Like many other Green Bay Packers’ fans, I casually scrolled through Twitter looking for some sort of comfort in the moments directly following another 27-24 pull-your-hair-out loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night. In the middle of tweets criticizing Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers for obvious reasons, there was another tweet that stood out.
Still not understanding why Aaron Jones is played like he’s on a pitch count. Dynamic player. #Packers— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) November 16, 2018
Andrew Brandt, of course, is a former Packers front office executive who remains very much in the loop when it comes to NFL circles and the Green Bay organization. And last night, Brandt’s analogy of a “pitch count” when it came to touches for the Packers’ prized up-and-coming running back Aaron Jones was right on the money. For two weeks, Jones has been the most valuable Aaron on the roster. Yet, in a critical fourth quarter, Jones’ touches were limited, much like they have been all season.
After accounting for 88 total yards and two touchdowns in the first half in Seattle, Jones totaled just four rushes and two catches for a combined 15 yards in the second half. Making matters worse, with Rodgers struggling through the air as the game wore on, Green Bay abandoned the run game in the final quarter. Jones rushed just one time in the fourth quarter and twice over the Packers’ final three possessions.
Even in the passing game, the Packers could not get the ball to the man who has become their most explosive talent outside of Davante Adams. On Green Bay’s second-to-last drive, one that ended with a field goal, Rodgers was sacked on 3rd-and-5 while gazing downfield. It will eat at him in the next film session when he sees Jones open almost directly in front of him near the first down marker with at least another five yards of green space in front of him.
On first down of the final drive, Rodgers again was hesitant to check down to Jones for yardage and settled for a throw-away incompletion instead. The inability for the Packers to continually get the ball in the hands of Jones and let him create hurt them against Seattle. His mere 11 carries for 40 yards, in addition to one carry for Jamaal Williams, prevented any resemblance of offensive balance.
Sadly, this has been a full-season trend.
It was just a week ago that Jones exploded in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins for almost 100 yards on four carries, including a 67-yard run. However, McCarthy and the Packers immediately made an egregious mistake and gave Jones just three carries the entire second quarter. As has been the case most of the season, the Packers went into halftime in a tight game with a stalling offense.
A renewed effort to get Jones involved in the second half resulted in 145 rushing yards and two scores on the day, with another 27 yards receiving. Jones’ 15 carries versus Miami remains his biggest workload of the season despite being the kind of coveted playmaker at running back that Green Bay has searched for throughout Rodgers’ career. Media and fans alike thought the coaching staff turned a corner that day with Jones’ emergence and the departure of Ty Montgomery less than two weeks before.
Clearly that was not the case Thursday night.
After a two-game suspension to start the season, the Packers were slow to reincorporate Jones into the offensive gameplan. That was excusable for perhaps a game or two, especially with the lingering issues Jones had in his rookie season. To be in Week 11 and keep Jones on a pitch count is another matter. He needs a minimum of 20 touches per game (6.4-yard average per carry) and could be a factor on third down screens and draws. On Thursday, Jones never saw the ball on such a critical down. Heck, after two effective drives to open the game, Jones was substituted for Williams before the first quarter ended.
There is little need to save the mileage on a dynamic running back if the team’s postseason hopes are in jeopardy. Baseball fans may remember the Washington Nationals’ decision to limit the pitch count on young star Stephen Strasburg by shutting him down for the season while healthy ahead of the 2012 playoffs. Nationals fans, still without a title, wonder many what-ifs about how that postseason would have played out if their budding ace had been more involved.
The lesson: be aggressive while you have the chance.
McCarthy has taken heat for his under-usage of Jones all season and rightfully so. Against the Seahawks, his inability to involve Jones heavier, despite an offensive machine with a flat tire, may have been the final nail in his own coffin as well as the Packers’ 2018 season.