Newly-hired Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich, formerly the team’s offensive line coach and run game coordinator, met with the media last week following the conclusion of the team’s rookie minicamp. One of the notable quotes that stuck out from his talk with the press was his statement that the team wanted to get running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon on the field together more this year, going as far as to say he was excited to “do a bunch of different stuff.”
After reviewing last season’s offensive film, it seems pretty evident that the Packers’ two-back personnel packages were fairly game-planned, in that the majority of the team’s snaps out of these personnel packages came in two games: against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football and against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17. As Green Bay fans remember, that TNF was when the Packers were out star receiver Davante Adams as well as Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, two of whom are no longer on the team.
Outside of these two games, the team averaged roughly one play per game in which Jones and Dillon were on the field together, over 15 games. To take imagine how the offense might evolve in 2022, let’s first look at how the team used Jones and Dillon together in 2021.
Single back pic.twitter.com/DKSjRAvfNV— Justis Mosqueda (#1 draft class haver) (@JuMosq) May 23, 2022
The first formation we’re going to look at is a normal single-back gun formation. The Packers only ran it once, against the Vikings, but it might hint at who could potentially take over as the screen-catcher now that Adams is a Las Vegas Raider. On a 2nd and 10 in the second half against Minnesota, Dillon was the single back in the backfield while Jones was hidden in the bunch as a receiver. Jones ran a bubble on a run-pass option or packaged play that kept a body out of the box post-snap for Dillon to run behind his pads on a zone carry.
This allowed Green Bay to get five hats on five box defenders, with the left defensive end going unblocked, for a solid run by Dillon to set up third and manageable. Unsurprisingly, this sets off the theme for a lot of these two-back looks: Jones was the chess piece while Dillon was being used as the true tailback.
Single-back, jet motion
Single back jet motion pic.twitter.com/keZC0TeGq4— Justis Mosqueda (#1 draft class haver) (@JuMosq) May 23, 2022
Here is the variation or constraint that lining up Jones wide provides for the offense: using Jones as a jet motion player. Beyond Jones being a talented pass-catcher out of the backfield, the team twice sent him in motion at the snap of the ball out of the three reps when he lined up wide. Against the Vikings, he took the handoff. Against the Cardinals, he was window dressing for a Dillon carry, which unfortunately got stuffed due to a failed block upfront.
Single-back to I formation
Single back to I formation pic.twitter.com/vYU9Gqzzaf— Justis Mosqueda (#1 draft class haver) (@JuMosq) May 23, 2022
This was a one-off formation that the Packers ran against Arizona, in a crucial situation as Green Bay was up three points and faced a third and one. Instead of lining up with Jones as the wideout, the team sent Dillon as the outside player in a bunch set, motioned him back into the backfield and actually gave him the carry as the fullback in the offset I formation for a first-down conversion.
Acme Packing Company’s own Tyler Brooke joked with Dillon about him playing fullback on CheeseheadTV’s Carry the G, where Dillon later made it clear he wants to play tailback and not fullback. Who knows how often we’ll see this look in 2022, but it was a fun play in a big moment.
Split back pic.twitter.com/4AEMCknb4n— Justis Mosqueda (#1 draft class haver) (@JuMosq) May 23, 2022
Beyond the single-back looks, the most popular way the Packers got Jones and Dillon on the field together was out of split-back gun looks. They almost always motioned Jones, the chess piece, but kept them both in the backfield for a single split-flow play-action snap against the Vikings.
Split-back, bubble motion
Single back bubble motion pic.twitter.com/GWRsAqwTJu— Justis Mosqueda (#1 draft class haver) (@JuMosq) May 23, 2022
The Packers’ use of bubble motion with Jones out of the backfield set up their widest variety of constraints against defenses. As you can see in the video above, the team ran true dropback bubble screens to the perimeter with Jones, used Jones on bubble screens on RPOs and ran the motion as window dressing on play-action shots.
Split-back to single-back
Split back to single back pic.twitter.com/oSssF3W1Hf— Justis Mosqueda (#1 draft class haver) (@JuMosq) May 23, 2022
If the Packers ever want to use their two-back looks to get Jones vertical in the passing game, the way to do it is by motioning him out of the backfield to the sideline, as they did against the Arizona Cardinals. On a third and three in the first quarter of that game, Jones was sent out to the sideline where he was matched up one-on-one with a box defender and nearly came down with an explosive play that would have put Green Bay past midfield.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Packers want to get Jones and Dillon, arguably their best two offensive skill players, on the field together in 2022. What might surprise some, though, is the fact that they hardly have played together, outside of two game-planned games in 2021. It’s not a bad idea for the team to use Jones (their returning leader in yards from scrimmage) as the perimeter chess piece and while Dillon (their rushing yards leader last year) forces defenses to stay honest in the box.
It worked, in small samples, last season. The question now is just how serious the organization is willing to commit to the personnel groupings. It’s not very common to play two true running backs together in the NFL, with teams like the New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts and, depending on what you want to call Cordarrelle Patterson, the Atlanta Falcons leading the NFL for “pony” packages in 2021. Some teams go years without playing a pair of backs the way the Packers used Jones and Dillon against the Cardinals and Vikings. At the very least, Green Bay’s usage of its backfield is something worth monitoring and keeping in the back of your mind as we head into the summer.