The Green Bay Packers have struggled on the ground in recent years, but Aaron Jones presents a new threat for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Throughout Mike McCarthy’s tenure as their head coach, the Green Bay Packers have been a one-dimensional offense.
It’s hard to blame him when you have the likes of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers under center. But in a climate such as Green Bay, the need to be able to run the ball as the season goes along is something that correlates with postseason success.
In the early years of his tenure, McCarthy was able to get the job done with the likes of Ahman Green and Ryan Grant and then switched over to Eddie Lacy after a couple of lean years on the ground.
After Lacy ran for 1,139 yards in 2014, the Packers haven’t had a 1,000 yard rusher since and they have had to lean on a running back by committee since.
As we head down the stretch this season, Green Bay continues to struggle even with Rodgers back under center. But the Packers may have been able to finally find the answer to their backfield woes in Aaron Jones.
With the second-year running back’s emergence, it adds another element for the Minnesota Vikings to account for heading into a crucial matchup with Green Bay on Sunday night.
Jones was a fifth-round pick out of UTEP in the 2017 NFL Draft and he showed flashes of promise with 448 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games during his rookie season.
His sophomore campaign got off to a rocky start thanks to a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse and he began the year behind Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery on the Packers’ depth chart.
Despite the adversity, Jones has found his way out of the doghouse in recent weeks and he has rewarded the coaching staff with 346 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 52 carries in his past four games.
Along with his staggering efficiency at 6.65 yards per carry during that time frame, another encouraging sign in his development has been his integration into Green Bay’s passing attack.
Pass protection and receiving ability may have been the two areas that were preventing Jones from securing a full-time role. But he is coming into Sunday with 16 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown on the season, with five catches and 62 yards coming in his last time out against the Seattle Seahawks.
That type of big play ability has caught the attention of his quarterback, who called Jones, “a great player,” after the team’s win against the Miami Dolphins in Week 10.
The inclusion of a running game in the Packers offense is the equivalent of Happy Gilmore learning how to putt. By having Jones being able to keep safeties honest, that should open up opportunities for Rodgers to go downfield to his elite top target in Davante Adams.
Last week, the Vikings struggled against the run as they gave up 146 yards. But Minnesota should get linebacker Anthony Barr back to help out this week after he missed some time with a hamstring injury.
Although Barr’s early season form was less than spectacular, he’ll need to keep an eye on Jones if Green Bay continues to feature him in the passing game and also be able to get into the backfield to stop the running back from hurting the Vikings.
Just like in last week’s matchup, it’s clear that Rodgers is the biggest problem Minnesota will face on Sunday night. However, with a white-hot star in the making, it’s imperative that Mike Zimmer’s defense pays extra attention to the Green Bay backfield.