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We keep hearing that in Coach LaFleur’s offense, the run game will be used to set up the pass, the offense will be built around the run game, and that Aaron Rodgers’ job will be made easier by a better run/pass balance. I’m ready to believe it: despite having Aaron Rodgers in the driver’s seat, the run game will be the key to the team’s success or failure in LaFleur’s first year.

We might find out very soon if the Packers’ run game is up to the task. Neither the Bears nor the Packers have much real-game experience going into this regular season. While the strengths of the two team’s run attacks are therefore pretty speculative, I think Green Bay has a distinct advantage in the comparisons.

In early season games, I’d be inclined to try to establish ball control and dominant time of possession via a strong ground game. Rushing plays can be ironed out without the amount of practice it takes to fine-tune a pass attack. As the season progresses, Green Bay’s passing game might well become explosive, but I’m not expecting such a result in early September.

So, who has the better prospect for establishing run dominance on September 5, the Bears or the Pack?

Bears Are Starting Over at RB

For the past three years, the Bears’ run game was entrusted to Jordan Howard, a 230-pound power runner out of Indiana. Like Eddie Lacy, Howard, though a round 5 pick, was named to the pro bowl in his rookie season. But it went downhill from there. Though he had at least 250 carries in each of his first three years, his rushing yardage went from 1,313 to 1,122, to 935.

On March 28, 2019, the Bears traded Howard to the Eagles for a 2020 sixth round pick. The Bears have a hole to fill in 2019 at running back.

Here’s how the Bears’ depth chart shapes up at running back: the top two runners are Mike Davis and Tariq Cohen; the backups are David Montgomery and Ryan Nall. It’s an inexperienced and largely unproven lineup.

Davis, at 5’9” and 217 pounds, has yet to prove he’s exceptional. A Round 4 pick, he was never a steady starter in two years with San Francisco, and two more with Seattle. Last season he had 112 rushes for just over 500 yards. That was good for a 4.6 yard average, though his career average in the pros is only 3.7. The Bears picked him up this Spring for $6 million for two years.

Tariq Cohen, another Round 4 pick, has shown his talent in his two years in the league – but it’s been as a return specialist and as a pass catcher. Last year he was named 1st team All-Pro and went to the Pro Bowl as a returner. As a running back, however, he was only graded by Pro Football Focus as the 32nd best among the league’s qualifying RBs.

It’s hard to believe that the Bears can establish a dominant ground game featuring Cohen; he stands 5’6” and tips the scales at 181 pounds. In his two seasons with the Bears, he’s so far had 186 carries, for an average of 4.4 yards. The Packers will have their hands full with Cohen, but not as an every-down running back.

The Bears drafted Rookie David Montgomery in the 3rd round of this year’s draft. He was a consensus First-team All-Big 12 player in 2017. Like the Packers’ Dexter Williams, he probably won’t see action next week barring injuries.

Aug 15, 2019; Baltimore, MD, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) walks onto the field prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

All Eyes Are on Packers’ Aaron Jones

Like Rodney Dangerfield, Aaron Jones gets no respect. The Packers, however, are banking on that changing in a big way and in a short time.

Total Packers has well chronicled how Coach Mike McCarthy insisted on platooning Jones with Jamaal Williams for the duo’s two years with Green Bay. Williams, a dependable backup, and fine receiver, has rushed 274 times, for a 3.7 yard average. Jones, meanwhile, has also rushed 274 times, but he’s averaged 5.5 yards per carry – best in the NFL over that time span. Such an average results in very favorable down-and-distance situations.

Even with Big Mike out of the picture, there’s a fear that Jones is fragile and therefore must be limited in his usage. Yes, he’s missed six games due to injuries, and he missed almost one full season in college, but otherwise he was a workhorse at UTEP. In his final year there, he ran 229 times for 1,773 yards – a stunning 7.7 yard average. The more carries he got, and the tougher the opponent, the better he did.

We’ll soon know the extent of Matt LaFleur’s commitment to the run game. Jones has been utterly consistent both in college and the pros: he chews up yardage, is a threat to break loose on every play, and is dangerous as a receiver as well. I’d like to see him get 20 carries a game, and be targeted by Rodgers at least five times per game.

Scatback Tariq Cohen was thrown to 91 times last year – 5.7 times per game; he had 71 catches for 725 yards and five touchdowns. Will LaFleur similarly exploit Jones’ talents? Thursday’s game could turn out to be a battle between these two smallish dynamos – though at 5’9” or 5’10”, and listed at 208 pounds, Jones has a weight advantage of almost 30 pounds.

Jones will also be running behind better blockers than he’s had before. LT David Bakhtiari, RT Brian Bulaga, and Corey Linsley are all top-notch, the Packers are paying RG Billy Turner a top-notch salary, and rookie Elgton Jenkins is pushing veteran Lane Taylor hard at LG.

Jamaal Williams - Packers vs Bears

Dec 16, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams (30) carries the ball against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

Packers’ Run Game Is Key

Should Aaron Jones disappoint, I’m afraid the Packers’ offense will resemble that of Sean McVay and the L.A. Rams when running back Todd Gurley was hobbled by an injury in last year’s Superbowl. In that 13 to 3 loss to the Patriots, the Rams managed only 62 rushing yards (35 by Gurley in 10 carries), and 260 total yards (versus the Pats’ 407).

During the regular season, the Rams ranked second in offensive yardage, averaging 421.1 yards per game, including 139.4 rushing yards– third best in the league.

But I don’t see Aaron disappointing us. He’s reportedly in his best shape ever. He’s loose and confident. He responded spectacularly to his leadership role throughout his time at UTEP. He’s got a savvy coach, a playbook suited to his talents, and a group of capable blockers.

With the two Aarons sharing the load of leading a potent and balanced offensive attack, I’m also counting on Rodgers to return to what a guy at Pro Football Focus termed the “lethal accuracy” that he’s displayed for most of the last decade. There’s no better time and place to start than at Soldier Field on September 5.

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Rob Born

Due to Aaron Rodgers’ reckless ways, I’m officially launching the Campaign for GM Gutekunst to Acquire the Best Available (Veteran) Backup Quarterback – NOW.

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13 Comments

  1. Deepsky September 2, 2019

    Aaron Jones is healthy but the Bears aren’t stupid, nor is any other NFL team. They will not bite on play action until the Packers prove they are committed to the run. Their defense will key on stopping Rodgers.

    The Packers are installing a new complex zone blocking scheme.The line has to move as a unit. All of these ‘modern’ coaches derive this scheme from Mike Shanahans offense that beat the Packers in the Super Bowl. But no NFL team has really had that success in running it since then. I have serious doubts it will be successful. And the Packers are relying on a rookie offensive line coach.

    About 2/3 of the way into the game, when the Packers are down by three scores, it will right back in Aaron Rodgers hands, like it’s been for the last decade plus and the Bears defense will be looking to end Rodgers season.

    Reply
    1. Ferris September 2, 2019

      Homestate holdout Melvin Gordon is available via trade…Would Gutey do it for the right deal? A first and a second? He’s injury prone it seems but he wants out of SD and wants to be paid.

      Reply
      1. Cheese September 2, 2019

        Chargers are in LA, homie.

        Reply
        1. Ferris September 3, 2019

          Just can’t get that through my head.

          Reply
  2. TyKo Steamboat September 2, 2019

    watching the pre-game shit on NFL network
    I’d love to fuck that Stacey Dales 100

    Reply
  3. Ferris September 2, 2019

    Gonna find out if the investment in the “Smiths” is worth it. Need to get to Mitch and turn him into Jay.

    Reply
    1. PF4L September 4, 2019

      Ferris is right, Although I don’t expect much from Gary ( sorry, i just don’t) but we’ll see, i’m ready to be wrong. But with the investment they made in the Smiths, and Turner, what did they guarantee those boys, like 55- 65 million? For that kind of lettuce, we better see some production from these free agents….for once. I think it’s about G D time a free agent that we signed justified his signing and salary.

      It’s been a short (painful) summer…i’m very happy that the NFL season is knocking on our door. Can’t wait until tomorrow night. The NFL rocks.

      Reply
  4. Kato September 3, 2019

    I don’t think this is going well

    Reply
  5. Carol September 3, 2019

    Local reporters are high on undrafted Darius Shepherd who is barely hanging onto roster position.

    Reply
  6. MMSUCKS September 3, 2019

    Two worrisome words; Khalil Mack . . . Stop him and Rodgers and the Pack should do okay. If not, l-o-n-g evening.

    Reply
    1. Kato September 4, 2019

      Yeah, that could be said week in and week out for every opponent facing the bears. That’s what happens when you have a generational talent

      Reply
  7. Howard September 4, 2019

    In last years late game the real difference in the game was the Packers were 1 of 4 in red zone TD% and the Bears were 3 of 4 in red zone TD %.

    The Packers had a few more yards passing in the game. The bears had a few more yards rushing. The bears had overall less than 10 yards more offense in the entire game. Both the Packers and Bears had the same amount of first downs in the game, with the Packers having a better 3rd down conversion rate.

    I believe the run game is important as is the will to run. The Packers last year had no will to run the ball. I think you can look at the Packers red zone issues as being, in part, no will to run in the red zone and/or pass to the RBs in the red zone.

    Reply
    1. MMSUCKS September 4, 2019

      Good assessment HOWARD. I believe that McCarthy was the problem in the red zone last year. He had no will to adjust, nor to think out of the box. Some of those personnel packages that he sent in there seemed to completely hand-tie Rodgers from making any or few audibles/adjustments. Sometimes, I’ve wondered if that was on purpose, so that Rodgers was compelled to only run the Buffoons play.

      Reply

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