How the Packers Running Game Has Been Effective Without Aaron Jones

The Green Bay Packers running game struggled early in the 2023 season. Aaron Jones suffered a hamstring injury in the season opener which set the ground game back. A.J. Dillon was struggling to run with authority, the offensive line had trouble blocking for the run and the team committed too many penalties that often put the offense in second or third and long situations.

Jones suffered another injury in the Packers win over the Los Angeles Chargers, but the Packers have managed to keep on winning without their starting running back. Furthermore, the running game has managed to be effective despite the absence of Jones, where earlier in the season it was not.

The Packers have rushed for more than 100 yards as a team in each of the last five games. In the first seven games of the season, they only topped 100 yards twice.

Part of this is due to better play by the offensive line. Sean Rhyan has been rotated in at right guard at times and he is a better run blocker than Jon Runyan, Jr. The offense is also committing fewer penalties and is scoring more in the first half which means the Packers aren’t playing from behind as much as they were earlier in the season.

But there are other reasons for the better run offense and much of that is due to coaching and the performance of various players.

Let’s start with A.J. Dillon who took over as the primary back in Jones’ absence. Dillon has run harder and with more purpose in recent weeks. He hasn’t gone down on first contact as often and is now picking up those tough, between-the-tackles yards that he is known for.

But head coach Matt LaFleur has done a very good job of allowing the Packers to still have an outside running game which they struggled to do earlier in the season when Jones was unavailable.

First, he has occasionally run Dillon to the outside. While this is not the stronger part of his game, it definitely keeps defenses honest knowing Dillon could go in that direction.

As always, LaFleur has also run different plays out of similar formations which helps keep defenses guessing and off-balance.

But rather than relying on Dillon to run outside too often, LaFleur has gone to alternatives. Against Detroit on Thanksgiving, for he faked an inside handoff and allowed Jordan Love to run a bootleg on a fourth-and-short play. Not only did Love pick up the first down, but he also gained 37 yards and that helped seal the upset win over the Lions.

The play was effective in more ways than one. Not only did it gain a crucial first down, but it set up more plays against the Chiefs the following week. Kansas City’s linebackers watched that play on film and knew Love could run out of that formation. That prevented them from keying on the inside run and gave Dillon an extra half second to hit a hole that was a little larger because of that brief hesitation.

The Packers also have run outside using other methods. Jet sweeps and end arounds have been called with Jayden Reed running twice for 16 yards against Detroit and Christian Watson gaining 15 yards on two carries against Kansas City.

Then, the Packers used toss passes instead of runs that got the ball to their receivers with very little risk. These plays are designed to keep the defense guessing and although they are officially passes, they function as runs for the purpose of creating doubt in the minds of defensive players. If the opposition knows a jet sweep or a toss pass could be run from the same formation they often use to run inside, they will not be able to key on any one aspect of the Packers offense.

All of these plays allow the offense to have an element of surprise and one play helps set up the success of a subsequent play. With many of the young offensive players catching on the offense, LaFleur has been able to run his complete offense and keep the running game moving without his best running back.

This success is a tribute to LaFleur, his coaching staff and the ability of the players to learn the offense. It’s also helped the Pack win four of their last five games and get back in the playoff hunt.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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10 points
 

Comments (40)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Houndog's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:05 am

Does anyone know, or has anyone heard anything in regards to Christian Watson's hamstring injury? I can't find a word about him. What's the scoop?

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pantz_bURp's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:12 am

I heard he is on his last leg.... 🙃

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Bitternotsour's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:38 am

kaboom!

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Houndog's picture

December 07, 2023 at 12:32 pm

pantz_bURp,
That'd be hilarious, if I was 5 years old.

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pantz_bURp's picture

December 07, 2023 at 04:00 pm

Whatz that in dog years?

https://packerswire.usatoday.com/2023/12/07/packers-wr-christian-watson-...

Check this update out Hound.

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Fubared's picture

December 08, 2023 at 12:11 pm

Now that ther is puny and we all have something to laugh about for a change

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10ve 💚's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:32 am

First injury report of the week is supposed to come out today. Because Packers play next Monday, they get an extra day before they have to release the injury report.

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Houndog's picture

December 07, 2023 at 12:36 pm

Thanks PewAuKee and Coldworld.
The way he's been playing It would be great to have him back.

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Coldworld's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:45 am

Waiting for injury update this afternoon is probably the first we will hear.

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LambeauPlain's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:51 am

Reporting has ranged between he is out for several games, maybe the season...to he dodged a bullet and might even be available Monday.

I hope he just tweaked it bit...often the hangover of serious hammy pulls.

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Houndog's picture

December 07, 2023 at 12:38 pm

Yeah, same here, I was hoping that maybe with the colder evening it might have been just a cramp. He sure looked upbeat on the sidelines and after the game.
Got my fingers crossed!

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Packers0808's picture

December 07, 2023 at 01:35 pm

Heard they may change his name to Crystal.

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PearlyBakerBest's picture

December 07, 2023 at 02:31 pm

Christian Crystal?

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Packers0808's picture

December 07, 2023 at 03:56 pm

No, Crystal Watson.

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dblbogey's picture

December 07, 2023 at 03:28 pm

I'd guess he'll miss 3 or more games, again.

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Fubared's picture

December 08, 2023 at 12:13 pm

Sad. Dont know much about his college days but why do I think this was a recurring issue for him and Gutt again picked an injury prone guy other teams scouted and passed on for that reason

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ricky's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:09 am

What makes Jones so important for the offense is that he is a threat to take it to the end zone on every play, wherever they are on the field. Whether it be a handoff, pitch or short pass, Jones is a game changer. Dillon is good, but the threat posed by Jones is much more significant.

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pantz_bURp's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:16 am

True Ricky. But, I trust Dillon not to cough up the ball in cold weather more so than Jones.

*I love watching both of these high character RB succeed. And, they seem to be pulling for each other which is super deliciously cool.

Pantz with Patches

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Leatherhead's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:59 am

He's actually been charged with 3 fumbles in his career, according to pro-football-reference. I don't know the details, or if they were recovered fumbles or whatever. But he has 17 TDs, too. And over 3000 yards of offense, and 652 touches.

I like the two back system. I don't think Jones or Dillon will be here next year, and we'll be replacing them in the draft. Fortunately, we have some bonus picks on the second day. Braelon Allen and Jonathan Brooks?

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PeteK's picture

December 07, 2023 at 01:11 pm

Jones restructured his contract so I believe he has a 12 mill dead cap hit. If that's the case, keep him one more year with a young draftees. I would keep Dillon as he is a good change of pace RB and should not be too expensive to extend.

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Leatherhead's picture

December 07, 2023 at 02:32 pm

According to Spotrac, Jones has a salary, roster bonus, and workout bonus that combines for $12 million in 2024 , all which would all be saved if he were no longer on the team. He gets about $9 million in restructured money and there's nothing we can do about that, nor the remainder of his signing bonus. To actually have him on the team next would cost the Packers about $18 million.....and we'd still owe him $6.6 million.

I have no problem with keeping Jones an extra year and paying him except that this is quite a bit of money to pay to a guy who is hurt and can't play. IMO, a simpler solution is to use our extra Day 2 picks and grab two stud RBs.

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Coldworld's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:51 am

Jones has a long of 11 this year. Admittedly mostly injury hindered. He does get yards others can’t find and help in the passing game.

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Leatherhead's picture

December 07, 2023 at 12:04 pm

He's been a good RB for us, and hopefully he has a few more games in him, but I think the Packers and Jones are reaching the end of the trail.

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Bitternotsour's picture

December 07, 2023 at 12:30 pm

Time is the ultimate judge. He's hurt more than he plays, and his clock has definitely ticked.

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crayzpackfan's picture

December 07, 2023 at 02:42 pm

CW- Jonathan Brooks!! YES!!

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Fubared's picture

December 08, 2023 at 12:14 pm

He has never taken to the end zone other then a five yard romp. The guy aint that fast and trips easily and is more a burst of speed and a ten yard gain person at best

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T7Steve's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:20 am

Win at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. All the rest takes care of itself. It helps keep the O on the field and the D off the field. With ball and line control comes the creation of turnovers because it gets the other team desperate or at least out of rhythm.

There. I've completed my at least weekly trenches rant.

Thanks for setting me up Gill!

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GilMartin's picture

December 07, 2023 at 01:40 pm

My pleasure, T7Steve. Thanks for commenting.

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Leatherhead's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:42 am

""The Packers have rushed for more than 100 yards as a team.....""

I think those last three words pretty much sum it up.

IMO, your QB and WRs should get 5-10 rushing opportunities every game. With any luck that's well over 50 yards on the ground without your RBs. And kudos to the coach/playcaller who set them up. Jones usually only got around 15 touches, thanks to sharing snaps with Dillon, so that's about half of them. Add in a few more opportunities for Dillon and the #3 back and those 15 touches have been re-distributed.

It's hard to be patient when you're getting kicked, but the Packers patiently waited while the line got time together, and while the QB and WRs got time together. All offseason, I thought the offense would score more points in 2023 than it did in 2022 but after 8 games they needed to pick up the pace. I still think we'll have to have some big scoring games (over 30) to surpass last year.

We're 4 1/2 seasons into Gutekunst/Coach L and I'm very happy with where we sit, while acknowledging we should probably be 8-4 except we just laid Cleveland Steamers in Denver and Las Vegas. You're never as good or as bad as you look in any given game and those were a couple of bad ones. But I'll take the victories in Detroit and against KC.

I think we'll make the playoffs. My premonition is that we'll advance by beating Detroit but our season ends in SF. Again.

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Coldworld's picture

December 07, 2023 at 11:53 am

Reed and Love are a significant minority part of that stat. Dillon’s been running better. The OL hasn’t helped a vast amount more than before.

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Leatherhead's picture

December 07, 2023 at 12:02 pm

I think the THREAT of other people running, like Reed or Watson or Love, actually helps, just like the threat of Watson going deep helps other things happen.

I'd like to see people who aren't RBs running with the ball more, especially our QB. He's a good runner and he's smart enough to slide. One more thing for the defense to worry about.

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Bitternotsour's picture

December 07, 2023 at 12:28 pm

exactly. make that motion mean something, like in SF. 3 plays a game for Love to run those Greg Roman-like options that SF had for Kaepernick, and Baltimore runs for Lamar, (that regrettably, Clay Matthews couldn't resist crashing down on.)

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Coldworld's picture

December 07, 2023 at 02:36 pm

Agree with you and LH. The diversity of threat posed is key to opening up space for both the pass and conventional run. It’s been conspicuous in its absence until recently, and has again made a big difference.

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LambeauPlain's picture

December 07, 2023 at 12:01 pm

To start the season, AJ was the most talented Packer and likely team MVP. I truly believe the Packers would have another win or two ...or three had Jonesy been healthy. The likely plan was to run the O through the run game as Love gained confidence. That plan was over early.

Now Love is the most talented Packer and MLF is confident is his QBs confidence and is adjusting the Offense to fit him and his players. (why cannot Barry do the same...perhaps he does not know how to do it?)

Now if AJ can get back on the field...all gravy!

I hope the Packers can find a way to keep AJ. Heavy lift unless AJ wants to stay.

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cdoemel's picture

December 08, 2023 at 08:01 pm

So you don’t see progress in our defense?

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Ritzy's picture

December 07, 2023 at 12:53 pm

The poor play of the interior offensive line is the biggest reason the running game faltered earlier in the season. We surely need to shore up the line in the draft ... Answering a reader's query about Christian Watson's injury status, I've read reports that he's expected to miss 2 weeks.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

December 08, 2023 at 09:57 am

Indeed. I am not that interested in using a day two and a day three draft pick on running backs to replace Dillon and Jones. I would much rather use those picks on interior offensive linemen (assuming that the Packers use a first on a OT prospect).

We shall have to see what the market is in 2024 for Jones and Dillon. RBs don't make that much. $3M to $4M for Dillon per year might be better. Jones has been so hurt that his market might drop to $7M to $8M. Or not.

GB has plenty of needs. My draftnik friends that the DL prospect stink in 2024. Lots of places GB needs depth and/or a guy to be groomed to replace aging, expensive players.

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Fubared's picture

December 08, 2023 at 12:18 pm

Lets dump jones. He is worthless along with Stokes and Alexander and get some picks and get some players with little history of injuries. You cant rely on any of the above especially in games that are crucial, they aren't around to help. Theres other deadwood on this team that needs to be freed as well. Until then this team is going now where.

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cdoemel's picture

December 08, 2023 at 08:08 pm

Alexander and Jones are strong leaders and really the life blood of this team as it is. And oh btw, really good players. All teams and players deal with injuries. Would be hilarious and chaotic if every team just dumped every great player they had because of an injury. lol. Dumb!

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golfpacker1's picture

December 08, 2023 at 09:03 pm

Does anyone know what became of Kylin Hill? I thought he was a steal where we got him in the draft. Didn't he get in some trouble after the knee injury? He had potential. Is he still in the league?

My draft replacements for Jones and Dillon are Marshawn Lloyd-USC, or Audric Estime-Notre Dame, for Jones. Lloyd is kind of a Jones clone only heavier. And for Dillon, Braelon Allen-Wisconsin or sleeper RB Isaiah Davis-South Dakota State. Both are big, fast, catch well, and run people over alot.

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