Those of you who weren’t satisfied with the Pack’s 18-point win over the Giants must really be in a funk after the Redskins win.
This home game featured two teams with very different talent levels. The Packers prevailed, but altogether too narrowly. It wasn’t play-caller LaFleur’s fault – he had several fine big play calls, which went unrewarded due solely to poor execution.
What didn’t go unrewarded was the typical effort that Aaron Jones put forth – both on his 16 running plays and his six receptions. His total offensive production (134 rushing and 58 receiving) of 192 yards comprised 56% of his team’s total yardage. Who knows how much he would have totaled had he gotten the number of carries he deserves.
And it could have been 66 yards more. Early in the fourth quarter, with the game still close and the Packers facing a third and nine from their own 34-yard line , the Packers dialed up a dandy – yes, LaFleur finally resorted to the unexpected. Jones, situated as a wideout on the left side, drew 245-pound linebacker Jon Bostic in coverage. Jones made a sharp cut toward midfield but quickly reversed himself and went wide and deep.
It was a stutter-step worthy of Davante Adams, causing the defender to stumble, and allowing Aaron to be two full strides beyond Bostic. Though it wasn’t a particularly long throw, and though Rodgers had fine pass protection, his pass sailed way beyond the target – an opportunity squandered.
I think it’s typical of NFL teams to game plan for maybe two to four special plays against each opponent. These are big-play opportunities, which usually involve getting a fast receiver in a favorable matchup against a slower defender. Play callers wait for both the right matchup and the right moment to call such plays. Opportunistic teams rely upon one or two of these plays getting called every game. Successful practitioners of the art included coach Belichick and Tome Brady, Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson, and Andy Reed and Patrick Mahomes
Worse yet, Rodgers squandered a second such opportunity against the Redskins. With 10:34 left in the second quarter, LaFleur again picked an unexpected moment, and an unexpected receiver, in hopes of a big play. It was first and ten at Washington’s 46-yard line, and tight end Jimmy Graham was sent streaking across the field from right to left. Rodgers faded back fifteen yards to allow time for the play to develop – but then greatly overthrew his massive receiver, though Jimmy had a step and a half on his defender.
Had either of these special plays been executed properly, this game wouldn’t have been the nail-biter Packers fans have become accustomed to.
Another Jones Masterpiece
Among Jones’s highlights on Sunday was the following gem. Nursing a 17-9 lead in the middle of the fourth quarter, LaFleur found himself with a third down and 14 to go. Under Mike McCarthy, the Packers don’t even try to convert in such a situation – and certainly not with the ball on the Packers’ 7-yard line.
With an empty backfield, Jones lined up short right. This time Rodgers doesn’t hesitate – he sends a laser twenty yards downfield, and just over the double coverage. Jones makes a nice leaping catch. For a moment, it seemed Jones had himself a 93-yard touchdown. The refs ruled that Jones was down by contact, though he was on his feet the only time a defender reached out and touched him, and the touch did not assist in Jones initially going to the ground. Bad call? (Non-reviewable?) Best and most aggressive throw of the year for Aaron?
Jones’s fine game was hardly unexpected. Though his 134 rushing yards was a season high, his 192 total yards trails his 226 total yards against Kansas City. He also registered 182 total yards against Dallas.
Do you see a pattern? Jones is at his best in big games.
LaFleur’s Platooning Scheme
I’ve disparaged the head coach’s platooning of his two talented running backs a bunch, but apparently not enough. I’m being repetitive, but then again the evidence just keeps piling up.
Great rushers almost invariably thrive on heavy use. Very often you’ll see a defense keying on, and holding down, a premier running back for a quarter or maybe the entire first half. But great backs tend to do their best work as games go on and defenses wear down.
Almost whenever his keepers decide to give him some leash, Jones responds well. Aaron averaged 8.38 yards per carry on Sunday. When he got 19 carries against Dallas, he averaged 6.63 ypc. His highest number of carries on the year was 23, against the Vikings, and he again averaged over five yards per carry.
When is Aaron not so productive? When he gets few carries. His lowest number of carries on the year was against the Chargers, where he was held to 3.75 ypc on eight tries; on 10 carries against Denver, he recorded 1.90 ypc; on 11 carries against the Giants, he was at 1.64 ypc; in 13 carries in the loss to the Eagles, he was at 1.62; in 13 carries against Chicago, he was at 3.00 ypc.
It’s hard not to spot the trends. Aaron Jones thrives on heavy usage – as he did throughout his four years at UTEP. And the Packers tend to win when he is heavily used, and to lose when he isn’t. Also, this team tends to abandon the run too early when it’s not working well.
I strongly believe that LaFleur, and more so Big Mike before him, have hindered a great player from achieving anywhere near his potential. Jones currently ranks fourteenth in rushing yardage among NFL running backs. His 779 yards is over 500 yards behind Nick Chubb (CLE). Nick Chubb – who has 78 more carries than Aaron! He’s hundreds of yards behind Josh Jacobs (OAK), and he’s even behind guys like Carlos Hyde (HOU), Marlon Mack (IND), Mark Ingram (BAL), and Joe Mixon (CIN). Marlon Mack – are you kidding me?
Those 16 carries on Sunday allowed Jones to climb up all the way to 18th in carries among the league’s running backs.
A Transcendent Personality
I can’t think of another football player who has Aaron’s love for the game. In the most intense moments, Aaron is out there grinning, joking, and having fun. He’s loose and calm. Paul Neumann once played Cool Hand Luke – Packers fans have the pleasure of watching Cool Hand Aaron. His personality draws you in like a magnet.
He doesn’t gripe or complain. He’s a team guy, not someone who goes to the media and demands more playing time. He’s Green Bay’s most popular player, and their best player. How far this team goes utterly depends on how much greatness they can get out of him.
Back on October 31, I did a post saluting Aaron (here) – worth a re-read. At that time I pointed out:
“Packer fans are eager for even more highlight films of Jones as the year progresses. Though he’s already twice been named NFC Offensive Player of the Week this season, I won’t be surprised if he picks up one or two more of these awards by season’s end.”
What about it, NFL? Is it time for Aaron to be named the league’s OPW for a third time?
“What we have here is a failure to communicate”
Aaron missing throws? No way! Youd think throwing with 3.5seconds average per snap he could line em up and make good throws…..
Exactly. Rodgers could barely run a NFL scout team. Can we finally move on…please
Looks like cause and effect are swapped. “See? When he had 3 runs he only averaged 1.9 ypc, and when he had 38 touches he averaged 6ypc, we should hand it off to him more often!”.
If most of your runs are stuffed at the line, you don’t convert 1st downs. And guess what… every offensive player stops getting snaps until you get the ball back. If the running game is getting stonewalled and we insist, we punt more, it’s that simple.
I agree, though, that in the second half, mid third quarter and on, you can attempt to establish the run against a worn out defense.
Quite obvious you are campaigning on getting the front office to get rid of Rodgers sooner…than later. Every article you write comes back to Rodgers.
Why not get rid of him? The guy can barely keep a 100 rating, he’s obviously shit. Yes, every article, almost every post. and it still isn’t enough!! Lets just call him Jesus, and nail this loser to a cross. it can’t happen soon enough for me. Maybe a new site….
totalrodgers.com?…I like it, but i just wish i didn’t have to do all the thinking, all the time around here.
I don’t see Rob’s articles that way at all. I feel he is rightfully bringing this sensitive matter to the forefront regarding Rodgers slow decline into becoming an average QB1. Obviously, Rodgers is quite a ways from that, however, it is quite obvious that he is not doing as well as he used to in quite a few ways. I think that Rob is advocating more for the Packer brain trust to find Rodgers replacement sooner than later, so that the Packers can have a smooth transition when it is needed rather than have Rodgers eventual successor enter into a trial by fire environment. Which is usually the case for many of the bottom rung teams throughout the history of the NFL. As we all know, that usually does not work out too well for the team, the QB, and the fans of that team . . .
Again, let me reiterate. Rodgers does not have the personnel with the requisite talent that he has had in the past. This goes a long ways into helping Rodgers look a little poorer in his games’ as well. However, I do not believe it to be the main factor in his slow decent from QB God to normal NFL QB. We certainly have a new system to consider as well. This, most assuredly has put some strain on his stats, movements on the field, and state of mind. But a few factors against him stick out undeniably. Age, injuries, fear of more injuries, and (speculative of course) maintaining his statistical legacy. At 36 years of age, and with a few reasonably BAD injuries incurred, this is becoming more of an absolute vs just conjecture. The Packers must start looking for his replacement so that they have time to groom him. ALL while Rodgers still has his elite ability! Win-win situation.
In a way, i almost can’t wait to gaze upon what is to be franchise QB #3. If successful, we could have a franchise QB for over 40 years straight. With that said, 3 franchise QB’s in a row has never been done. Two in a row is rare enough. Two with Favre and Rodgers for almost 3 decades is unheard of by itself. So, if history tells us anything, you might have a better chance at winning the lottery, than finding your 3rd straight true franchise QB.
But at the same time, it doesn’t seem absurd considering you just need one more and who says they can’t stumble onto one. If they do, i hope they can give him a better receiving core than they trot out there today.
A couple of clarifications on the deep left throw to Jones. I believe LaFleur already said Jones was to stay to the outside, not go toward the middle of the field. Aaron Jones bent to the middle a little to far (because Collins fell) and QB#1 could have hesitated slightly and maybe threw a little bit more away from the sideline. The little details between a successful play and a missed opportunity.
Second the player Jones beat badly on that play was Landon Collins not Bostic. It is even more impressive that Jones beat Collins a safety, than Bostic a linebacker.
LaFleur has put Williams and Jones on the field at the same time a handful of times. I think LaFleur will at some point put both on the field at a higher %. Jones has proven he is a good pass catcher. The Packers do not have a shifty slot receiver, and I think that is part of the problem with some of the conversion problems on 3rd down. On some of the 3rd and 7+or- why not shift Jones out to the slot and put Jones in space on a slot corner, safety, or linebacker. You still have Williams to pick up a blitz, run the ball, or flare out for a pass. Rob probably knows that except for straight line speed Jones had better agility (change of direction) numbers than Randall Cobb and some other slot receivers in the NFL.
I’m not saying convert Jones to a receiver. You may only do this for 4 or 5 plays a game, unless it works well. At least you make the defense show how they are going to defense Jones and Williams. The grouping of Jones and Williams keeps Jones on the field with a potential for more touches, and also provides Williams the snaps and potential touches he deserves.
How do I mistake Bostic for Landon Collins? ESPN’s play-by-play account listed Bostic as the defender on that play, though he was actually the tackler on the previous play. As you noted, that makes Jones’s moves even more impressive, for Collins has been a Pro Bowler from 2016 through 2018. If LaFleur insists on sharing ball-carrying chores, I agree completely he could at times send in Jaamal as a running back and leave Jones in as a receiver. LaFleur loves to have options like this available. I was also going to remark that Jones has the second best receiver moves on the team, though Lazard might take issue with that.