Through the first two weeks of the NFL season, the Green Bay Packers relied heavily on Aaron Rodgers to fuel Green Bay’s offense, despite the fact that for all but one quarter of that time he was doing the job on just one leg.
Running backs Jamal Williams and Ty Montgomery did an relatively decent job of maintaining the ground game in the first two weeks. Against Chicago’s second-best rushing defense in week one, Williams led the ground attack by rushing for 47 yards on 15 carries; in week two against the 14th-ranked Vikings rushing defense, Williams led with 59 yards on 16 carries and Montgomery followed with 31 yards on five carries. Still, an explosive element was still missing without running back Aaron Jones on the field.
Jones, who was nursing a hamstring injury for much of the preseason and sat out due to suspension for the first two games of the regular season, was a key piece to the Packers’ offense last year. With Jones on the field, Green Bay averaged 6.5 yards per play, while averaging just 5.1 yards per play without him, and his 5.5 yards per carry ranked second among RBs with 75-plus attempts. In his first game this season against Washington, Jones totaled 42 yards on six carries and five yards on one reception, with his first play of the game being this convincing ten-yard run for a first down.
“You’ve got to be smart with all your players, particularly when it’s the first time out there,” head coach Mike McCarthy said following Jones’ game last week. “He hadn’t played since Kansas City but, boy, I thought he did some really good things with the ball and did some good things in the passing game.”
It’s obvious that Jones is a dominant back who continues to find ways to power through defenders and add an edge to the rushing game the Packers’ haven’t had in years. In fact, Rodgers even went as far as comparing Jones to former running back Ryan Grant, who was a member of the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV team and finished his career as the fifth all-time leading rusher in Green Bay.
Prior to the current season, Mike McCarthy and the Packers front office were vocal about utilizing a running back by committee approach. With three healthy backs who all bring a unique style of play to the offense, the Packers are able to diversify their run game, something they’ll certainly need to prioritize effectively this Sunday at Lambeau Field against a top-ranked Bills rushing defense.
Buffalo is coming off one of the biggest upsets of the year, dominating Minnesota on defense with a particularly decisive game on the ground. Despite a rough start to the season, the Bills fifth-ranked rushing defense allowed just 14 yards on six carries against the Vikings, tying an NFL record for fewest carries in an NFL game.
When it comes to rushing defense, Buffalo currently allows an average of just 80 yards on the ground per game. However it’s important to note that while the Bills may have been successful in stopping Minnesota on the ground (who was without RB Dalvin Cook nonetheless) they struggled to stop the top-ranked Chargers rushing game. Los Angeles was led by Austin Ekeler, who carried the ball 11 times for 77 yards. Ekeler currently ranks second when it comes to yards after first contact – a critical skill that Jones also possesses.
Buffalo ranks 11th overall on defense, so it’s unlikely the Packers will diverge too far from their usual pass-heavy approach on offense, even with Rodgers’ still hobbling with a knee injury. However adding Aaron Jones to the mix could help to take some pressure off of Rodgers, especially early in the game. By utilizing Jones from the start, the Packers could control the game clock early, protect Rodgers knee, and reserve his arm down the stretch.
With Jones in the mix between Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery, the Packers could certainly prove to be Buffalo’s toughest matchup on the ground.