AJ Dillon spearheads an overall fine showing for the Packers' ground game
GREEN BAY - The moment AJ Dillon arrived at Lambeau Field in overalls — and nothing else — it was clear how this game was going to unfold.
His teammate, Davante Adams, didn’t see Dillon before jerseys were donned, and didn’t quite believe it when told.
“That's pretty hilarious; but what do we mean just overalls?" Adams asked. "Like nothing on underneath it?”
No, Davante, nothing else.
“That’s a pretty risky maneuver,” Adams said, “but when you can go run people over and just kind of bulldoze your way into the end zone a couple of times, then you can do what you want, so he might as well wear that every game at this point.”
And that’s exactly what Dillon did, as he and Aaron Jones helped a balanced Green Bay Packers attack rout the Minnesota Vikings 37-10 and clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The power comes not in the overalls, though, but in the sheer gall to sport the outfit in temperatures that hovered around 14 degrees at the time. The message from Dillon, and subsequently his ground-game teammate Jones, was clear: This is going to be our game.
Then, the duo delivered.
Jones picked up 76 yards on eight rushes, Dillon added two 63 yards and two touchdowns with 24 touches and the Packers racked up 174 yards total on the ground on a day that quarterback Aaron Rodgers described as “a Green Bay weather game, finally.”
The Packers employed a balanced attack, as Rodgers went 29-for-38 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. But they also leaned heavily on their stout backs. Overall, the Packers' rushing attack averaged 5.4 yards per rush and picked up 11 first downs.
The Vikings' defense ranks in the bottom tier of rushing defenses in the league, allowing an average of 133.3 yards per game, but that number was skewed by two performances against the Baltimore Ravens (247 yards) and the San Francisco 49ers (208 yards). Mike Zimmer’s team has held eight opponents to 110 yards or less this season. Between Jones and Dillon, the duo put up 139 yards.
With Jones, as is often the case, the Packers relied on speed. He averaged 9.5 yards per carry and added 30 yards receiving, albeit with some of the latter coming on pitch sweeps. Jones took advantage of the edges and at one point was the playmaker on four plays in a row; a 27-yard pickup around left end, a sweep that featured Dillon as lead blocker, a rush and a one-handed grab on a low throw.
The Packers pounded the ball with Dillon, running him 14 times, primarily in short-yardage situations. On their seven-play, 37-yard opening drive in the second half, Dillon was featured five times for 25 yards. He capped the performance with a touchdown that saw him push the pile and demand entrance to the end zone.
In the fourth quarter, seeking an insurance touchdown after the Vikings had bit into the Packers' lead, Dillon did it again. He willed his way in from 7 yards out and did a Lambeau Leap into the elated crowd.
——Jones' speed and outside ability counter Dillon’s power up the middle. Sunday night against the Vikings was a perfect picture of that balance, which has led to both backs going over 1,000 scrimmage yards this season. It’s only the fourth time in franchise history such a mark has been reached and the first time since 1980.
“That’s something we talked about in the offseason, joking around like, ‘Hey, 59 yards a game to get 1,000 yards,’ and we were like, ‘Why don’t we both do it?’” Dillon said. “That’s obviously a lot of hard work and grinding together and it’s really cool to do that with somebody I’m so close with … to do that with him in tandem is a really important accomplishment for myself, that we’re together on it.”
Packers coach Matt LaFleur sees not only what Dillon and Jones did on the ground as special, but also what they allowed the Packers to do overall in picking up 481 total offensive yards, their most of the season.
"I think you saw it throughout the course of the game, but certainly on a couple of those touchdown runs that AJ had just our guys up front, number one pushing the pile. And then AJ just being the load that he is, but you know, Aaron Jones as well, getting loose in the open field, having a couple of explosive plays,” LaFleur said.
“But what's so great about these guys is No. 1, they're selfless and they bust their butt and whether it's in the run game, doing their job in the pass game and protection, whether it's coming out of the backfield, making key receptions that they've done all season long, and also just straining for the other guys.”
After the clock ticked down and the game was decided, Dillon returned to what was left of the crowd, once again in the overalls. He signed autographs, took pictures and reveled on the home field his team had just locked up for the playoffs. By then, the temperature had dipped into single digits.
None of it fazed Dillon. This is the kind of night he was drafted for, the kind of night he and Jones were meant to bring to this franchise. As the Packers head into the playoffs, knowing the Super Bowl will come through Green Bay, they do so with a rushing duo built to carry them all the way.