The Green Bay Packers are now 7-1 and sit atop the NFC North, with only the Vikings close behind, and both teams are currently on a four-game winning streak. Many have attributed the Packers’ success to two things: the defense and Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay’s D has perfected their own “bend don’t break” mentality, having allowed the 11th most yards per game (375.5) while also allowing the 11th least points per game (20.4). Meanwhile, Rodgers has racked up 734 yards and eight touchdowns in just the last two games, and looks like his old self. However, blinded by these two standouts, people are forgetting about debatably the most important piece of the team’s success thus far, their third year back out of Texas, Aaron Jones.
After serving the previous two seasons caught in a running back-by-committee scheme or as the backup, prayers from Packers fans and analysts alike to free Jones have been answered, and boy, is he making Green Bay’s coaching staff look like geniuses for doing so. Halfway through this NFL season, Jones has already tallied career-highs in receiving yards (355) and touchdowns (11)—also a league best—while also boosting his season averages to a much more respectable 4.1 yards per carry.
With Davante Adams out since Week 4, there has been a hole in the Packers’ passing game that Jones has proven more than capable of filling. Since Adams’ injury back in late September, Jones has been targeted at least seven times all but one week and racked up at least four catches in each game for an average of 63.4 yards. These averages get a little boost when you take a look at Jones’ last game against the Chiefs, when under the Sunday-night lights, the running back torched Kansas City’s porous defense to the tune of seven catches for a career-high 159 yards and two touchdowns.
Add on what should have been 10 more yards and another score had he not stepped out of bounds on a deep pass from Rodgers, and the stat line somehow becomes even more impressive. Even luckier for the Packers organization and its fans, he is pretty good as a running back too.
Jones is averaging just over 58 rushing yards per game, which places him at No. 18 in the league, not too impressive. However, among running backs with over 100 carried on the season, he ranks No. 12 in yards per carry with a solid 4.09 average. This comes as a result of Jones averaging more than four yards per carry in five of the team’s eight games.
Jones has shown patience, power, the ability to read defenses and, most importantly, a complete game that has relieved pressure off Rodgers. With defenses no longer being able to doubt the Packers’ run game, Rodgers has been able to put up the monstrous numbers he has for the past few weeks with relative ease compared to years past, showing Jones’ immense impact even when he doesn’t have the ball.
Green Bay is putting up 26.9 points per game, ranking them at No. 7 in the NFL—just the second time they have ranked in the top 14 teams in the past five seasons. Along with this, they have converted two-thirds of their red-zone attempts, their highest percentage since they led the league in 2012. The offense is clicking on all cylinders, in particular when it matters most, but that isn’t the only part of their ever-improving attack this season.
During the past four seasons, when Green Bay’s running game was as essentially non-existent: Rodgers was sacked a horrendous 48 times per season, with totals of 49 and an estimated 50 (he was sacked 22 times in the seven games he played before being injured) coming in 2017 and 2018, numbers placing him in the bottom-three for each year.
Now with the improved running game as well as a few other receivers getting acclimated to the playstyle of Rodgers and LaFleur, the quarterback has been sacked just 17 times, putting him on track for 34 on the season, his lowest total since 2014. This is in no small part due to the improved running game spearheaded by Jones’ efforts.
Looking to the future, the Packers are set to face off against four teams who place in the bottom third of the league in rush defense, the Panthers, Giants, Redskins and Lions—who also rank last in the league in passing defense, paving the way for Jones and the entire Packers’ offense to finish the season at their best in the past several seasons.
All this is thanks to the play of Jones, who after finally being released from the shackles of McCarthy’s offensive scheme, is making an impact on the field with and without the ball in his hands. Yes, the defense and Rodgers have had an incredible impact on the season, but as of now, it seems like no player has had a larger impact than Jones.
Conner Gilson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @connergilson03.