The window is still open for the Green Bay Packers to have their star running back available for Thursday Night Football.
The Packers have officially ruled Aaron Jones questionable to play against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 9 with head coach Matt LaFleur telling reporters this week that Jones would be a game-time decision with his ongoing calf strain.
Jones has rushed 75 times for 389 yards and caught 18 passes for another 161 yards this season, combining for a total of seven touchdowns through five games, but he hasn’t played since getting added to the injury report ahead of Week 7’s game in Houston. Jones did, however, make his return to practice this week in a limited capacity.
While the Packers have done well enough with their Nos. 2 and 3 running backs — Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon — in Jones’ absence, both were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week and will be out of the picture on Sunday against the Niners. If Jones is also unable to play, they would be down to Tyler Ervin and practice-squad rusher Dexter Williams as their main options out of the backfield.
Adding to the difficulty for the #Packers: There is pessimism that RB Aaron Jones (calf) will be back for Thursday, I’m told. GB is cautious. The current plan seems to be going with Tyler Ervin and Dexter Williams vs the #49ers. Ervin has 10 career carries and Williams has 5.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 3, 2020
“That’s what we have to work with, and those guys work hard and have been a part of our system now for over a year and know what the expectations and the standards are,” LaFleur said Tuesday. “We’ll see come game time if Aaron Jones can go or not.”
The Packers also named six other players in Wednesday’s final injury report, designating left tackle David Bakhtiari (chest), safety Raven Greene (oblique) and tackle Rick Wagner (knee) as questionable and ruling out cornerback Kevin King (quadricep) along with safeties Will Redmond (shoulder) and Vernon Scott (shoulder).
COVID-19 Moves May Influence Approach With Jones
The Packers have shown an abundance of caution with their injured stars this season, so it is quite possible they would have already ruled Jones out for Week 9 had they not been forced to make their three COVID-19-related roster moves. If caution is the only thing keeping Jones from playing at this point, though, might they be tempted to just let him play in Week 9 due to their new circumstances?
Much of that could rest on how the staff feels about Dexter Williams, a 2019 sixth-round pick who has played primarily in blowout situations and was initially cut at this year’s roster cutdown deadline; though, he was re-signed shortly after to the practice squad. He may not have much on the resume (five career careers), but he did get some votes of confidence from LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers this week.
“I love Dex,” Rodgers told reporters Tuesday. “Dex has a really good attitude. He’s done a nice job of just kind of growing up in the offense and feeling more comfortable with checks and his responsibilities in pass blocking and route running. I’m not sure if it’s because of a recent addition to his family, but it seems like he’s a little more settled this year and feeling more confident. And I’m excited about him getting opportunities. He’s a really good kid, he cares about it a lot and he’s going to be asked to do some things Thursday.”
The Packers may be inclined to use Thursday’s game against a depleted Niners roster as a testing environment for Williams and his viability for the future. A strong performance would buy him some goodwill coming into an offseason where the Packers have some major contract decisions to make with their backfield, especially given that Williams still has two years on his rookie contract.
Being able to trust Rodgers’ arm with a majority of the workload on offense also gives the Packers another incentive to continue playing it safe with Jones. The 36-year-old veteran has attempted no fewer than 30 passes in each of his seven performances this year and currently leads the league with 1,948 passing yards. He has also thrown at least three touchdown passes in five of those games.