More Opportunities for Aaron Jones in Passing Game with AJ Dillon?

With the explosive AJ Dillon seeing more action this season, that could mean more opportunities for Aaron Jones in the passing game.

One of the many differences between the Matt LaFleur offense and that of Mike McCarthy’s when he was at the helm is the frequency in which two running backs are on the field together.

Under McCarthy, Green Bay lined up in 21 (two RBs and one TE) or 22 (two RBs and two TEs) personnel just one percent of the time in 2018, according to Sharp Football. However, in Year 1 of LaFleur, that rate jumped to 15 percent and then to 16 in 2020—for some context, the 14 percent of snaps that the Packers ran from 21 personnel was the fifth most in football last season.

Now looking ahead to the 2021 season, we could see that figure jump again as we see more of AJ Dillon, and that could result in more opportunities for Aaron Jones in the passing game.

While Jamaal Williams was a solid and well-rounded No. 2 running back for the Green Bay Packers, he was limited—lacking that explosive playmaking ability. Coming out of BYU, he posted a below-average Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 4.54, and over his career has averaged 4.0 yards per carry and 7.9 yards per catch. Again for some context, in 2020, 4.0 yards per rush would have ranked 49th out of 63 eligible running backs, according to PFF.

When Green Bay had two running backs on the field, Williams likely didn’t command much of the attention, and the focus still landed on Jones for the most part--making it more difficult for him to find those one-on-one opportunities. However, with Dillon stepping into that RB2 role, that very well could change because Dillon is a big play waiting to happen.

At 247-pounds, Dillon posted an elite RAS of 9.18 coming out of Boston College and rushed for over 1,100 yards in all three seasons, including over 1,500 in two of those years while averaging 5.2 yards per rush. Even in his very limited action as a rookie, we saw that playmaking on display as he rushed for 124 yards on 5.9 yards per attempt with two touchdowns against Tennessee.

It's this home run ability from Dillon that will have the attention of opposing defenses, and that could lead to more opportunities for Jones in the passing game as opponents will have to choose between trying to stop Jones or trying to stop Dillon--not to mention that there is also Robert Tonyan, Davante Adams, and others to worry about as well.

During Jones' first two seasons under McCarthy, he was targeted just 45 times in the passing game. But under LaFleur, he saw 74 targets in 2019 and 68 targets in 2020, even though he missed two games. Over these last two years specifically, Jones has recorded 887 receiving yards with six touchdowns and 8.3 yards per catch.

His ability as a pass-catcher both out of the backfield and in the slot has become an important part of this Packers offense and helps LaFleur achieve that "illusion of complexity" that he talks about--which essentially means keeping defenses off-balance and guessing by running the same play from a variety of personnel -- requiring versatility -- as well as different plays that begin very similarly.

More opportunities for Jones to touch the ball is always a good thing, and although he's already become a key member of the passing game under LaFleur, the potential for him to see more targets is certainly there with Dillon now in the mix. When both Jones and Dillon are on the field, defenses will have a hard time choosing who they will want to stop.

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (17)

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mnbadger's picture

July 26, 2021 at 12:03 pm

I have to believe it would be easier as an inexperienced QB to read linebacker coverage vs a RB than reading safeties against WR's. If/when we line up with 2 RB and an inexperienced QB, this would be to our advantage. Though a more experienced QB should lick his chops with this alignment, if we have one. Bring on TC. GPG

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Coldworld's picture

July 26, 2021 at 12:24 pm

One would hope so, but Jones isn’t as good with his hands as Williams was, though if he’s in space he is fine, but how does that fit with Rodgers role? I would like him to get some pass usage, and I hear Dillon’s hands are much better than billed, I’d like them both used enough to be credible to defenders. With Deguara or Daffney in the backfield mix too there are myriad permutations. It should be fun to watch.

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 26, 2021 at 12:40 pm

Williams was a very sticky handed receiver but AJ was better than average. And I did not look it up but I would guess AJ's gain per pass play far exceeded Williams and his total yardage. Good things happen with the ball in his hands.

And I like your view AJD may be better than advertised in the pass game which adds to the "Illusion of Complexity" plays. Who is going to get the ball on a run or pass play? Throw in Deguara or Daffney options as you mention and it is going to drive DC's nuts.

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jannes bjornson's picture

July 26, 2021 at 07:11 pm

A Jones is not a bell cow back and when the heavy hitting showed up he coughed it up. Let him thrive as a tailback in Pro set. Dafney is more FB than H-back and the edges will be hammered by LaFleur and counters coming through the middle. The blood marks call for an all-in season and bring it home.

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LambeauPlain's picture

July 26, 2021 at 12:49 pm

Paul, I agree with your analysis. And with more 12 and 22 plays that leaves just two or one WR. I think the likelihood the Packers keep more than 5 WRs on the 53 is remote.

Imagine a lineup of AJ, AJD, Deguara, Amari, and Adams in the skill spots? How about AJ, AJD, Amari, Adams and Big Bob? Or AJ, AJD, Adams, MVS, and Big Dog?

Matt and Hackett and Getsy are gonna have a blast drawing up multiple plays from similar sets.

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ricky's picture

July 26, 2021 at 12:52 pm

Sometimes, the stats don't tell the real story. Stats are averages, which are interesting, similar to the RAS- so Williams got a lower RAS than Oren Burks, who was an elite RAS athlete. But who got playing time and produced on the field? With Williams, he was the guy who got you that first down via a tough, tackle breaking run; caught the ball in a tight space with a defender draped all over him for a good gain; the guy who threw that block that freed up Jones to get some extra yards, or give the QB that extra half-a-second to complete a pass. Admittedly, when it comes to Williams, I am first a fan and then an analyst. But he was the kind of lunch pail guy who just gets stuff done. And he was entertaining as heck during warm-ups. He'll be missed, and I hope that a combination of Deguara and Dillon can replace his value to the team.

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Packers0808's picture

July 26, 2021 at 12:52 pm

Rodgers is playing for Packers this season, has been reported.

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jont's picture

July 26, 2021 at 01:14 pm

Wait, I read yesterday that the odds makers had him retiring....
No, I'm wrong, the day before he was demanding $90mln for two years....
Wrong again, I thought he had been offered the biggest contract ever....
Before that I thought he wanted the GM fired....

When he shows up....

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gr7070's picture

July 26, 2021 at 12:58 pm

I wouldn't be surprised if Jones pass blocking and receiving skills have AJD playing as more the "primary" ball carrier and Jones the "receiving back".

Jones would still be utilized more and a bigger impact, but not necessarily in the traditional roles as we consider the starting RB.

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TarynsEyes's picture

July 26, 2021 at 01:14 pm

I feel it only just to repeat here what I said elsewhere upon learning of that Rodgers is playing for GB this season.

"So, is everyone who bashed Rodgers now at the drop of a hat going to cheer for him, and act as if they never said anything hateful about him. Yes, yes you are, because hypocrisy to impossible to hide. Fans will forgive anything in the name of winning, and that makes you worse than anything Rodgers has or hasn't done."

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stockholder's picture

July 26, 2021 at 01:23 pm

I got 500 dislikes I'm proud off. Glad he's coming back!

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TarynsEyes's picture

July 26, 2021 at 01:40 pm

I'd think most of those dislikes are not for the opinion you posted, but by many who just hit dislike for the sake of it, but know you made them question themselves and their clique mentality.

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Packers0808's picture

July 26, 2021 at 03:53 pm

Seems simple, sky is blue, water is wet and cash is green and most likely free agency after this season!

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HawkPacker's picture

July 26, 2021 at 04:05 pm

I think he is somewhat tainted but myself like many others do hope he does come back.

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jannes bjornson's picture

July 26, 2021 at 07:15 pm

They are now meek and weak-kneed but they will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

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NoNonsense's picture

July 27, 2021 at 01:57 am

There is a thin line between love and hate Taryn. One can both be extremely pissed at Rodgers for his part in this bull shite offseason and still be glad he's back. Some people may hold a grudge about it forever. I tend to forgive and forget that's just how I roll.

Do you ever get tired of being so holier than everybody? Just asking. You must be an absolute joy to live with.

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PatrickGB's picture

July 27, 2021 at 09:28 am

Am I glad that he is back? Yes. Am I mad that he is putting the team through all the fuss? Yes!
I love Jones yet think that he cost too much. Yet I do see a great future with our running backs.

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