Aaron Jones has not only established himself as the Green Bay Packers’ top running back, but also the centerpiece on offense moving forward.
Adjusting to life without Aaron Rodgers might take longer than the upcoming bye week, but Jones can help accelerate the process.
The fifth-round pick has added his name to a long list of rookie running back sensations across the NFL. Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook can already be considered among the league’s best at the position. If Jones continues at this pace, he’ll soon join them in the top tier.
To leapfrog Ty Montgomery as the leader of the backfield, it was going to take something special. Jones has been exactly that, rushing for 346 yards and three touchdowns in four games. At this pace he’ll finish the year with 1,211 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Now more than ever, the Packers need a running back they can lean on.
Despite the fact Jones appears to be the lead back, head coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday he must improve on third down.
“Aaron [Jones] has done some really good things. Aaron needs to be better on third down, frankly. He did a great job on first and second down.”
It might have helped if McCarthy had trusted his young running back more often on third-and-short.
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Take the Packers’ second series of the game as an example. Jones had already rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on the team’s opening possession. To kick-off the next drive, he carried twice for nine yards. The Packers were third-and-1 and the Saints seemingly had no answer.
Instead of handing the ball to Jones again, the Packers called a pass. Hundley fired towards Davante Adams. Incomplete. Packers punt.
Jones finished the day with 17 carries for 131 yards and a score, averaging an incredible 7.7 yards per attempt. Every time he touched the ball it looked like he could break out a big run. As long as Jones is producing like this, McCarthy needs to lean on his talented young runner.
Hundley is going to take some time to get in a rhythm. He did showcase his own rushing ability in Sunday’s loss, keeping the ball on a 22-yard touchdown run.
What the Packers showed on Sunday is that they can run the ball efficiently even without Aaron Rodgers on the field. Eddie Lacy was critical to the team’s success without Rodgers in 2013, and Jones can be equally as important now.
McCarthy did stress Monday that Montgomery will continue to factor into his plans.
“Ty Montgomery is an outstanding football player,” McCarthy said. “This has never been a one-man deal at running back. I look for Ty to just keep going.
“Ty Montgomery is still a big part of our offense.”
Montgomery will continue to play an important role both as a runner and a receiver, but it’s clear it’s Jones’ backfield now.
Until Hundley can start to win games with his arm, the Packers need to continue feeding their young running backs to give the offense a chance.