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Packers RB Aaron Jones is playing great; It’s time to run him

Despite Jones’ extremely high efficiency numbers, Green Bay hasn’t allowed him to take over games in 2022.

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Through five games, Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones has taken 61 carries for 390 rushing yards and a 6.4 yards-per-attempt average. Despite the lack of touches, he has been efficient at a rate that we have rarely seen over the last 50 years of NFL football.

NFL running back seasons with 60-plus carries for 6.4 yards per carry through Week 5 in NFL history, via Stathead.

To put Jones’ start to the 2022 season into perspective, here are all of the players who have been able to match Jones’ yards per carry on as many attempts as him through five games of a season: Joe Perry (1954), Jim Brown (1958 and 1963), Jim Taylor (1961), O.J. Simpson (1973) and Jamal Lewis (2003.) In those six seasons, each one of those backs were named First-Team All-Pros and Pro Bowlers.

Still, Jones only averages 12.2 carries per game in 2022, despite the Packers’ struggling offense. For reference, the six backs mentioned earlier were able to post a combined 25-4-1 record over those five-week stretches. Green Bay is 3-2 and is averaging just 19.2 points per game, a mark that ranks 22nd in the NFL.

Aside from the Packers’ lack of a commitment to the run game, the passing game helps explain why Green Bay is not meeting expectations this season. One of my favorite stats is Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (or ANY/A) which is a yards-per-attempt metric that includes sacks and weighs touchdowns and interceptions in the formula. When you look at the Packers from that perspective, only the New England Patriots are more league-average through the air on both sides of the ball in 2022.

Aaron Rodgers’ Week 5 passing chart via Next Gen Stats.

The defense has been disappointing, clearly, but one reason for the lackluster passing offense is the run-pass-option-heavy scheme that has kept quarterback Aaron Rodgers throwing into the flats and has stalled out multiple scoring drives this season. For reference, Rodgers threw 39 passes against the New York Giants in Week 5 for 222 yards and only completed four throws beyond 10 air yards, all of which were under 20 air yards.

The team doesn’t have much of a run defense to lean on, either, as inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell has seemingly regressed overnight and the defensive line has struggled to develop a difference maker other than nose tackle Kenny Clark. The one above-average thing the Packers do right now is run the ball, particularly with Jones.

It’s time to sacrifice some efficiency in the run game for more volume. Sure, Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale ran a bunch of funky fronts that clogged the line of scrimmage for the Packers. That can’t dissuade Green Bay from calling run plays, though. It didn’t stop San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan, who ran trap all over former Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s packed fronts in the playoffs. Hell, it didn’t even stop New York on Sunday, as the Giants were calling quarterback draws into six-on-six situations — with the assumption that the Packers wouldn’t call an all-out blitz even though they presented the look as eye candy.

Running the ball more, even for fewer yards per carry, is exactly what this backfield has been asking for. After the loss in London, Jones stated that he would have “put my money on giving me or AJ Dillon two downs to get two yards,” when asked about the Packers’ failed goal-line series that featured two batted passes on third- and fourth-and-short with overtime on the line.

The Packers paid Jones $48 million to play like a Pro Bowler. In 2022, he’s maximized his touches to the highest rate you can realistically ask of him. The running game, despite all of the changes on the offensive line through five weeks, is the one phase of football that the team is actually doing well right now. It’s time to swallow that tough pill and run the hell out of the ball.

There’s no reason why the Packers should have only run the ball 19 times with backs like Jones and Dillon in London, especially when Green Bay held the lead over the Giants for nearly 50 minutes on Sunday and had built up a two-touchdown lead in the first half. Run the ball. If not now, when?