Over a period of 10 weeks, Aaron Jones’ presence on the football field has managed to present him with recognition as one of the NFL’s top running backs, forced people to question the head coach’s decision making, grabbed national attention , and angered Green Bay Packers fans.
That’s not four things that you would usually see come together.
To clarify, Aaron Jones‘s play has been outstanding this season. That’s something that proves the outpouring support and the national media attention he has received.
However, the modest amount of snaps and playing time that he gets has caused Green Bay fans to erupt in anger. Displays of brilliance week in and week out by the running back have all Packers fans asking one question: Why won’t Mike McCarthy use Aaron Jones more?
Well, the answer might not just be as simple as “McCarthy can’t coach”. The solution could instead be that the head coach might believes in another running back more than Jones. That running back’s name is Jamaal Williams.
“He’s really poised to have a big year,” McCarthy said in a press conference during the preseason, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN. “Clearly without playing a game yet, I think we’ll be talking about him at the end of the season as a second-year player that’s made the jump.”
His praise translates to an enormous amount of faith in Williams. It’s possible that he wants him to be in the spotlight instead of Jones, and that’s why he’s still trying to fit him into plays whenever he can.
After all, the “leader of that rookie class”, as McCarthy put it, sounds better when the leader is also the best player on the field. This hypothesis could explain why he continues to give Williams the ball in crucial situations.
The situation becomes more clear when you compare the Packers‘ strategy in the running game to that of a more successful team.
According to Pro Football Reference, running back Todd Gurley of the Rams is on the field for 84.5 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Backup Malcolm Brown is on the field just 16 percent of the time.
It’s exactly what you would expect. The best running back on the team will have the ball in his hands majority of the time.
That’s not what’s going on in Green Bay. Aaron Jones has had the ball in his hands on approximately 49 percent of all rushing attempts, while Jamaal Williams runs it close to 37 percent of the time.
The scene becomes worse when you compare the stats between the running backs of each team. Todd Gurley, who averages such a high number rushing attempts per game should show much more promise than Malcolm Brown, right? Wrong.
Both Gurley and Brown both average five yards per rushing attempt. On the other hand, Jones averages 6.0 yards, while Williams averages just 3.7.
Additionally, Gurley’s longest rushing attempt is 29 yards, 10 more than Brown’s longest run of 19 yards. Whereas Jones’ longest rushing attempt is 67 yards, Williams’ longest is 11.
Why are the Packers trying to find time for Jamaal Williams if Aaron Jones has consistently performed so much better than him?
It is potentially more frustrating to fans when you compare Jones’ stats to Gurley’s.
Green Bay’s running back has 11.2 rushing attempts per game, while the Rams running back has almost double that, sitting at 19.1 attempts per game. Even with only half of Gurley’s attempts, Jones has averaged more than two thirds of Gurley’s average rushing yards per game (Jones has 66.8 yards, and Gurley has 94.8).
It’s important to keep in mind that Gurley is recognized as an important piece in a team that is in contention for the Super Bowl and a strong MVP candidate for the 2018 season.
Even amidst criticism, credit should be given when it is deserved. McCarthy started playing Jones more often in recent weeks, and the use of the run game against teams like Miami is a testament to that.
Jones received 15 carries in the game against the Dolphins (the second highest number he’s received all season), and this approach immediately translated to success for Green Bay.
Throughout the game, we saw Jones tear apart the Miami defense, running for a total of 145 yards and two touchdowns, with 9.7 average yards per carry. The game ended in a convincing 31-12 victory in favor for the Packers.
However, when we look at games when Jones didn’t get as many touches, the difference is immense. After a tough loss in Minnesota Sunday night, the Packers seem to be out of the playoffs with a record of 4-6-1.
We blame this as a loss that ended their season, but the reality is if the Packers won the games they were favorites for, this loss would never have been an issue. In games against Washington and Detroit, the Packers can attribute a large part of their loss to their approach to the running game.
Jones only touched the ball seven times in the game against Detroit, and only ran the ball a minuscule six times against Washington. Results like these go to show that the impact the Jones has on this offense is massive, and his production greatly succeeds Williams’.
McCarthy, I believe, has only now started to recognize this, especially with the increased number of carries Jones has begun to receive in these recent games. Unfortunately, if this is true, then it is obvious that such a revelation has come too late into the season, and Green Bay has paid dearly for it.
Before we draw any conclusions, it must be recognized that Mike McCarthy and the rest of the coaching staff have not hesitated to praise Aaron Jones’s performance. They have consistently shown support for him during interviews, press conferences, and even in the locker room.
However, in our quest for answers, phrases such as “leader of that rookie class” and the even use of Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones must point to something. It will be interesting to see how the team approaches the situation heading into the last games of the season.