Green Bay Packers

What’s the Cause of AJ Dillon’s Struggles?

Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

We expected the young Green Bay Packers offense to have its ups and downs, and that’s what happened on Sunday.

After a slowish start, Jordan Love and his rookie receiving targets made impressive plays before going dark in the fourth quarter. While we expected the passing game to be a bit of a roller coaster ride, we believed the run game would be the steady, reliable Ferris Wheel.

Yet the running game hasn’t been the safety net we expected. Sure, Aaron Jones dominated in Week 1. But his absence in Week 2 revealed two aspects his greatness covered up: The run blocking is bad, and A.J. Dillon isn’t doing enough as RB2.

Despite lauding Jones and Dillon as one of the league’s best one-two punches at running back, we consistently aren’t getting enough production from Dillon, dating back to last season. Dillon’s immense likability is masking the fact that Green Bay’s offense simply isn’t getting enough from the former second-round pick.

The Dillon pick perplexed some people in 2020. However, the rookie Dillon turned heads with a dominant 124-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Tennessee Titans in December 2020. That game was the advertisement for what the Packers expected Dillon to be — the big-bodied back who could plow through taxed defenses in the cold Wisconsin winters. With Jones as the shifty, dynamic back, Dillon could be the bruiser and get those tough yards.

Dillon’s sophomore performance solidified that role, but he regressed immensely in 2022. While Dillon’s seven rushing touchdowns led the team, he wasn’t an efficient runner. Dillon’s yards after contact and broken tackle rate left much to be desired, ranking 34th and 28th in the league, respectively. He also regressed in the passing game after being solid there in 2021.

For a big, bruiser-type back, Dillon doesn’t always display the traits you’d want. He should be harder to bring down but often doesn’t display the juice to break through defenders, more often falling than breaking through.

Two criticisms of Dillon have been pad level and balance, and it was something he and the team claimed to be working on in the offseason. After a mediocre Week 1 with Jones out, the Atlanta Falcons game was a perfect opportunity for Dillon to display what he’d been working on and prove he could get back into form and carry the offense.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Dillon finished the day with 15 carries for 55 yards, a thoroughly underwhelming performance. In situations where the Packers needed only a yard or two, the area where Dillon is supposed to shine, he would get stuffed or trip. While at this point we know Jones is the big play back and Dillon is the support, we still should expect Dillon to get those tough short yards.

In Dillon’s defense, Green Bay’s offensive line has been below average at run blocking. Despite doing a phenomenal job at protecting Love, the group hasn’t been able to create open avenues for Dillon. Jones is elusive enough to make the poor lanes work, but Dillon doesn’t have that same skill set. And that offensive line was down David Bakhtiari in Atlanta and lost Elgton Jenkins halfway through the game. The already struggling group lost its two best players, making Dillon’s job even tougher. And outside toss plays aren’t doing Dillon any favors, consistently being one of Matt LaFleur’s least effective calls.

But the team should be getting more from their big-bodied, thunderous second-round pick, and Dillon’s shortcomings from 2022 appear to be spilling into the young 2023 season.

We don’t know how many games Jones will lose to his hamstring injury, an unfortunate “bug” affecting many of Green Bay’s weapons right now. Dillon needs to do more if Jones misses more time, and it’s a contract year to boot. Right now, Dillon isn’t looking like a priority re-sign, especially with a crowded running back market.

It’s unfortunate because, as a person, Dillon is the type of player you love having around. He seems like an absolutely delightful human being who has fully embraced the small-town lifestyle of the Greater Green Bay community.

But likability doesn’t win football games. Dillon is starting to look like another botched pick from the nebulous 2020 draft class. It makes sense why Brian Gutekunst was looking at Jonathan Taylor, even though the Indianapolis Colts’ reported asking price was ridiculous.

Ideally, the Packers can fix their run-blocking issues and Dillon can regain some of his previous form and confidence. But if their first two weeks are any indication, running back is going to be a high priority for the Packers next offseason.

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