Analysis: Packers again fail to get the most out of Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones touched the ball 10 times in the first half of the Green Bay Packers’ three-point loss at Seattle on Thursday night. The Packers scored 21 points in the first half.
He touched the ball six times in the second half. They scored three points in the last two quarters.
That says plenty.
Of course context and circumstance matter, and 10 second-half touches for Jones wouldn’t have translated into 21 more points. But it is true that coach Mike McCarthy, while fully committing to Jones as his full-time halfback for the first time this year, made a mistake by getting away from him in the second half.
While Jones has gradually become the Packers’ primary back this season, this was the first game in which he essentially played the entire game. Jones played 44 snaps, whereas his backup, Jamaal Williams, played only four.
But after the Packers dominated the first half with Jones as the focus of their offense, they went dead in the second with him in a lesser role. They punted the three times they had the ball in the third quarter and four of five possessions in the second half, when they had chance after chance to take control of the game.
Even earlier in the season, Rodgers had more experienced receivers around him, such as Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison, who, whatever their limitations, are good route runners and in sync with the quarterback after playing together for several years. But with Cobb (hamstring) inactive and Allison (core muscle injury) on IR, the Packers started two rookie receivers, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown, along with the formidable Davante Adams.
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Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown are talented young players with promising futures. But they’re also prone to making rookie receivers’ mistakes. Their route running is inconsistent, which McCarthy in effect acknowledged after the game without calling them out by name, and they’re not as good as the departed Jordy Nelson, Cobb or Allison at getting open when Rodgers improvises.
That left the Packers’ offense revolving around their big three: Rodgers, Adams and Jones, especially after tight end Jimmy Graham left the game with a broken thumb in the second quarter. And it’s hard to see how they could get much more out of Adams than they did – he had 12 targets and 10 receptions for 166 yards.
Then there’s Jones, whose first half included an impressive catch on a wheel route for a 24-yard touchdown. The offense as constituted can run through him, whether it be by McCarthy’s play calling (handoffs and screens) or Rodgers’ decision making (checkdown passes).
It might seem a waste of Rodgers’ talents to having him handing the ball off and checking down throws on play after play, but you need to play the hand you’re dealt. And with the risks of relying on rookie receivers, this is the hand the Packers have been dealt.
It’s awfully tough to win when your quarterback gets sacked four times on third down, as Rodgers did against the Seahawks. Keep handing it off, keep dumping it to Jones for what in essence are runs, and keep the linebackers and safeties thinking about him. That’s what Seattle did with its running backs, and it eventually paid off.
The reality is, the Seahawks didn’t do anything to take Jones out of the game in the second half after he’d put it to them in the first. The Packers did it for them.
What to make of Kyler Fackrell?
Count this column on the long list of media and fans who have bashed the third-year outside linebacker since his rookie season and at times wondered why he’s been on the Packers’ roster at all. And credit Fackrell for persevering and proving his detractors wrong.
Now, we’re not going to go overboard. There’s still a lot of up and down in Fackrell’s game. He still gives up the edge too much against the run, including on Russell Wilson huge 8-yard keeper for a first down that sealed the game.
But something has clicked with Fackrell as the season has gone on. After getting three more sacks Thursday night, he’s leading the team with eight and recently has been outplaying Clay Matthews and Nick Perry.
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Despite the sacks, Fackrell’s most impressive play might have come on a third down late in the second quarter when he dropped into coverage, then chased down Wilson outside the pocket and forced the quarterback to throw a chest pass to nobody just to avoid a sack. Fackrell did exactly as he should have. When no receiver showed up in his area, he saw a window to go after the quarterback and he went for it. End of series.
Fackrell also blocked a third-down pass (that Wilson caught for a seven-yard loss) in the third quarter that also got the Packers’ defense off the field. And a series later he dropped running back Rashaad Penny for a 2-yard loss on a first down that put the Seahawks behind the chains.
Even in this year’s training camp Fackrell, who turns 27 later this month, looked like a lost cause. No more. The Packers got more from him as a starter Thursday night than they’ve been getting from the injured player he replaced, Perry.
» Mike McCarthy on Friday said his analytics told him to punt on fourth-and-2 from his own 33 with 4:20 to play and trailing by a field goal. But with only one timeout left, that was a mistake. You can bet Bill Belichick and Doug Pederson would have gone for it. With more forethought, McCarthy could have run the ball with Jones on third down, knowing he would go for it on fourth down if Jones didn’t convert. The element of surprise with a third-down run very well might have gotten the first down then and there.
» The two best defensive tackles in the NFC are Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and Fletcher Cox of the Philadelphia Eagles. But Kenny Clark has to be on the short list for the No. 3 spot. He had another outstanding game Thursday with four tackles, including a tackle for a loss. He has become extremely good with his hands as he has honed his techniques and gotten stronger the last couple years after arriving to the NFL as a 20-year old. He’s dominating the line of scrimmage as a run defender.