Green Bay Packers

Aaron Jones Is Getting Hot At the Right Time

Photo Credit: Mike De Sisti via USA TODAY Sports

Against some pretty strong odds, the Green Bay Packers are playoff-bound.

With the NFL’s youngest roster, a slew of injuries, and a string of disappointing games from the defense and special teams, it’s a credit to Matt LaFleur and Jordan Love that they have made it this far.

On Sunday, the Packers will face former head coach Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are a dangerous team at home, and quarterback Dak Prescott is the only QB in the league with more touchdown passes than Love.

Thankfully, the Green Bay offense is clicking and getting healthier. The Packers got a lot of their injured players back by the regular-season finale. But none may be as impactful for this playoff push as running back Aaron Jones. With Jones back in the lineup and improved run-blocking from the offensive line, the running game could be Green Bay’s X-factor in the playoffs.

Anyone who’s watched Green Bay’s offense knows how good Jones is — and how much better the game plan is when he’s involved. Unfortunately, his early exit in Week 1 meant Love and the young offense had to learn to win without a strong running game to lean on.

But they had figured it out by midseason and were rewarded with Jones’ late-season return.

Jones didn’t light up the scoreboard in his return in Week 15. But all Jones has done is produce following that game. He’s had three straight 100-yard rushing games to end the regular season, putting up 127 in Carolina, 120 versus the Minnesota Vikings, and 111 against the Chicago Bears. While he hasn’t scored in that timeframe, Jones was vital in moving the ball between the 20s and getting essential first downs.

The Bears have one of the best rushing defenses in the league, but you wouldn’t know it the way Jones ran. His 111 rushing yards — an average of five yards per carry — and 30 receiving yards helped Love and the offense carve up the Bears and earn the NFC’s final Wild Card spot.

Following Sunday’s victory, Love praised Jones and his importance to the team’s playoff hopes.

“You can all see it. He’s a difference-maker, right?” LaFleur said. “His ability to be out there and get explosive gains, fight for some tough yardage, and break tackles. … He takes a lot of pressure off other people.”

Jones’s return isn’t the only boon for the running game. After a rough start, Green Bay’s O-line has significantly improved their run blocking, making Jones’ life easier. Rasheed Walker has settled into the left tackle role with a markedly better performance in both pass protection and run-blocking. The line has found some continuity despite rotating at right guard and left tackle.

And the tight ends have also been invaluable in blocking, especially Tucker Kraft. The rookie tight end might be the team’s most improved player from the start of the season, especially as a blocker.

But Dallas will test Green Bay’s resurgent running game.

Offensively, the Cowboys have been a powerhouse at home. Dak Prescott is in the conversation for MVP, and CeeDee Lamb has been on fire lately. Joe Barry’s defense has a tough assignment.

So the offense must come out with hot pee, or whatever LaFleur likes to say. They can’t afford to become one-dimensional against Dallas’ ball-hawking defense. That means getting Jones involved early and often.

While the historic rivalry favored Dallas in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Packers have had great success against the Cowboys since 2010. The Packers won their last two playoff games against Dallas — 2014 featured Dez not catching it, and 2016 had the famous Jared Cook catch.

Aaron Rodgers famously never lost at JerryWorld/AT&T Stadium, including his Super Bowl 45 victory there.

But this is a new Packers team, and the Cowboys are hoping to prove they aren’t a one-and-done postseason team. This will be a tough battle.

Still, Jones has been there before. His performance in Dallas in 2019 was a legendary showing — 107 rushing yards and four rushing TDs with another 75 yards receiving. The teams may be different; 2019 was like 11 years ago. But that game can be a manual for how to get Jones involved early.

Jones is excited to play in his home state, telling the media, “I love playing in Texas, love going back home. … It’s just special. I’m just honored to be in the playoffs and get to go to battle again and prove people wrong.” Hopefully, he and the Packers can put on the right kind of show.

Thankfully, Jordan Love and the receivers have come a long way since Week 1 and can handle themselves. Jones won’t need to do it all himself. But a balanced attack featuring their best offensive weapon is a good way for the offense to punch above their projected place and make a deeper playoff run.

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Photo Credit: Mike De Sisti via USA TODAY Sports

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