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Packers running back AJ Dillon showed great vision against the Cardinals

The Cardinals had no answer for the Packers’ run game.

AJ Dillon was a man amongst boys on Thursday night. He averaged 4.8 yards on 16 carries and routinely created yards after contact. While the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line had some inconsistency on the inside, Dillon continually gashed the Arizona Cardinals on zone-scheme runs. When he got onto second level, he was a problem. The truck that is AJ Dillon averaged only 1.06 yards before contact, but managed to create almost four additional yards after contact.

Dillon’s one-cut, bruising style was a menace to the Cardinals when it was paired with the Packers’ wide zone. In wide zone, the back reads from the outside in. In their first three steps, they must determine the leverage of the end man on the line of scrimmage. If that player has sealed the outside, they sequentially move their eyes inside to the next defensive lineman.

On Dillon’s first rep of wide zone on the night, he sees that Markus Golden has secured the edge. Additionally, Zach Allen has crossed the face of Lucas Patrick. Dillon has three steps to gather that information and five steps to cut and make his decision. By pressing his track to the offensive tackle, Billy Turner, Dillon has forced the linebacker to fit to the play-side. That helps to create the cutback lane off of Patrick’s block and Dillon falls forward for a gain of five yards.

Dillon gets a similar look again on his second wide zone run, but the backside blocks do a great job of washing down the defense. Dillon cuts on his fifth step and attacks the alley for the cutback.

Dillon also had good success on the Packers’ split zone. Split zone uses the H-back or sniffer to come across the formation and kick out the unblocked backside end man on the line of scrimmage. It’s the building block for the Packers’ boot game and helps to move defenders at the second level as well as prevent the end from chasing down the run. Here, there are two separate double teams. Newman and Patrick are creating one while Jenkins and Runyan are creating another while both work up to the second level. Dillon again shows decisiveness and reads the fit of the play-side linebacker. As that defender fills inside of his play-side double team to the right, Dillon cuts outside and gets vertical onto the 3rd-level defender.

This rep of split zone is a great example of the power of the Packers’ play-action game and how the crunch across can influence the defense. The Packers are running inside zone and creating double teams on the 1-technique and 3-technique. However, as Dominique Dafney comes across the formation to kick out the end, Jordan Hicks moves out of position to help cover him in case he slips out the other side. Those small steps outside help create the space Dillon needs to turn this into an explosive run.

Jenkins destroys the 3-technique with Runyan which also prevents the other linebacker from being able to scrape over and make a play on Dillon. Just like the previous split zone play, Dillon sees the linebacker fit. He then cuts off of his double team to the backside. The crunch has both kicked out the end and moved Hicks out of position. As a result, Dillon immediately gets up to Budda Baker at the 3rd level.

AJ Dillon has power and vision — a deadly combination. He has efficient footwork and continually creates space and gains yards on zone-scheme runs.