Today, we continue our look at the best plays of the Green Bay Packers’ 2017 season with the play coming in at number seven on our countdown.
Rookie running back Aaron Jones had broken out early in the season following injuries to veteran Ty Montgomery and fellow rookie Jamaal Williams. Jones had a nice game against the Bears, following it up with an exceptional performance in the Packers’ win over the Dallas Cowboys. Play number seven on our countdown, however, was an exclamation point and perhaps is the single best play that illustrates Jones’ vision and explosiveness.
The Packers were in rough shape in their first game with Brett Hundley starting at quarterback. Aaron Rodgers was knocked out with what was essentially a season-ending injury the previous week against the Vikings, and this would be their first big test without their MVP. To continue to be successful, everyone would need to step up their game to support Hundley, as he would at the very least experience some growing pains.
The Packers picked a pair of running backs in the back half of the 2017 draft, and Aaron Jones, the dynamic 5th-round selection out Texas—El Paso, impressed early in the season, breaking out against Dallas with a 19-carry, 125-yard performance. He would see the majority of the action against the Saints, and he did not disappoint, tallying 131 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries.
It was all Jones to kick off the game as he took his first carry 15 yards. He was held to just 3 yards on his second carry, but an offsides penalty sets him up well on 3rd and 2, when he picked up the first down with a strong 6-yard run. It was 1st and 10 from the New Orleans 46, Brett Hundley hadn’t completed a pass in two attempts, and Jones and crew were about to blow everyone away.
The Packers came out heavy with two tight ends. Martellus Bennett is lined up on the right end of the formation flanked by Jordy Nelson, while Richard Rodgers is on the left end of the line flanked by Davante Adams. Jones is the lone setback.
The Saints are in a bit of a strange set, with three linebackers bunched in the middle of the field and two deep safeties split wide. The linebackers are looking to go downhill and seem to be expecting a straight ahead power run. In terms of blocking, it’s 7-on-7 up front.
On big runs like this, you usually see a combination of excellent execution by the offense and mistakes by the defense and that’s exactly what you get here. The Packers’ play design was outstanding and executed perfectly. The Saints, on the other hand, could hardly have played this worse. For starters, had this been a play-action pass, it still likely would have resulted in a touchdown, because no one covers Davante Adams. At all.
This is the first thing that the Saints do wrong. The second is extreme over-pursuit. The play starts going right. Justin McCray pulls and makes one of the best blocks of his career, wiping out two Saints defenders, including one who had completely beaten Jordy Nelson. David Bakhtiari is well regarded for his pass blocking, but on this play he showed excellent power, speed, and technique in run-blocking. If the Saints were going to stop this play, linebacker Craig Robertson (52) was the most likely stopper.
He’s in good position to stop the play as designed, and he, unlike almost every other Saint, may have actually read the play properly. It doesn’t matter, however, because Bakhtiari busts up-field and engages Robertson, escorting him to the strong side of the play and, as it turns out, safely out of harm’s way.
This is precisely where everything goes wrong for the Saints.
Sometimes cutbacks just happen on running plays, but based on the blocking this is almost certainly a designed counter, and what a counter it is. Bakhtiari knows exactly where to take Robertson because he knows that Jones won’t be there. Manti T’eo (51) continues strong side, clearly seeing something that isn’t there, and the last of the three linebackers, AJ Klein (53) was already on the wrong side of the formation and got himself buried by McCray.
With the entire Saint run defense breaking hard in the wrong direction, Jones cuts and explodes into an empty middle.
Look at all of those 50s. Because the safeties were split wide to start the play, and partially because strong safety Kenny Vaccaro broke towards the wide open Davante Adams just a bit, the middle is wide open, and Jones takes it to the house for a picture perfect 46-yard touchdown.
Jones got the Packers out to a nice lead, but it was not to be. Brett Hundley was simply terrible throwing the ball in his first start, undermining all of the good work Jones would do on the day and wasting a nice effort from the rookie runner. The Saints would coast to a 26-17 victory, and while this run was an exciting moment, it now looks like the beginning of a trend in the 2017 season where a bright young runner would excel, only to be undermined by the backup quarterback who just never figured things out. Still, it was another in a long list of truly exciting plays by Jones, who looked like a star in the making almost every time he took the field.