The Green Bay Packers are an offense that is very much predicated on building things off of the run game. Under Coach LaFleur there has been a change in core philosophy, geared far more heavily towards controlling the time of possession and taking care of the football. This obviously puts a premium on success in the run game.
In 2020 the Packers had the eighth most rushing yards in the NFL (2,118) on an impressive 4.8 yards per carry. This season the Packers are just 24th in the NFL in total rushing yards on a mere 3.6 yards per carry.
There are several things you could point to as reasons why they haven’t run the ball as effectively. The injuries on the offensive line have caused the Packers to re-shuffle up front and haven’t had great success as run blockers – at least not like last season. Because of these absences the Packers have been looking for a consistent rhythm on the ground.
Coach LaFleur may have found the answer last Sunday when he found a way to get AJ Dillon involved in the offense. Dillon would play a season high 40% of snaps and had an impressive showing with 15 carries for 81 yards.
The Boston College product is less reliant on run blocking up front (although it helps), because his sheer strength and tough running style can generate positive yardage even if the linemen fail to get to the second level.
The tandem of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for 196 total yards of offense on Sunday (129 rushing, 67 receiving). It was also encouraging to see them on the field at the same time, creating mismatches for the opposing defense. This dual usage is something I’d like to see more of in the future.
For the Packers rushing attack to reach its full potential the Packers are going to need to deploy AJ Dillon more often, because he’s the perfect complementary back to Aaron Jones. Both backs are strong relentless runners, and they can also catch passes out of the backfield to turn up field for positive yardage. This versatility cannot be understated, and is something we can expect to see more of moving forward.
The Packers essentially have two running backs capable of garnering a starting workload, which is a terrific problem to have, and one they’ll have to work to figure out how to accommodate.
Aaron Jones is an electric runner who is evasive and makes people miss often. When he doesn’t have the running lanes or second-level blocking he can still make a significant impact as a pass-catcher. He’s the clear 1A in this backfield and is a focal point of this offense.
The utilization of AJ Dillon will become even more vital as the season progresses. His smash mouth running style can wear down defenses and open up the possibility of a home run from Aaron Jones as the game wears on. He’s the perfect cold weather Wisconsin running back that brings his own unique skill-set to the table. He’s the perfect 1B option out of the backfield and should only see his role grow after an impressive performance.
As the offensive line gets healthy this run game will take off. A healthy dose of the Packers’ smash-and-dash running attack will help form the identity of this offense. The best is yet to come for this tandem, and Packers fans should be excited about this pairing for years to come.