Packers coach Mike McCarthy: There's more to Aaron Jones' playing time than stats
GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy can appreciate the questions about the playing time and touches of running back Aaron Jones.
It’s just that the answers aren’t that appealing to those outside of 1265 Lombardi Ave.
“Hey, I’m here to represent to the fans, too. We love Aaron Jones,” McCarthy said Monday. “I know what the statistics are.”
And they are impressive.
Jones is averaging a team-high 6.1 yards per rush along with 10.3 yards per reception. He has the team’s longest run from scrimmage (30 yards) and its only rushing touchdown. Yet Sunday, with the Packers scrambling to overcome a 24-0 halftime deficit at Detroit, Jones didn’t get a carry and touched the ball only once over the final 30 minutes.
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Since coming back from a season-opening two-game suspension, the second-year player out of the University of Texas-El Paso has split time with Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery — as McCarthy has long insisted he would.
“It’s a team game,” Jones said. “I know there’s other players on the team who are just as capable as I am. That’s why they’re getting opportunities as well and you just gotta be ready when your number is called. We have three backs that have showed that they can do it, so there’s no reason to sit there and get mad when you have two other backs who are just as productive. You just have to sit and wait for your turn.”
But … the stats.
“I think it’s very obvious the balance we’re seeking from our running back position,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s one of the strengths that we’ve had since Aaron’s came back. We have three young men that we believe in and three guys that contribute.
“But there’s more to playing the position than just running the football.”
And there’s the rub.
Aside from their traits as ball carriers, Montgomery is a good route runner and Williams is a strong pass protector. Jones is working to improve those aspects of his game. He caught 71 passes over four years at UTEP, but he rushed it 658 times. As a rookie he caught nine balls in 12 games.
As for pass protection, and all that entails regarding the pre-snap read, post-snap movement and then physically making the block, there’s still room to grow for Jones. He has made several mental errors that are probably weighing on McCarthy's mind when it comes to protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
And there’s only so many chances to do that to go around, especially when the team has played from behind against Washington and Detroit and such concerns aren’t as prevalent with his teammates.
“Obviously, he hasn’t been as challenged this year as far as opportunities," Packers running back coach Ben Sirmans said of Jones’ pass blocking. "But based on things that we’ve seen in practice, he seems stronger, his technique and those things seem better. But it’s still an aspect of his game that he’s got to keep working on to improve. He’s not there yet."
For his part, Jones feels he’s ready for more opportunities in that phase of the game. When asked Monday if there was anything he had to prove to earn that play time, he said, “I mean, I feel like, honestly, no. But you can always prove yourself. So, it wouldn’t hurt to prove yourself.”
All that being said, McCarthy did acknowledge it was worth looking at how he divvies up snaps between the trio.
Since Jones returned in Week 3, Williams has played 91 snaps, Montgomery 69 and Jones 68. Jones has the most rushing attempts (23) followed by Williams (22). Montgomery has the most receptions with nine, and the other two backs have four each.
“The thing I would be critical of if I was sitting in your chair would be that the opportunities those three guys are getting or maybe Aaron needs more opportunities,” McCarthy allowed. “But when you’re playing in no-huddle offense or two-minute offense as we were against Chicago, we’ve been in too many out-of-balance games so far this year. But that’s the way football is. You have to be able to fight through all different types of adversity, and regardless of who the back is. So I feel really good about how our backs are being rotated.
“I’d like to get Aaron more opportunities — I agree with that statistic. But I think there’s a lot more to it.”