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The Aaron Jones Saga Continues As Christian McCaffrey Comes to Town

Since the arrival of Aaron Jones in Green Bay, now over two and a half years ago, I’ve posted endless pleas that his talents be put to full use. Upon the firing of Coach Mike McCarthy, it seemed my prayers had been answered. But after last Sunday’s woeful display in Los Angeles, this up and down saga is about to resume.

The temptation to compare the mercurial talents of the Packers’ and Panthers’ lead running backs is irresistible.

Though both entered the league via the 2017 draft, McCaffrey was chosen eighth overall after having an illustrious college career at Stanford. Jones, however, was the 182nd player chosen after laboring outside the national spotlight at UTEP in El Paso.

McCaffrey’s talents were immediately recognized – and utilized. In his rookie year, he accumulated over 1,000 yards of offense, with 651 yards coming through the air and 435 on the ground. Carolina and Cam Newton, the NFL’s Most Valuable Player of 2015, targeted the rookie 113 times, with the two connecting on 80 of those throws.

Somewhat to their credit, the Packers quickly recognized that they had a steal in their fifth-round pick. Jones signaled his arrival as a force in the league in just his fifth game in the pros, when he gained 125 yards in 19 carries in the Packers’ 35-31 upset win against the Cowboys in Dallas.

Unlike with McCaffrey though, Jones would account for only 470 yards as a rookie, with all but a handful of those coming on the ground. Aaron caught a total of nine balls for 22 yards under McCarthy’s direction in 2017.

In 2018, McCaffrey became a bona fide NFL rushing juggernaut in addition to being a receiver. He rushed 219 times for 1,098 yards, and he added to his receiving totals, with 107 catches for 867 yards. On the year, he wound up with just 35 yards shy of 2,000 yards of offensive production. He garnered second-team All-Pro honors for these exploits.

Jones, meanwhile, rushed 133 times for 728 yards, and a sterling 5.5 yard average, on the year. His receiving yardage rose a bit to 206 yards (26 catches), which left him with a total production of 934 yards – less than half of what McCaffrey rang up. Though Jones missed four games in each of his first two years, it’s undeniable that his talents went underused by Big Mike McCarthy.

After eight outings in 2019, McCaffrey is on his way to handily eclipsing his gaudy 2018 production. He’s rushed 165 times for 881 yards, and he’s hauled in 42 passes for another 363 yards. If he continues at this pace, he’ll produce 2,988 yards on the year. I think that would smash all previous NFL offensive output records.

Under head coach Matt LaFleur, Aaron in nine games has rushed 122 times for 496 yards, an average of 4.1 yards per carry. His receiving production is much improved, with 35 catches for 354 yards – fourth best in the league among running backs.

What’s particularly disturbing about Aaron’s year is the inconsistency of his numbers. Against the Vikings (Game 2), he produced 150 yards of total offense; against Dallas (Game 5), he produced 182 yards; and, against the Chiefs (Game 8), he upped his total to 226 yards. On the downside, however, he produced but 40 yards against Chicago (Game 1); 23 yards against Denver (Game 3); 58 yards against the Eagles (Game 4); 60 yards against the Lions (Game 6); and a pathetic 29 yards against the Chargers last weekend.

In the game at Los Angeles, LaFleur allowed Jones only eight carries and one catch, for minus yardage, in three targets. It’s tempting to say that the Packers were forced to abandon the run, and the game plan generally, due to the team falling behind on the scoreboard, but I’m not buying it. With four minutes left in the third quarter, the Packers were down by only 12 points, so there was no need to abandon the run. But LaFleur instead chose to attempt to pass on 39 out of 49 plays as this game wound down.

The head coach and the rest of the staff has now had a week to analyze the debacle – surely one of the Packers’ five worst showings in the last decade. We’ll soon find out if LaFleur will return to practicing what he preaches: that you set up the pass game with a strong ground attack, and you present opposing defenses with a variety of play action options.

I’ll grant you that, as flat as the entire team was last Sunday, the Packers were unlikely to turn things around in the second half no matter what, but what we witnessed was a team without any alternatives in mind when the game plan produced no positive results. The Packers’ new coach failed to come up with any meaningful adjustments all game long.

Ron Rivera is in his ninth year as head coach of the Panthers. While his postseason record is only 3-4, Riverboat Ron has a commendable 76-59-1 regular season record. He’s showed how to exploit his most talented players during quarterback Cam Newton’s heyday (2011-15), and you can bet he’s going to ride on the back of Christian McCaffrey at Lambeau on Sunday.

Based on his usage to date in 2019, look for McCaffrey to be handed the ball over 20 times, and to be thrown to at least six times – he’ll be featured in almost half of Carolina’s offensive plays.

Christian McCaffrey and Aaron Jones are physically similar. Neither are extremely athletic. McCaffrey, listed at 5’11” and 207 pounds, compares closely to Jones, at 5’9” and 208 pounds. Neither is considered a power runner and neither is particularly speedy. Each breaks tackles and gets into the open due to quickness, elusiveness, and effort.

I’m thinking that the team that best utilizes its versatile star running back is going to come out the winner on Sunday.

Aaron Rodgers hands off to Aaron Jones

Oct 27, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) hands off to running back Aaron Jones (33) during the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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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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20 Comments

  1. thomaslind949yahoocom November 9, 2019

    Are you SURE it was LeFleur that chose to pass on 39 of the last 49 plays?

    Reply
  2. Savage57 November 9, 2019

    What if the difference in production between McCaffrey and Jones is just due to one being a better athlete and player than the other? It would be interesting, not that I care enough to research it, to see how many game McCaffrey’s numbers have fallen off a cliff like we’ve seen happen with Jones. When you’re feeding a guy the ball and he’s producing a heady 1.9 yards per carry, it kind of forces your hand to go in another direction.

    There was a reason one was taken with the 8th pick and the other the 182nd, and it wasn’t just because of the school they played for.

    Reply
  3. kelly G kinto November 9, 2019

    Generally good comparisons. However, how in the world can you honestly say that McCaffrey is not athletic? Have you actually looked at some of the plays he makes every single game? How can you do the things he does if you’re not athletic? The catches, turns, the twists, the speed, the power, breaking tackles, finding a crease and having the physical ability to actually get through it when other “athletes” are trying to take you down. Not athletic? What’s your definition of athletic?

    Reply
    1. Robster November 9, 2019

      I said McCaffrey isn’t “extremely” athletic, and I base that on NFL Combine numbers. His percentiles are mostly well above average: 78th percentile dash, 84th vertical jump, 52nd 20-yard shuttle, and 98th 3-cone drill; on the other hand he’s undersized (19th re weight) and under-strength (1st percentile with 10 bench presses).. It’s effort and discipline, not physical dominance, that has him on pace to be the league’s MVP.

      Reply
  4. PF4L November 9, 2019

    I haven’t harped about this because it was just a shitty game with the Packers finally moving the ball in garbage time in the 4th quarter.
    It was a mistake getting away from the run game….period. They were down 9-0 at halftime. Not a big deal. So i’m pissed for the first time at LeFleur.
    Your O line can’t hold blocks, so you call passing plays the majority of the game and keep Rodgers in the pocket? Or since Adams came back, did they focus too many attempts at Adams and forget the winning formula they developed while he was out?
    From what i can tell, and Rodgers said it, Adams still isn’t 100%. So…..wtf were they trying to prove? Did Adams get into Rodgers ear and say feed me the ball? Did LeFleur pander to the same principle? But Rodgers, knowing how to handle a pass rush, didn’t step up and say….”hey, this shit isn’t working” and took over.
    ***
    Sometimes Rodgers scrambling out of the pocket isn’t a bad way to go in certain circumstances. His passer rating when doing so is in the stratosphere…in turn….not amazingly…opponents fear Rodgers when he scrambles, for good reason. The Panthers pretty much just rushed 4 and got home, and Rodgers didn’t leave the pocket much.
    ***
    There is a time to go by the “new” offensive philosophy. But you don’t neglect what Rodgers is very good at, and the opposing teams fear. So i’m kinda pissed at all 3 for that game. LeFleur for abandoning what has been working, Adams for being selfish, and Rodgers for not saying “enough of this bullshit” and were going to do it my way.
    ***
    I’m by no means giving the O line a pass, they got their asses beat across the board, and i don’t know if it’s going to get any easier against the Panthers, but we’ll see.
    ***
    On the other side, lets hope the defense can keep the first downs gained on them under 25 this time. Holy Shit.

    Reply
    1. PF4L November 9, 2019

      *The Chargers rushed 4

      Reply
  5. KILLER November 9, 2019

    Rob, your math was a little off. McCaffrey after 8 games is on pace to rush and receive for a combine yardage of 2,488, not 2,988. Somehow you added an extra 500 in there. 881 rushing + 363 receiving = 1244 x 2 = 2488. Still very impressive!

    Overall, the point that Aaron Jones is a very good running back and a great draft pick for a 5th rounder is accurate. That he is somehow equivalent to McCaffrey is not.

    Reply
    1. PF4L November 9, 2019

      Thanks for checking Rob’s math Lonely Boy. Since you have the time, could you please also spell and grammar check other post. Your good work doesn’t go unnoticed, keep being the best you, you can be.

      Reply
    2. Robster November 9, 2019

      You are correct, he’s on pace for 2,488 total yards, not 2,988 – I misread the digital calculator. Even at that, I believe it would establish an all-time NFL record for total yardage by a running back. Even Todd Gurley in 2017 only managed 2093 (1,305 + 788). In 8 games McCaffrey has only rushed under 16 times once, and he’s only been held to under 93 yards rushing twice. He averages being a passing target 5.2 times per game. Coach Rivera feeds him in a way that Green Bay coaches have yet to feed Aaron Jones.

      Reply
      1. Fred Bills November 9, 2019

        Chris Johnson has the single season record with 2509. 2006 and 503.

        Christian McCaffrey not very athletic is an absurd statement. The 3 cone drill is considered the most reliable metric for assessing one’s athleticism. McCaffrey’s time of 6.57 was the 2nd best by a RB since 2003 and a time of 6.9 is considered the athletic level needed for success by a running back in the NFL. When you use percentages to buttress your statement it’s important to remember that it’s relative to NFL running backs tested who are easily among the best athletes on the planet so when you list a 37.5 vertical and it’s standing among running backs it doesn’t undercut his athleticism but actually underscores it!! The average vertical jump in the NBA (some pretty good athletes in that league) is 28 inches. At the NBA combine from 2011-2015 a 37.5 would’ve been the best vertical in three times and only topped once by a 38 in 12 and 15. Lastly McCaffrey participated in the WR drills and Charlie Casserly along with other GMs and scouts present all agreed he would’ve been a first round pick as a RB. That pretty much screams ATHLETE!!

        You mention that he is undersized and deficient from a strength standpoint which again given his breakout success only speaks to his incredible athleticism. Also take a look at his body. He ain’t lacking strength anymore. He’s jacked. Troy Aikman spoke about how although he wasn’t tall for a RB he was very big. Troy has seen a few backs. I’d rely on his opinion.

        Reply
        1. Fred Bills November 9, 2019

          Two typos. An extra in inserted after vertical and before three times and it should’ve read he would’ve have been a first round pick as a WR. Apologies.

          Reply
      2. KILLER November 9, 2019

        Robster, thanks for the answer and the accountability. Those 9s and those 4s often look the same to me. More and more now that I need bifocal lenses and don’t get them.

        With Aaron Jones there are sort of two ways to look at his career. Sort of glass half full and glass half empty. The half empty is that he hasn’t gotten as many attempts as McCaffrey. The flip side to it is that he ended up in a backfield basically competing against a 4th rounder, that’s it. Had he been drafted by the majority of other teams he would not have nearly as many attempts as he currently has.

        He has has a lot more opportunity with a lot less competition than most 5th round running backs or nearly all of them.

        Aaron Jones ability to catch balls at WR depth is absolutely fantastic and he has a great attitude as well. He is one of the few Packers I’d welcome on the Vikings.

        Reply
        1. PF4L November 10, 2019

          Yes, thanks for being “accountable” Rob. It’s a trait that queen fans appreciate and demand.
          ***
          Would it be possible that maybe a few of us who can spare a few bucks would chip in for needed glasses for the Lonely Boy. His poor eyesight might explain why my cheese isn’t always melted and why the edges of my mcmuffin aren’t burnt like i like them.

          Reply
          1. Kato November 10, 2019

            It would also explain some of his “hot takes”

            Reply
          2. PF4L November 10, 2019

            Or game winner predictions based on…whose turn it is.
            The Lonely Boy is like the Special Olympics of posting comments.
            But entertaining nonetheless.

            Reply
  6. Howard November 9, 2019

    No question Jones can be dynamic. No question McCaffrey is dynamic. The one part of this equation left out is Williams.
    Who are The backups to McCaffrey? They don’t see the field or touch the ball much. When Williams has been on the field he has made plays. Williams may not be as fast or quick as Jones, but Williams has performed when on the field. In fact Williams has a slightly better average per carry than Jones. Williams also has the best catch% on the team. On 28 targets Williams has 25 catches. Jones is a TD machine with 11 TDs, but Williams has 6 TDs with 5 of those TDs on pass receptions. So how often do the Packers want to take the ball out of Williams hands?
    To me it is a good thing to have both Jones and Williams sharing the load. It is not like Williams has not produced when given the opportunities. I agree with Rob that Jones should receive the larger portion of that load, however Williams has earned his time on the field.
    It appears that McCaffery has gained 1,244 yards passing and receiving in 8 games, that is the same amount of yards that Jones and Williams combined have gained in 9 games. Jones and Williams have combined for 17 TDs while McCaffery has produced a very good 13 TDs.

    Reply
    1. PF4L November 9, 2019

      Not only will i agree, but i’ll also add that Williams catch rate is 89%. If you used 25 targets as a qualifier without doing the research, i would guess that might be leading the NFL. Not to mention 5 touchdowns and 11 chain moving 1st downs (it doesn’t get much better than that.) With that said, Williams doesn’t have any say in how many attempts he gets, but when he gets them, he delivers. In the Chargers game (with a struggling O line) Williams had zero pass targets, and only 2 rushing attempts for 10 yards, that was a sin unless he was hurt. That’s just one of the 10 glaring reasons why the Packers lost to the Chargers. As i stated above, it was a mistake, whoever’s fault it was. Lets hope they got their heads outa their ass this Sunday against the Panthers strong front when devising a game plan.
      ***
      Make no mistake….Williams is a valuable piece of this offense, when called on.

      Reply
      1. PF4L November 9, 2019

        Even Danny Vitale has proven to be a strong asset catching the ball on his rare appearance’s. 6 catches, 7 targets, 94 yards, 15.7 YPC, 3 first downs. Not too bad for a guy whose only gotten 8 touches….total.

        Reply
  7. Kato November 9, 2019

    Good article and discussion. I don’t think it is fair to put McCaffrey expectations on Aaron Jones. For one, like stated above, Jamaal Williams has been pretty productive in his snaps and deserves touches as well. Two, there is a reason why McCaffrey was selected in the top 10 as a running back, which is a rarity nowadays. Also, it is worth noting that Jones has an injury history in his short career, I think we should keep that in mind before saying we need to give him 25-30 touches a game. As PF4L said, Vitale has been a good receiver in his limited opportunities. It is becoming pretty apparent to me that the Packers need to run the offense via the running backs, as they are the best skill position players on the team right now. New England has run their offense through the running back position for years. Nothing is saying the Packers can’t lull the defense to sleep with a short passing game to their backs and then take shots down the field to receivers in one on one coverage once safeties start cheating up and linebackers aren’t getting depth on their drops.

    Reply
  8. MJ November 10, 2019

    Interestingly enough, Jamaal Williams seriously improved his game. He started off his career as a guy who could block reliably and as a hammering back. Hard to bring down, but unlikely to break off for long gains. While not a speedster, he now gains more yards before getting caught and wrestled to the ground. I thought of him of an effective defense punisher after the first half, when defenses inevitably start wearing down, so bringing down a big guy like Williams becomes increasingly harder, further weakening the defense. Now, on top of that, I see him as a complete back that can do everything just right.

    Reply

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