The Green Bay Packers have one of the best one-two punches at running back in the NFL this year. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon are both talented and have complimentary skill sets that give head coach Matt LaFleur options.
Jones is a speedy, one-cut runner who can get outside and break a long run at any time while Dillon is more of a big, between-the-tackles type runner who can push the pile and is difficult for any defender to bring down one-on-one. Both backs are good receivers out of the backfield as well.
This year, Jones and Dillon have accomplished something that no pair of Green Bay running backs have done in more than 40 years: both Jones and Dillon have gone over 1,000 total yards from scrimmage this season with one game still left on the schedule.
Jones has rushed for 799 yards while catching passes for an additional 391 yards while Dillon has gained 740 yards on the ground and 309 yards through the air.
In the more than 100 years the Packers have been in the NFL, this is only the fourth time the team has had two runners accomplish this milestone and the first time since Jimmy Carter was president. The Hall of Fame duo of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung never reached this goal.
In 1980, halfback Eddie Lee Ivery ran for 831 yards and gained 481 yards as a receiver while rookie fullback Gerry Ellis ran for 545 yards while catching passes for 496 yards.
In 1972, the duo of John Brockington and MacArthur Lane led the Packers to the NFC Central Division title with their outstanding play. Brockington gained 1,027 yards rushing and 243 yards as a receiver while Lane added 821 yards on the ground and 285 through the air.
One year earlier, Brockington ran for 1,105 yards as a rookie while catching passes for an additional 98 yards while Donny Anderson gained 757 yards rushing in his last season with the Packers while catching passes for 306 yards.
Jones has been the starter in 15 of the team’s first 16 games (he missed one game this season) but the two have an almost identical number of carries. Dillon has 173 rushes while Jones has 171.
Jones uses his speed early while the Packers typically call on Dillon more later in games when they are trying to protect a lead and keep control of the clock.
It is rare that both backs are on the field at the same time although LaFleur has done that a few times in recent games which helps keep defenses guessing which player will get the ball and what type of running play (or pass) the offense will run out of that formation.
LaFleur realizes he has two very gifted runners on his roster who can create problems for opposing defenses. “Those guys ran extremely tough; they broke a lot of tackles,” LaFleur said after the Packers defeated the Cardinals earlier this season. “They ran behind their pads. They made people miss. They complemented each other very well.”
Opposing coaches have also come to respect what the Packers dynamic pair of running backs can do. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll had this to say shortly before the Packers met his Seahawks in Week 10. “Aaron has a real knack about him,” Carroll said. “He can run tough, he can get small in the hole, he can make you miss, he’s really good in the backfield, and then when he needs a break, here comes A.J. They are loaded; those two guys are a fantastic duo. They are both averaging over four yards per carry, they are getting the ball fairly equally, so you can see why they rely on going to those guys. They are just that good and they have been able to have a great control the ball offense.”
By giving both backs roughly the same number of carries during the season, LaFleur can keep both players from wearing down come playoff time. This means that when the stakes are highest, the Packers runners should still be relatively fresh and ready to help Aaron Rodgers and the offense keep the chains moving. This will be even more important in the cold and wind of Lambeau Field in January when the weather conditions can make it more difficult to throw the football downfield.
The Packers have two great running backs and are utilizing them both well. And unlike many other players on the roster, both Jones and Dillon are under contract in 2022 and beyond.
In training camp this year, a reporter asked Dillon what kind of tandem he and Jones could be. “I think we can be the best running back tandem in the NFL,” Dillon replied. “You look at us and you see thunder and lightning which absolutely we are. The lightning guy, Aaron, he can also grind out some yards and the thunder guy, myself, I’d like to say I can still beat some guys running away from them.”
Are Jones and Dillon the best running back duo in the NFL? It’s a tough call but at this point, they are definitely in the conversation. The Packers will be counting on both backs to help them reach the Super Bowl this season.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage
Visit my Web site for all things Gil Martin