Loosening reins on Aaron Jones gives Packers' offense a different dimension
He was not the dazzling, jaw-dropping star of the night. As America oohed and aahed over Alvin Kamara, who made the Green Bay Packers' defense look silly, Aaron Jones slid to the backdrop.
A week ago, Jones was a one-man highlight cutting through the Detroit Lions defense. On Sunday night in New Orleans, he was quiet. A modest 16 carries. Only 69 yards. His lone touchdown came from 1 yard, not a 52-yard gallop that left three, four, five broken tacklers on the ground.
That was Kamara’s brilliance, and he did it over and over again in his prime-time showcase. Jones wasn’t making fantasy football owners dance. Yes, he was stuffed on fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter.
He also laid the subtle groundwork for another explosive week for the Packers offense in their 37-30 win inside the Superdome.
“They stacked the box pretty well,” receiver Allen Lazard said. “They did a great job. I think they triggered on a lot of our keys. They had a really good game plan, scheming up for our run. But obviously on the back end we were able to capitalize when they were anticipating run, and we were able to kind of get a play action off of it.”
It’s clear three games into this Packers season the reins have been loosened on Jones. No longer are the Packers intent on holding back their top playmaker, something they made an early-season habit in Jones’ first three seasons.
With two catches for 17 yards added to his rushing total, Jones fell two shy of the 20-touch mark Sunday. It’s a mark he reached in each of the Packers’ first two games. He had 22 touches for a career-high 236 yards from scrimmage last week against the Lions. He had 20 touches Week 1 at the Minnesota Vikings.
He had never gotten 20 touches in three consecutive regular-season games in his career, never really gotten close, with prudence guiding how the Packers approached his workload. Only once before had Jones even gotten 20 touches in consecutive regular-season games, that being the final two games last year.
The Packers, in the past, have wanted Jones at his best late in the season. That meant a slow crescendo to a heavy, late-season role.
This season, it seems, the Packers want Jones unleashed so they can be at their best each week. His 60 touches through three games are eight more than this point last season, which had been by far his career high.
“It’s important to stay with the run,” coach Matt LaFleur said, “whether it’s going to your liking or not because it does open up stuff for you down the field. Certainly, that played a big role tonight with all the keepers and play-passes that we ran.”
Lazard was the primary beneficiary. He caught six passes for a career-high 146 yards and a touchdown, primarily with the Saints loading the box to stop Jones. The big play was a 72-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.
At halftime, Lazard said, he approached his running back and requested a game-breaking, 75-yard touchdown like the play Jones ran up the middle last week against the Lions. This time, with Jones on the field drawing extra attention from the defense, it was Lazard who ran open behind the Saints secondary.
“I kind of slowed down,” Lazard joked, “just so he could score and get that fulfillment.”
Jones punched in his 1-yard touchdown four plays later, giving the Packers a 20-17 lead early in the third quarter. Though they were tied twice more after that, they never trailed again.
As dynamic as Kamara was Sunday, it’s the constant drumbeat of body shots against a defense that defines the best tailbacks. For this Packers offense to go full throttle, they need Jones leading the way. The workhorse role has eluded Jones throughout his career. He missed four games because of injury as a rookie, and two games because of injury in his second season.
Now that he’s gotten through a 16-game season unscathed in his third, the restrictions appear off.
“I think there are a number of things he brings to the offense that allows us to do some of the stuff we’re doing,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Obviously, we’re faking it to him many times in these situations to get guys open. He’s never a decoy, though. He had 69 yards tonight running the ball and a couple catches, but he played a big factor in the game because he draws so much attention.”