GREEN BAY – Aaron Jones knows the ingredients for proper pass blocking. Don’t lunge. Keep the feet chopping. It’s what his coaches have preached since the Green Bay Packers rookie running back arrived this spring.
And Jones believes he has made progress.
Then there are plays like the third-and-10 in the third quarter Sunday at Carolina. Jones was responsible for blocking a blitzing Thomas Davis. Tale of the tape, Jones was giving up almost 30 pounds to the Panthers veteran linebacker. He had no hope of sticking the block if his technique was sloppy.
From the snap, Jones was off balance. He lunged to his right, up the field. At contact, Davis used the rookie’s momentum, driving him backward five yards and slamming him into the ground, much like a prankster might slam an unsuspecting bystander into the swimming pool.
“Looks like he’s on roller skates,” said FOX analyst Troy Aikman, watching the replay.
With the pocket collapsed, Rodgers escaped toward the right sideline. He targeted receiver Jordy Nelson downfield, but the pass was underthrown on the run. Maybe Rodgers’ third interception Sunday would've happened even if Jones had stuck his block, but the crumbled pocket didn’t help.
There’s a reason the first responsibility listed on a board inside the Packers running backs’ meeting room isn’t yards, catches or touchdowns, but pass blocking. In this franchise, nothing is more important than protecting the MVP quarterback.
“It’s just technique,” Jones said. “Guys are bigger, faster, stronger (in the NFL). So technique, you can get away with bad technique in college. Here, you can’t, because going and playing against grown men stronger than you, you’re giving up 40, 50 pounds right off the bat. So you have to have good technique.”
Look at the box score Sunday and it’s confusing why Jones didn’t have a bigger role against the Panthers. His first carry gained 20 yards. His second gained 23. He led the Packers with 47 yards on just three carries, averaging a nifty 15.7 yards per carry.
Jamaal Williams, the Packers’ starting tailback, had 30 yards on 10 carries. It took Williams seven carries — and not until the third quarter — to reach 20.
Yet Williams remains entrenched as the starter and listening to coach Mike McCarthy this week, it doesn’t sound like that will change over the final two games.
“Jamaal is in the front seat,” McCarthy said, “because he’s earned that.”
There’s more than a box score to consider in a coach’s world.
“It’s not a statistical earn,” McCarthy said.
No, there’s also the film.
Watch the game tape, and issues like Jones’ shoddy pass protection emerge. Williams played 43 snaps against the Panthers, compared to Jones’ 26. Why does Williams continue getting a bigger role, even when Jones is more productive? Because yards aren’t the only way to evaluate a running back.
“It’s an every day, what he does at work,” McCarthy said. “Pass protection. Just, he’s earned the right to be in the first seat.”
Jones understands his pass blocking must improve to get more snaps. It’s why he hasn’t openly complained about his lack of carries. When asked, he has acknowledged it’d be nice to touch the football more, but Jones also said he understands his current role.
“I feel like I’m a playmaker in the run game,” Jones said. “I can definitely improve in pass protection. Protection is always No. 1. That’s the No. 1 thing we have on our board in our room, is protection. Protect the quarterback.”
McCarthy is pleased with Jones’ production as a runner. There’s a lot to like in his slashing style, especially with how it fits in the Packers’ zone-blocking scheme. He reached 125 rushing yards in his first two starts, and before a torn MCL forced him to miss two games in November, Jones looked like one of the most promising rookie running backs in the NFL.
But it’s another Packers running back who’s ahead of him on the depth chart. McCarthy said “time will answer” who emerges as his featured tailback. Long term, McCarthy said, Jones remains very much part of his plans.
“Aaron has done an outstanding job with his opportunities,” McCarthy said. “You’d like to see them line up and play 50-50. I’m sure there will be a day it goes that way, when one guy’s doing a couple of things better than the other guy or vice versa, but they both need to play.
“They’re young. They have nothing but good days ahead of them. I really like the way those two young cats are playing.”