The Green Bay Packers offense is now more dependent on its top two running backs than ever before. With the absence of Davante Adams and the reliance on inexperienced rookies at receiver, the Packers will have to run the ball more and rely on the running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon as receivers out of the backfield than they have in recent seasons.
The fact that the offensive line has also been dealing with injuries further emphasizes the need for the Packers offense to rely more on their running backs. Elgton Jenkins missed the season opener but returned to the lineup in Week 2. He was clearly not yet back to his usual form against the Bears and it will take time for him to get back to his past Pro Bowl level of performance. Still, his return was a major boost for the offense.
David Bakhtiari has yet to return to the lineup although he may play Sunday against the Bucs. The former All Pro left tackle has played only one half of on game since the final game of the 2020 campaign. It may take Bakhtiari longer to return to his past form after such a long layoff. Before his injury, Bakhtiari was considered the best pass blocking offensive tackle in the league. His return to action will help solidify the team’s pass protection and help open things up more for the downfield passing game.
Early in the season, especially, the passing game will have to give more touches to the running backs and the team will have to run the ball more often than they have in the past to make the offense go.
The Packers didn’t fully integrate this new formula in Week 1 and it cost them. The offense was only able to score seven points in large part because Jones and Dillon combined for just 15 rushing attempts. The duo did catch a total of eight passes but the offense was unable to consistently move the ball without enough rushing attempts and with both starting offensive tackles out of the lineup.
In Week 2 against the Bears, the Packers returned to form largely because they emphasized Jones and Dillon. The duo ran the ball a combined 33 times for 193 yards. They also caught a total of four passes for 44 more. The Packers won 27-10 and the offense gained a total of 414 yards in the game.
But the reliance on Jones and Dillon has a drawback. Matt LaFleur’s offense must walk the line between emphasizing Jones and Dillon and making sure the duo isn’t worn out late in the season from overwork.
At 5’9” and 208 pounds, Jones is not what you would call a large running back. In his first five NFL seasons, he has only played every game once, in 2019, his first 1,000-yard season. That year, he also had a career high 285 touches. Last season, he had 223 touches while missing two games.
Through two games, Jones is on pace for 221 touches although that includes Week 1 where he had only eight touches, a number too small to keep the offense moving effectively. If he averaged 18 touches like he had against the Bears, he would have 306 for the season, a number that is likely to reduce his effectiveness late in the season and in the playoffs when the Packers will need him most.
Dillon is a bigger back who carried a larger load when playing for Boston College. Since turning pro and joining the Packers in 2020, Dillon has not had more than 187 runs in a season and 221 touches. That equals 11 rushing attempts and 13 touches per game over a 17-game season.
The Packers presently only have two running backs on their 53-man roster. Last year’s seventh-round pick Kylin Hill is on the PUP list and cannot be activated until after game four at the earliest. They have Patrick Taylor and Tyler Goodson on the practice squad. Taylor was elevated from the practice squad in Week 2 but didn’t see any action on offense and only played on special teams.
The key for the Packers and Matt LaFleur going forward will be to utilize Jones and Dillon enough to help the offense play at a high level without wearing them out or getting them injured. If the Packers are going to make a long playoff run this season, they will need both Jones and Dillon healthy and ready to contribute when they face the best teams in the NFC in the postseason. That delicate balance will be a big challenge for the Packers coaching staff this season.
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