T.J. Yeldon found little daylight Sunday in sunny Jacksonville.
On an afternoon when players baked in 100-degree heat at EverBank Field, the Jaguars running back never warmed up. He was stalled by a Packers’ defensive front that did its best to obstruct his vision.
Yeldon was Jacksonville’s leading rusher in its 27-23 season-opening loss to Green Bay. The second-year back carried 21 times for a scant 39 yards.
Nearly 38 years have passed since the Packers last held a back with 20 or more carries to fewer yards. Not since Green Bay limited Tampa Bay’s Ricky Bell to 30 on 20 tries in a 9-7 win on Oct. 29, 1978 had the team been this stingy.
Yeldon was expected to share the load with Chris Ivory, the former Jet who signed with Jacksonville in March. Instead, Ivory was taken to the hospital hours before the game with what the team described as a "general medical issue."
That left Yeldon holding the ball, and Green Bay swarmed.
Yeldon was tackled behind the line of scrimmage six times for 16 yards in losses. Twice he was held to zero yards.
Letroy Guion (two), Clay Matthews, Mike Daniels, Christian Ringo and Nick Perry notched tackles for loss. Morgan Burnett and Sam Shields clamped down for the no gainers.
Yeldon’s numbers by quarter were 9 carries for 20 yards, 5 for 1, 2 for 8 and 5 for 10. By down, they were 13 for 26, 6 for 12 and 2 for 1.
His longest run was seven yards. He moved the chains three times by rushing in the first 20 minutes and not at all in the final 40.
Relief was in short supply. Denard Robinson chipped in seven yards on three attempts and Blake Bortles added a couple on two scrambles as Jacksonville earned an uninspiring 48 yards on 26 carries.
Only once in 21 previous openers had Jacksonville been less effective. In 2008, Maurice Jones-Drew, David Garrard and Montell Owens combined for 33 yards on 17 rushes in a 17-10 loss to the Titans.
Green Bay has been a party to these battles of will (featured back vs. a defense) since at least 1924. That’s when Hank Gillo of the Racine Legion hammered away 24 times for 41 yards in a 7-0 victory over the Pack.
In most seasons since, the Packers faced at least one running back who tested them 20 or more times in one game. Those encounters peaked in 1983 (12) and 2008 (10).
From 1933 through 2015, there were 312 instances of backs burdened with such a substantial workload. Just under half of those assignments (152) resulted in at least 100 yards rushing for the individual.
Some were repeat offenders: Walter Payton (13) and Barry Sanders (10) dinged the Packers quite often.
Yeldon, of course, is no Payton or Sanders. But lesser lights – think Eric Lynch (115 yards in 1993) or Brad Hoover (117 yards in 2000) – can shred a defense, given enough opportunity.
That’s why holding Yeldon in check is worth a mention. It doesn’t happen often in Packerland and even less so on the road.
When Gary Weaver, Dave Roller and others shut down Bell of the Buccaneers in 1978, they did so at Lambeau Field. When Cal Hubbard, Art Bultman and others slowed Elmer Schaake in 1933 (the only other player to gain fewer than 40 yards on 20 or more carries against Green Bay in the last 84 years), they did so at City Stadium.
So Green Bay’s defense of Yeldon is now the away-game record. And it’s likely to last, at least for another week.
The Packers travel to Minnesota for a showdown with the Vikings. There they will get reacquainted with Adrian Peterson, an old nemesis who six times has gained more than 100 yards rushing when given 20 or more cracks at them.
Statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com and nflgsis.com were used to generate some of the numbers in this article.
Since entering the league in 1995, the Jaguars have had a single back carry 20 or more times in a regular-season game 143 times. Yeldon’s output was the second lowest in team history behind the 35 yards generated on 20 carries by Stacey Mack in Week 3 of the 2000 season.
The Packers ran their first offensive play from the Jacksonville 29-yard line thanks to an interception by Joe Thomas. It was the best field position to start a season for the team since 1972 when Willie Buchanon intercepted Cleveland’s Bill Nelsen and returned it 11 yards to the Browns’ 22.
Since 1933, running backs who failed to gain more than 45 yards rushing against the Packers in a regular-season game despite carrying the ball at least 20 times.
Att-Yds Player Team Date Result
20-30 Ricky Bell Buccaneers Oct. 29, 1978 GB won 9-7
23-36 Elmer Schaake Spartans Oct. 8, 1933 GB won 17-0
21-39 T.J. Yeldon Jaguars Sept. 11, 2016 GB won 27-23
20-43 Rashaan Salaam Bears Oct. 6, 1996 GB won 37-6
20-44 Tony Dorsett Cowboys Sept. 23, 1984 GB lost 6-20
21-44 Frank Gore 49ers Sept. 8, 2013 GB lost 28-34
22-45 Anthony Thomas Bears Nov. 11, 2001 GB won 20-12