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The Packers’ running back spot now fully belongs to Aaron Jones

After a worrisome few weeks with Mike McCarthy hemming and hawing over backfield snaps, it’s now clear Jones is the guy.

Green Bay Packers v Los Angeles Rams
Aaron Jones has run away from the competition in the backfield.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Ty Montgomery may not understand his role on the Green Bay Packers right now, but Aaron Jones built consensus about his. In the most important game of the Green Bay season, coming off a bye week with plenty of time to determine who best helped this team try to take down an undefeated Rams juggernaut, Aaron Jones took the lion’s share of snaps and carries for an offense looking to establish the run more often.

If anything, Sunday’s gameplan could have used even more Jones, who now leads the league among qualified backs with 6.2 yards per attempt. The only two skill players to get more snaps than Jones were Jimmy Graham and Davante Adams, as the second-year back out-snapped Jamaal Williams 32-13, with the struggling Montgomery seeing just 6 offensive snaps.

Jones paid off the faith Mike McCarthy put in him, putting up 86 yards on just 12 carries including a magnificent 33-yard touchdown run. In all, Green Bay put up 106 yards on 19 carries, a 5.6 per carry average, but that was almost solely because of Jones. Neither Williams (4 for 9 yards) or Monty ( 2 for 6 yards) even managed to top 3 yards per tote.

There are no more arguments about pass blocking or other assignments. It’s so clear, so overwhelmingly obvious, the best running back on this team is Aaron Jones, not even the stubborn viewpoint of McCarthy could keep Jones from taking his rightful place at the top of the pecking order. Now, just to get him a couple more carries.

Part of the problem Sunday was the team went away from the play action that had been so effective against the 49ers and early in the game against Wade Phillips’ Rams defense. That makes both the traditional dropback game and run game easier to defend. Had McCarthy stuck with run fakes, that creates more doubt in the minds of defenders, causing lanes to close down slower for his back and opening up opportunities in the passing game.

The committee of backs is now over. Pound the gavel and call it. The committee voted with their play and Jones won a resounding victory. That’s not to say none of them should ever play again, but a 2:1 snap share with the other backs, as there was Sunday, should be the baseline. Not overworking Jones makes sense. There’s no reason to have him take 25 handoffs a game. But McCarthy still needs to tweak the timing.

Running from the goal line — already a questionable decision out of heavy personnel — should probably be with your battering ram back. When Jones is rolling downhill, throwing on multiple third-and-shorts and then kicking simply isn’t the money call. It’s not enough to say Jones is now the lead back. He still has to be deployed in the proper ways in the most advantageous situations.

To be sure, Williams offers the best blocking of this group, something the Packers needed against Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, but against the Patriots this weekend won’t be nearly as necessary. In fact, there’s a case to be made it should be Montgomery who out-snaps Williams this week with a slow group of linebackers on deck. Split him out and create mismatches against a New England group of overhang defenders that leaves much to be desired.

Those 10-15 snaps should be parsed based on situation and team needs. Jones gets the majority of them even though that number will change game by game (it’s worth noting the Rams ran 75 plays to the Packers’ 52) and the rest should be dictated by game script. On third-and-9, when opponents know Green Bay is throwing, it’s fine to have Williams in there as a pass protector. He’s a capable enough pass catcher to be used on screens and dump offs when necessary.

There will be other times, this week being a prime example, when Montgomery’s ability as a receiver should be utilized. In fact, they should be utilized much more often than they have been over the course of the season. Play Montgomery with one of the other backs to create matchup problems for the defense. He was, after all, drafted to be a receiver. Even with the explosive talent the Packers have there, Montgomery on a linebacker or a safety is a better lineup than just about any non-Adams receiver on most cornerbacks. Use him.

Just because Jones takes the throne as the lead back in the offense shouldn’t mean the other players now become useless. McCarthy knows that and has balanced these things in the past, including masterfully with Eddie Lacy and James Starks. A clearly established pecking order could free McCarthy up to deploy Montgomery less often as a traditional running back, but more often in general. In other words, the Packers are inching closer to maximizing all of the weapons they have on offense and it’s coming at just the right time in the season.