Green Bay used Jones the best way possible, and No. 33 delivered.
Jones had only eight touches in the previous week against the Minnesota Vikings. He had five carries for 49 yards, plus three receptions for 27. Those were not bad efficiency numbers, but the volume was surprisingly low. The Packers addressed this issue on Sunday night. Jones had 15 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown, plus three receptions for 38 yards and a receiving score. After having 15 carries combined between Jones and Dillon against the Vikings, they had 33 against the Bears.
The Packers might have increased the volume because of the score, but that was not the only reason. They frequently abandoned the run game, even when the Minnesota game was within reach. However, when Green Bay was losing 7-3 in the first quarter against the Bears, the offense ran through Jones and his versatility.
Jones’s production on a play-by-play basis is one of the most impressive aspects of Jones’ season. Jones averaged 9.8 yards per carry in the loss to the Vikings, even when the total numbers were low because of the lack of touches. Against the Bears, the average was 8.8 yards per carry with three times more carries.
Spreading the ball around
Jones was the most-utilized and productive offensive weapon against Chicago, but the win on Sunday highlighted another good lesson for Green Bay’s offense – the number of potential targets. Eight players finished the game with receptions, seven with at least two. No player was targeted more than four times.
Without Davante Adams, who carried a big load on the offense, the new version of the unit demands variety without such a star. Rodgers needs to throw to the open receiver, whomever it may be. Therefore, the play design might indicate different primary reads depending on the play itself or on the moment of the game.
On Sunday, Sammy Watkins was the most productive wide receiver on the field. Rodgers targeted him four times, and Watkins finished the matchup with three catches for 93 yards – including a big play in the second half.
Variety and offensive versatility will be imperative because this version of the offense is much more matchup-oriented and reliant on strategy and game-planning. Even though Jones is highly productive, some matchups don’t fit his skillset. Next week’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a good example. The Bucs have a strong defensive line and fast and aggressive off-ball linebackers. The Packers need to be comfortable with other options if Jones can’t be as effective.
Usage vs. caution
The offense can’t go through Jones as much as it did Adams because of the difference between their positions. Jones is an undersized back (5’9″, 208 lbs.), and he played every game in a season only once in his career (16 games in 2019).
The Packers have to feed Jones as their best offensive weapon, but the coaching staff also needs to be careful not to overuse him throughout the regular season. Otherwise, Jones may suffer extreme fatigue or an injury. The running back will be essential for Green Bay for the entire season, especially for the playoffs if the Packers get there as expected.
There will be different ways to preserve Jones. One of them is obvious: AJ Dillon. The staff sees the other active running back as a 1b kind of player. They appear to be comfortable giving the 2020 second-round pick even more touches than they do for Jones, as they did against Minnesota.
The Packers also have two practice-squad running backs, Patrick Taylor and Tyler Goodson. But they didn’t activate either in Minnesota, and Taylor only played special teams snaps versus the Bears. Still, they’ll be able to handle offensive snaps as the season progresses. Moreover, last year’s seventh-round pick Kylin Hill started the season on the PUP list. He must miss at least four games, but he can be an important addition to the room down the stretch.
It’s a difficult balance to achieve. However, the Packers cannot be afraid of using Jones as an elite playmaker. As Rodgers said after the win, the team is just “scratching the surface” with how they can deploy Jones. He will be crucial for Green Bay if they’re going to be one of the best offenses in the NFL.