Coming into the season, one of the major focuses in Green Bay was how the Packers were going to use running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, who were presumed to be the team’s top offensive skill players after the Davante Adams trade. Unfortunately, Jones clearly looked like the better back in 2022, despite their split usage.
Over the last two weeks, the Packers have only used their “Pony” package, which features both Jones and Dillon on the field at the same time, for a total of seven offensive snaps. Instead, they are electing to play a backfield of either Jones or Dillon, not both.
The results? Jones has posted 409 rushing yards on 70 carries (5.8 yards per carry) while Dillon has taken 73 rush attempts for 286 yards (3.9 yards per carry.) The eye test says that Dillon has been less impressive than Jones this season, or even the 2021 version of himself. The analytics seem to back that up, too.
Advocating for more Aaron Jones touches because he’s so clearly better than the RB2 who is getting a bunch of reps is giving me deja vu pic.twitter.com/NLdHL4ODLg— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) October 18, 2022
According to the two pieces of information above, both which come from Pro Football Focus’ data, Jones is playing like one of the best ball-carriers in the league while Dillon is playing well below average. In terms of yards above expectation, which accounts for fronts, run type and the quality of blocks made, Jones only ranks behind Rashad Penny, Travis Etienne, Khalil Herbert and Josh Jacobs in 2022. Dillon, meanwhile, only ranks above Najee Harris, Leonard Fournette, the recently benched Antonio Gibson and Dalvin Cook, according to PFF’s metrics.
When you look at the expected yards per play, PFF claims that Jones should be averaging 4.76 yards per play while Dillon should be averaging 4.93 yards per play, a stark difference from the nearly two yards per play difference in Jones’ favor in real life. The analytics company is claiming that that their difference in yards per carry is not because of box counts, run types or quality of blocks, but actually falls on the shoulders of the running backs themselves.
According to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was a guest on The Pat McAfee Show on Tuesday, teams are apparently game-planning the Packers’ personnel packages, particularly at the running back and tight end positions. In Rodgers’ own works, teams are playing with two-high safeties to attempt to stop play action shots when the team is under center and are playing with single high safeties when the Packers are in the gun to attempt to bottle up the run-pass option game.
He said the one exception is when the team puts blocking tight end Marcedes Lewis and Dillon on the field together, which defenses combat by playing single-high looks as they anticipate a run coming. If that’s true, that could explain why Dillon looks like he’s lost a step this season, as it’s harder to make defenses look foolish when they know what’s coming at them.
The Packers have two options: They either need to break their run-pass tendencies with the personnel packages they put on the field or they need to lean on Jones, who is playing very well but has never been the full-time bellcow, moving forward. If that’s what defenses are begging you to do, at some point you have to take what the defense gives you.