As a team, the Packers ran the ball efficiently and effectively, running for 174 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries. Jones ran the ball just eight times but picked up 76 yards, while Dillon carried it 14 times for 63 yards and a pair of scores.
After Sunday’s game, both Jones and Dillon have eclipsed 1,000 scrimmage yards for the season. It’s the first time a running back duo has accomplished that feat in Green Bay since Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis in 1980.
Both running backs showed what they can bring to the table in Sunday’s win, but their offensive linemen did a great job of paving the way for them. Let’s take a look at how the run game was so effective against the Vikings in this week’s film study.
Let’s start with the opening drive of the game. Putting Lazard in motion to the strong side of the formation, the Packers run outside zone with Jones to the weak side. Outside runs are great for running backs with good vision to find cutback lanes on the backside, but that also requires good blocks to create those lanes from the weak-side tackle and guard.
Running outside zone to the weak-side of the formation can be tough.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 3, 2022
Nice blocks from JRJ and Nijman on the backside, and good recognition from Jones to cut back. pic.twitter.com/DOnPB9GTbV
Yosh Nijman and Jon Runyan Jr. do a nice job of holding their blocks on the backside, creating a natural cutback lane for Jones, who recognizes it and gets north-south quickly for a very solid run. A seven-yard run isn’t going to show up on the highlights of any game, but it’s crucial for sustained offensive success.
Nijman and Runyan had quite a good day run blocking on the left side of the formation on Sunday night and over the past few games. The film has consistently shown the left tackle and left guard creating rushing lanes and moving well in space to get blocks on the second level.
This next run was another great example of those two linemen getting upfield to make key blocks. The Packers ran a sweep concept out of the gun, with Nijman and Josiah Deguara making key blocks at the second level to spring Jones loose.
Lot of stuff to like here.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 3, 2022
Deguara getting to the second level, Jones letting blocks develop before breaking outside.
But Nijman sealing the edge was my favorite. pic.twitter.com/w9e1MJN8Wx
It’s a subtle move, but Jones does a nice job taking his first step north-south to keep the linebackers and secondary from committing to the sweep before breaking the run outside. Nijman’s seal block on the second level allowed Jones to run free.
Another way the Packers have been getting Jones in space has been by running pitch and toss concepts over the last few weeks. Matt LaFleur and his coaching staff drew up multiple pitch/toss concepts on Christmas Day against the Cleveland Browns, and it seems to be something they feel can work for them going forward.
On this pitch from the gun, Runyan and Lucas Patrick do a nice job getting across the face of their defenders on reach blocks, while Nijman and Marcedes Lewis are able to wall off defenders on the other side.
Packers really calling a lot of pitch/toss concepts the past few games.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 3, 2022
Great reach blocks from Runyan and Patrick on this one. Then Big Dog and Nijman are able to wall off a rushing lane. pic.twitter.com/QREQsHOwlY
While the Packers were finding ways to get Jones in space, they were much more focused on getting Dillon to make plays between the tackles. It makes sense given the skill-set of both running backs. Jones has good vision and contact balance to get outside, while Dillon and his 247-pound frame ran inside and powered through defenders.
Dillon’s ability to move the pile is a rare trait in running backs. His lower body strength and ability to keep his foot moving through contact makes it hard to bring him down on first contact. His first touchdown was a great example of that.
Dillon moves the pile and crosses the goal line.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 3, 2022
This is what winter in Lambeau Field is all about. pic.twitter.com/9kYcSJeh9P
You’ll also notice at the beginning of this play how quickly the offensive line wins in the trenches. Nijman and Runyan have driven their defenders back towards the goal line, and Dillon uses his momentum to drive all of them into the end zone.
The absence of Vikings defensive tackle Michael Pierce was felt in this game. The 29-year-old had been having a great year on Minnesota’s interior, but missed this game due to illness, allowing the Packers to attack the trenches more effectively.
Dillon’s vision and mental processing have been noticeably improved this year as well. His ability to read and react to the blocks in front of him has made him a much more effective runner. On this play with Deguara blocking across the formation, Dillon waited for Deguara to wrap around the offensive line and engage with a second-level defender to cut upfield with plenty of space around the outside.
Good vision from Dillon here. pic.twitter.com/MbsjnGj34G— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 3, 2022
One player that Dillon has reminded Packers fans of is the great Marshawn Lynch with his powerful play-style and ability to carry defenders into the end zone. One clip that Dillon has cited in the past is Lynch’s famous interview talking about “running through a [expletive face]” (NSFW), and how he has tried to embrace that mentality.
AJ Dillon has taken "run through a motherf***er face" to heart this year. pic.twitter.com/e29XYe0CJg— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) January 3, 2022
It’s safe to say that Dillon has successfully embraced that mentality.
With the number one seed locked up, the Packers will need everyone operating at their best to make a Super Bowl run. If Sunday’s game was any indication, then the running game is heating up at the right time.