The Aaron Rodgers era is over in Green Bay. But there is another type of Aaron era waiting to happen.
The Green Bay Packers couldn’t have hoped for a much better start in the first game with Jordan Love as a full-time starting quarterback. The offense scored 31 points — 38 total with Quay Walker‘s pick-six — and dominated the game, especially in the second half. Love had a solid, clean performance, but he wasn’t the reason why the Packers won.
Aaron Jones was.
The star running back played a limited number of snaps. He left the game in the third quarter because of a hamstring issue and shared touches with A.J. Dillon before that because that’s the way the Packers like to operate.
But even with so few snaps, Jones was incredible. He decided the game. He had nine carries for 41 yards and a touchdown, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. And he was impressively explosive as a pass-catcher, tallying two catches for 86 yards and one more touchdown.
The difference between Jones and Dillon as the leading running back is staggering. The Packers heavily used No. 33 on two drives, and they scored touchdowns in both of them. Meanwhile, Dillon finished the game with only 19 yards on 13 carries (1.5 yards per attempt) and had two receptions for 17 yards. Patrick Taylor played most of his offensive snaps in garbage time, and he finished the game with more rushing yards than Dillon, with 22 on five carries (4.4 average).
The youth of Green Bay’s offense was the theme of the offseason. With so many first- and second-year players leading the way, plus the transition at quarterback, it’s natural that there will be growing pains. And there were some in Chicago. There were penalties and drops, and the connection between Love and his targets wasn’t always perfect. This will be a long road before things get better.
Those factors make Jones even more important for the Packers’ offense. He’s Green Bay’s most experienced offensive weapon and probably the best one, too. The Packers missed Christian Watson on Sunday, because he’s so talented, plays a more valuable position, and can stretch the opposing defense vertically. When Jones is on the field and Green Bay feeds him, the offense becomes much more reliable and explosive. That gives Love more breathing room and favorable situations, like shorter third-down attempts.
“He’s a guy that tilts the field in your favor,” Matt LaFleur said after the game. “He’s so dynamic.”
It was hard to imagine the Packers scoring 38 points with Romeo Doubs limited and without Watson – both due to hamstring issues. But this wasn’t the first time the Packers offense was Aaron Jones-centric on the ground and through the air.
In 2019, Jones ran 13 times for 67 yards without Davante Adams against the Kansas City Chiefs. But his best usage was as a receiver, adding seven receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns, leading Green Bay to a 31-24 win in Kansas City against a Patrick Mahomes-less Chiefs.
Two years later, the Packers were missing their top three wide receivers (Adams, Allen Lazard, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling) against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. Even if Jones’ running wasn’t particularly impressive that night, he still had seven receptions for 51 yards, leading the team in both stats during a 24-21 win.
Running backs are becoming less valuable in today’s game. But Jones is truly an outlier because of his explosiveness and efficiency, and especially because of his versatility and ability as a pass-catcher.
He’s 28 years old, which tends to be when a running back’s production drops off. However, the limited usage throughout his career has been beneficial to preserve his body. It’s impossible to know how much longer he will play at a high level, but there is no sign of decline.
Outlook for the next few weeks
Hamstring injuries have been a big problem for the Packers to start this season. That’s what kept Watson out of the game and limited Doubs. Jones also left the game early with a similar issue. Therefore, we won’t know until later in the week whether the Packers will have their best offensive playmaker on the field against the Atlanta Falcons next Sunday.
If Jones can’t go, the Packers will probably be forced to lean more on Dillon, who is not nearly as efficient. That could be a good opportunity for Green Bay to explore other options. Undrafted rookie Emanuel Wilson was inactive against the Bears, but his pure ability as a runner he showed during preseason games may be especially useful if Jones is out.
There is a chance Jones was just having leg cramps, though, according to head coach Matt LaFleur. That outcome would be vastly preferable for the Packers en route to Atlanta.
Jones’ experience and performance are extremely valuable to the Packers this year. The underrated running back will be a huge factor to ease Love’s first season as a full-time starter. Green Bay must make sure they find a balance between using Jones to maximize his production without risking further injury.
That’s probably why they explored trading for Jonathan Taylor, and that’s why they kept Emanuel Wilson on their 53-man roster.
Aaron Jones is leading Green Bay’s offense for now, and they have to make sure they can keep it that way until Love becomes more consistent.