Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams are fine. I’d even venture to say they’re decent. Collectively, they’re the equivalent of sugar cookies. They’re good, and on occasion can really hit the spot, but they shouldn’t be anyone’s favorite dessert. Aaron Jones is like an ice cream cookie; he’s versatile, and (for the lactose intolerant) can be much more explosive than the other two. Jones, in his first game back off of suspension, made an instant impact on offense and showed why he’s the better choice for the Green Bay Packers at running back.
On his first carry of the game, Jones made the right read but even with that read, if the first tackle was made, the play goes for a short gain of a yard or two. There’s some good and some bad with this play; the bad is that McCarthy is asking Jimmy Graham to run block a defensive end, which absolutely incenses me due to the sheer stupidity of the task. That’s like asking Andy Reid to run a marathon and expect him to finish top 30. Andy Reid is great, and Graham is great, but they are great at different things than what you’re asking of them. Jimmy Graham has never, in his 9 year NFL career, been a good blocker. Having him line up on the line with his hand in the ground and try to block Ryan Kerrigan on the edge is a giant L for the offense.
Fortunately, there’s some good that helps mitigate this disaster. Corey Linsley, as the uncovered backside man, pulls to his right (I love it when you get a center pulling) and is there to cleanup the mess. The rest of the linemen block the man covering them with playside leverage meaning their head, hands and hips are to the playside of their defender, between their man and the ballcarrier. The linemen got a good burst off the line; Lane Taylor has already taken a step to his left by the time his man started to stand up out of his stance.
Both Taylor and Justin McCray get good leverage and do a great job holding on to their blocks throughout the length of the run, and their success with those blocks sets up Jones well.
With Linsley pulling, Taylor getting his DT, and David Bakhtiari dropping back to seal off the backside DE, Green Bay leaves the Will backer, #54 Mason Foster unblocked. This play is betting that Foster will take a conservative inside-out read - which he does - and Jones will run to the outside of him, rendering him useless at the point of attack.
Had Foster scraped over the top, he would have met Jones in the hole, but instead he gets caught in traffic and doesn’t affect the play. Bulaga picks up the other inside linebacker with ease, as he also jumps inside in an effort to get to Jones, and in the process, renders himself useless and the hole is now vacated by any front-7 defender.
The issue is, Geronimo Allison isn’t able to block Josh Norman, who slices inside and gets his hands on Jones. Norman, if he would have made the tackle, stops this play for a short gain. This is where Jones’ elusiveness comes in; he puts a spin move on Norman and easily runs through his arm tackle (and an outstretched leg), and then proceeds to run through a Damarious Randall-esque attempt at a tackle by Montae Nicholson. The end result was 10 yards, and it all looked too easy.
Until he did it again on the very next play. This time Graham was split out wide along with everyone else including Jones, and Washington only had 6 men in the box. Blocking was zone scheme and Green Bay decided to leave the backside DE, who was lined up in the 9 technique, unblocked. Again, the thinking is that a player lined up so far away from the intended running lane isn’t going to have an impact on the ball carrier until 4 or 5 yards downfield at the earliest due simply to the angles of the running back vs. the defender, as long as Jones hits the hole without hesitation. Jones came in motion all the way back to the immediate left of Rodgers and got the handoff.
Each blocker won their respective battle, and again, Jones picks up 9 yards. Credit both the play design as well as the linemen here; spreading out Washington left open running lanes which means the only thing left to do is execute, and Green Bay did just that.
The last play I’ll go over is something that gets me more excited for a competent run game than the other two plays. There’s a lot going on here, so stay patient with me. I’ll show you the play in full to start.
Let’s start with the left side. Remember how I got steamed about how Jimmy Graham was being used as a blocker on the LOS? Well, McCarthy must have heard me yelling at him through the TV because he did the right thing this time. Instead of having Graham try and block anybody, he sprints to the flat and looks over his shoulder for a pass, and during the handoff, Rogers is looking Graham’s way to sell the possibility of a play-action pass.
All of this action caused #53 Zach Brown to misread the play and begin to run with Graham to the outside, as they were in man coverage and Graham was Brown’s man. If Brown didn’t stick with Graham and Rodgers pulled the ball, it’s an easy 6+ yards. Instead, Brown begins to bail, and pulls himself out of the play. Look at his eyes when Jones is already at the LOS:
Bakhtiari’s job is pretty easy; as his man doesn’t crash hard inside, all he has to do is stalk-block him and just get in his way a bit. Lane Taylor hops in to his right in order to seal off his man; his job is made even easier as the defensive tackle slants outside at the snap of the ball. Even if his man had gone straight up, Taylor had good positioning to still make the block. Daron Payne, the DT lined up over McCray slants inside but gets picked up by Linsley on a down block; had McCray been responsible for Payne, Payne’s slant makes that block difficult and could easily stop Jones at the LOS. Additionally, if Payne gets penetration off the snap it makes Linsley’s downblock more difficult as Payne might be quick enough to get around the block. Instead, Linsley doesn’t have to worry about the penetration as Payne’s first steps are horizontal towards the center.
McCray is responsible for the Will linebacker, Foster, who doesn’t make a quick enough read on the play. The typical read is the backfield triangle; guard, RB, guard. While Foster has B gap responsibility, the steps by Lane Taylor end up looking like a hitch step in order to cutoff backside pursuit. A guard would only do this if the play is intended to go wide outside. Similarly, the block by Linsley on Payne could be read as a combo block coming to the 4 hole, or the spot between McCray and Jason Spriggs. The idea on a combo block is to have both Linsley and McCray block Payne and have Linsley work his hips around to McCray’s spot, sealing Payne off inside, while McCray would pop off and pickup Foster. It’s a very common block in zone schemes. Instead, Foster takes a few steps outside and McCray doesn’t even lay a hand on him, as he’s trying to get an idea as to where Foster is going. Mistake. But here’s what got me really excited; it didn’t matter that McCray missed, because Jones had Foster beat! Check out the bend by Jones as soon as he’s in the hole:
Jones doesn’t slow down whatsoever, and is able to maintain great body control and leave Foster swiping at a ghost. This play combined the explosiveness that Jamaal Williams doesn’t have and the ability to read the running lane that Ty Montgomery doesn’t possess. Combined with smart scheming on the line, and you end up with 17 yards.
All we can do now is hope that McCarthy and company realize that Aaron Jones is the answer at running back and to feed the man the football. If you do, exciting things happen.