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Why Has Packers’ Ground Attack Been So Hit-&-Miss?

In the fourteen Packers games to date, Green Bay’s star running back Aaron Jones has rushed for 90 or more yards four times: Vikings (Week 2); Cowboys (Week 5); Panthers (Week 10); and Redskins (Week 14).

Jones has been held to under 40 rushing yards six times: Bears (Week 1); Broncos (Week 3); Eagles (Week 4); Chargers (Week 9); 49ers (Week 12); Giants (Week 13).

Jones is averaging 59.3 yards per game. We all know that number should be at least 80, which would project to a 1,280-yard regular season.

Let’s pause right here for a moment. The disparity in these numbers is disturbing. Assuming that Jones himself delivers a steady performance each week – and I think he does – he should not have such up-and-down results.

Take a look at Mr. Steady, the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey – who is similar to Jones in size and running style, but maybe a bit speedier. His games of under 40 rushing yards: two; His games of 90 or more rushing yards: 7. This is the consistency one would expect of a great running back and ground attack.

The stats might suggest that McCaffrey has been overused and is suffering fatigue, as he has failed to rush for more than 87 yards in each of his last five games; on the other hand, his receiving yardages during that stretch have been better than ever: 121, 69, 58, 82, and 88.

Christian projects to finish the season with 1,494 rushing yards. He has 265 carries on the year, fifth most in the league. Jones has 188 carries, tied for 15th.

Packers RB Aaron Jones runs against the Bears in Week 15

Dec 15, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) fends off Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson (39) to score a touchdown in the third quarter at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Jones’ Opponents

You’d probably assume that Aaron’s best games would come against teams who are weak against the run, and vice versa – but that picture is murky.

The current defensive ranking against the run of the teams that Jones did best against are: Vikings, 8th; Cowboys, 12th; Redskins, 28th; and Panthers, 30th. The teams he was least successful against were: Eagles, 3rd; Bears, 6th; Chargers, 17th; Broncos, 20th, 49ers, 21st; and Giants, 22nd. Though there’s not much of a pattern here, something definitely went very wrong against weak opponents such as Denver (19 yards in 10 carries), and the Giants (18 yards in 11 carries).

Aaron Jones Lambeau Leap

Sep 15, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Home Versus Away Games

Yes, teams and players play better at home. Of Jones’s four biggest rushing totals, all except the Cowboys game was played at Lambeau. Of Jones’s six poorest totals, only the Eagles and Broncos were home games.

No Consecutive Successes

Looking back at Jones’s four most productive rushing games – in Games 2, 5, 10, and 14 – you’ve got to wonder why they are so spaced out. It’s perplexing – how do you follow up a 116-yard game against a good Minnesota defense with a 19-yarder against the weak Broncos (both were home games)?

Is Jones Being Targeted?

I do recall hearing, around mid-season, and especially after the win over Kansas City – in which Jones had a good day running (13 for 67), but a spectacular day receiving (7 for 159), that Packers’ opponents were starting to game plan to stop Jones, and trusting that Rodgers and the passing game would not be enough for the Packers to prevail.

I’m sure that one or two opposing defenses were fully focused on stopping Aaron Jones, rather than Aaron Rodgers. It’s been a factor, but it’s not a sufficient explanation for Green Bay’s off-and-on run game.

Packers’ Run Game Vs. Vikings Defense

On the year, Minnesota has yielded an average of 99 yards per game on the ground, ranking 8th in the NFL. They rank tied for 20th, however, in passing yardage given up, at 239.9. Like the Packers, the Vikings are an opportunistic group – though they rank 14th in total yards surrendered per game, they are 6th lowest when it comes to points given up per game (Green Bay is ninth).

In Week 2 against the Vikings, Aaron Jones had a career-high 23 carries (his previous high was 19) for 116 yards and a touchdown – along with 4 catches for 34 yards and another touchdown. To Jones’s 150 yards of production, add in Jamaal Williams’ 28 rushing yards and 13 receiving yards, and the running tandem accounted for 191, or 57.7%, of Green Bay’s 335 total yards. The Green Bay pass attack was good for only 191 net yards back on September 15.

Heavy usage of Aaron Jones was the deciding factor in Green Bay’s narrow 21-16 victory. Will this again be true on Monday night? Put another way, has Matt LaFleur learned anything over the past three months?

Future Prognosis

It’s probably too late in the year for Coach LaFleur to initiate any major changes in the way he calls plays, or who he plays, and how much, on offense. But in a month or so he’ll have the next half year to contemplate how a team with a great running back just coming into his prime, a number two back who exceeded all expectations, a solid O-line, and a strong and heavily used group of blocking tight ends – and with everyone amazingly healthy – produced such uneven run game results. I hope he also thinks about how, in fourteen games, Jones caught one or zero passes in six of them.

The Packers should have produced a top-10, if not a top-5, rushing attack in 2019. Instead, they currently rank in the bottom half of the league, 17th, in yards gained on the ground.

Postscript

The official choices for the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl came out a few days ago. Pro Football Focus, which increasingly prides itself on grading many NFL players vastly different from most others, just released their would-have-been choices for the team.

Regarding the Packers and the National Football Conference team, PFF passed over Aaron Rodgers, and went with Drew Brees (NO), Russell Wilson (SEA), and Kirk Cousins (MIN). PFF also bypassed David Bakhtiari, and instead chose Lane Johnson (PHI), Ryan Ramczyk (NO), and La’el Collins (DAL).

Two Green Bay players who were not selected did make the PFF’s would-be team. On special teams, the choice for punter was the Packers’ J.K. Scott. As the three running backs, their choices were (in order of PFF’s ratings system): Christian McCaffrey (CAR), Aaron Jones (GB), and Dalvin Cook (MIN).

Finally, Aaron Jones gets some love!

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Rob Born

I’m with Matt: “You gotta make those chunk plays!”

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8 Comments

  1. Kato December 22, 2019

    Part of McCaffrey not being as successful running the ball recently is large-scale struggles of the passing game, and defenses are stacking 8 players in the box forcing Allen, or whoever is playing QB for the Panthers to beat them with his arm.
    *******
    As far as the Packers go, I think there are a few things in play here. First year in new offense is one of them, and the offensive line is still gelling. One play that stuck out at me from last week was Mack going unblocked in pass protection, in which there was a slide called, but failed to account for Mack. Also, I just don’t think Aaron Jones is THAT good, and why I think it would not be a good idea to give him big money. Part of being a great player in this league is consistency and he is anything but. Also, I have noticed a few times this year the playcalling has veered from the run. Also, teams have seen Aaron Rodgers and the passing games struggles and are keying on stopping Jones first and making Rodgers beat them.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Kennett December 22, 2019

      Remember when… “Need the QB trubeesky to beat us playing QB”… sounds familiar…

      Reply
  2. PF4L December 22, 2019

    What did i say……
    *
    PF4L December 19, 2019
    Calvin Cook is no Aaron Jones.

    Reply
  3. Bruce Kennett December 22, 2019

    “In the fourteen Packers games to date, Green Bay’s star running back Aaron Rodgers has rushed for 90 or more yards four times: Vikings (Week 2); Cowboys (Week 5); Panthers (Week 10); and Redskins (Week 14).” Something kinda wrong in the opening statement?!?

    Reply
    1. PF4L December 23, 2019

      C’MON MAN!, We love Rob. The man is 104 years old, will he make mistakes, of course. Mistakes will be made, we all know this. But sometimes you just let it be because you know what he meant and you show respect.

      Reply
      1. Jason Parker December 23, 2019

        Blame the editor. Fucking stoner he is.

        Reply
    2. Robster December 23, 2019

      I place the blame squarely on. . .Brian Gutekunst. What’s he doing, signing all these guys with similar or strange names: Aaron and Aaron, Williams (Dexter, Jamaal, and Tramon), Tyler (Lancaster and Ervin), Jake/Jace (Kumerow and Sternberger). How am I supposed to keep Kenny Clark, Kevin King, and Kingsley Keke apart? What’s with the apostrophes, hyphens and double capital letters: Valdes-Scantling, Za’Darius, Ka’dar, What about periods – why is it JK Scott, but B.J. Goodson? I spent over 65 years withoiut ever running into an Elgton, an Equanimeous, an Ibraheim, a Jaire, a Kingsley or Keke (whichever his first name is), a Marquez, a Montravious, a Marcedes, a Rashan, a Yosh, or for god sake, a Geronimo. Thank heaven we got rid of Josh Jones, or was it Josh Jackson? With my memory, I have to either look these names up every time, or take my best shot. And no, my generation can’t figure out how to load these strange names into the computer so it will spell-check them for me. Thank you for your understanding.

      Reply
      1. Kato December 23, 2019

        Lol we love ya Rob. It happens, I am pretty sure most of us here forgive you as long as you keep publishing content. Merry Christmas to you

        Reply

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