For some, it might have taken no time at all to buy into Aaron Jones’ breakout season for the Green Bay Packers, but what few nonbelievers were left seemed to find their faith after he scored four touchdowns and amassed 182 all-purpose yards in a huge road win over the Dallas Cowboys.
There is no denying Jones has been impressive in his third NFL season as he sits among a group of just 13 players in the league with more than 1,200 all-purpose yards and ranks tied for second in scoring with 15 touchdowns with only three games left to play. Even with the Packers (10-3) effectively splitting his rushing reps with Jamaal Williams, Jones has maintained an average of 4.5 yards per carry with a team-high 42 first downs.
He also has been noticeably good at shagging tackles in the backfield and fighting for yards after contact, something Packers head coach Matt LaFleur earlier this week called an “elite skill.”
“There’s nothing better as a play-caller when you’re sitting there and you’re thinking in your mind, ‘I’ve got to get ready for 2nd-and-13,’ and it’s 2nd-and-5 (now),” LaFleur told reporters Thursday afternoon. “It keeps you on track and gives you confidence that even if it’s not the perfect look or it’s not blocked up perfectly you can get positive yards, and that helps ensure getting more runs called.”
If that’s true, though, then why has Jones so often disappeared within the Packers offense at such crucial times after big performances this season?
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Following the Numbers on Aaron Jones
Not once this year has Jones followed up one strong performance with another this season, which doesn’t bode well after he rushed for 192 scrimmage yards last week against the Washington Redskins.
After his massive game in Dallas, Jones was contained to just 47 yards on 11 carries in the Packers’ Week 6 win over the Detroit Lions. A similar thing happened after he caught seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 67 yards in a prime-time win over the Kansas City Chiefs, falling silent the next week for just 29 all-purpose yards in a rough loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Now, play-calling has been a huge factor in this trend. Jones took a season-low eight carries against the Chargers as Aaron Rodgers chucked 35 passes on an ineffective afternoon for the Packers offense. That game also marked the first of three consecutive games in which Jones received three or fewer targets in the passing game, including a single look across games against the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers.
“I think there’s still a lot more out there in terms of consistency with the run game, but no, we’re fortunate,” LaFleur said Friday. “I know everybody talks about Aaron, but I can’t emphasize enough how important Jamaal is to us as well. Both of those guys run hard, they make people miss. I feel like they’re always falling forward.”
The Packers must actively seek to get both of their rushers — but especially Jones — involved early in Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bears (7-6) to gain a proper edge and avoid becoming too one dimensional against one the league’s top defenses. Chicago might have held Jones to just 39 yards on 13 carries in the season opener, but they will be playing with two key linebackers, Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith, when they visit this week.
“I still consider them one of the best defenses in the league,” Jones said Thursday.