One of the strengths of the Packers offensively is, in theory, the fact that they’ve got an excellent 1-2 punch at running back, led by Aaron Jones, with A.J. Dillon just behind him. But while they’ve gotten what they wanted from the 1 part of that combo, the 2-punch has been lacking.
Through two games, the numbers on Dillon have not been encouraging. After gaining just 19 yards in the season opener, Dillon got the start in place of Aaron Jones in Week 2, and had 55 yards on 15 carries against Atlanta. That ran his season total to 74 yards on 28 carries, and average of just 2.6 yards per rush.
Dillon, according to Matt Schneidman of The Athletic, lamented the fact that he was hesitant against Atlanta.
“I think looking back on it, watching it on film today, it was one of those things where I was a little too hesitant trying to read out where the hole was going to be,” Dillon said on Monday. “And then when I saw where the hole was going to be, I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to have to lower my shoulder here and run through this guy.’ And while I’m putting my pads forward, I went too far over my toes, so now my weight is too much forward.”
Dillon Struggled in 2022
His early struggles have come after an offseason vow from Dillon to improve on his middling performance in 2022, when he totaled 770 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per attempt. It’s not all on Dillon, of course. When he started in Week 2, he was running behind a makeshift offensive line that had no David Bakhtiari at left tackle and that lost left guard Elgton Jenkins to an injury during the game.
Dillon is never going to be as explosive as Jones, but the expectation is that Dillon can use his powerful lower body to provide punishing inside rushes. But that’s not happening enough. Dillon did say he liked his improvement form Week 1 to Week 2, though.
“I’m really happy with my pad level, my mentality, a lot of those runs finishing off going forward,” Dillon said Monday. “That’s something we’ve been working on, something that’s been a big thing. And that’s actually going from Game 1 to Game 2. That was my emphasis for the week. I was like, ‘All right, let’s go back to the mentality of making it hard for people to tackle me, drag the pile with me and get those YAC (yards-after-contact) yards.’ So I feel good with that.”
Saints Defense Will ‘Challenge’ Packers
Dillon and the Packers will be going up against a Saints defense in Week 3 that has been among the best in the league so far. New Orleans has given up only 524 combined yards in two weeks, fifth in the NFL. They’ve graded out as the No. 5 defense in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, although they’re clearly much tougher on the pass than in rush defense, where they rank 16th (65.8).
“Fast. Physical. Aggressive,” said Matt LaFleur about the Saints defense on Wednesday. “Very sound and want to challenge you on all three levels. Demario Davis is a game-wrecker. Cam Jordan. They got guys at every level. They’ve got complimentary pieces around them. … They challenge you.”
It’s a challenge for the Packers, who will need to establish a run game. With Jones likely still out because of his hamstring injury, that leaves a lot on Dillon’s shoulders.