The Packers' offense took one on the chin last Sunday. During their loss to Minnesota, we got a small taste of what may be to come with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon both on the field at the same time. There were only seven such plays, but the concepts have expanded from previous years.
In past seasons, a large extent of the Jones and Dillon packages consisted of using one of them in the run game and one of them as a pass option in an RPO. Running back Aaron Jones would go out in motion from the backfield and run a bubble. AJ Dillon was the running back getting the handoff. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers reads whether there was any defensive flow to the motion. If defenders went with Jones, Rodgers would hand the ball off. If they stayed, he would throw it. This concept was a huge part of the Packers’ gameplan in their divisional round playoff win against the Los Angeles Rams in 2020.
In contrast, in their season opener against the Vikings, the Packers chose to send AJ Dillon out on the bubble and keep Aaron Jones in on the run. Jones adds a real speed threat inside while Dillon adds size outside against smaller defensive backs. Green Bay’s run scheme of wide zone going the opposite direction puts the defense in conflict with an immense horizontal stretch.
The Packers split out Aaron Jones at receiver a number of times during their game at Minnesota. That gave Green Bay some versatility in how they got to their base concepts. Here, Jones has an orbit return motion. Jones comes across the center and returns behind the quarterback for the bubble. This time, the defense chases him outside and Rodgers hands the ball off.
The Packers got to this same general concept multiple times through the game. One running back threatening the perimeter on an RPO and the other running zone in the opposite direction.
Shot Play Wrinkle
Green Bay eventually tried to manufacture a shot play off of that same look, but the Vikings stayed home. AJ Dillon is sent out on the motion with the play fake going to Aaron Jones. The Packers ran pure drop back pass protection and none of the second-level defenders of the Vikings were fooled into coming up on the run or the bubble. Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson kept cushion on receiver Christian Watson at the top and receiver Sammy Watkins’ route at the bottom didn’t develop until it was too late.
Staying in the Backfield
An added wrinkle was keeping both Dillon and Jones in the backfield at the snap. The Packers use the action of Dillon crossing Rodgers’ face both as a run fake and as a way to run split zone and get a “puller” on the backside of the run scheme. Green Bay is running inside zone with a kickout on the backside from tight end Marcedes Lewis. That leaves Dillon to wrap through what would have been a cutback lane to pick up the linebacker. Jones is running his inside zone track and if the front side of the concept is plugged, he now has a lead blocker backside.
The Packers’ other two plays with both Dillon and Jones came with Jones split outside as a receiver and Dillon in the backfield. The NFL is a matchup league and the Packers can put defenses in a bind with both Dillon and Jones on the field. All opposing coordinators can do is see that they’re both in the huddle. However, they don’t know if they’ll be used on RPOs, have Jones split out wide or if they’ll crunch Dillon across as an extra blocker. Defenses have to choose how they best think they can defend all of those potential options. The pass-catching ability of both backs can help Green Bay manufacture some offense while their young receivers get up to speed. The Dillon and Jones packages might not have set the world on fire, but the plays and concepts are expanding and it’s clear that both backs will be utilized on the ground and through the air going forward.