One of the many differences between the Matt LaFleur offense and that of Mike McCarthy’s when he was at the helm is the frequency in which two running backs are on the field together.
Under McCarthy, Green Bay lined up in 21 (two RBs and one TE) or 22 (two RBs and two TEs) personnel just one percent of the time in 2018, according to Sharp Football. However, in Year 1 of LaFleur, that rate jumped to 15 percent and then to 16 in 2020—for some context, the 14 percent of snaps that the Packers ran from 21 personnel was the fifth most in football last season.
Now looking ahead to the 2021 season, we could see that figure jump again as we see more of AJ Dillon, and that could result in more opportunities for Aaron Jones in the passing game.
While Jamaal Williams was a solid and well-rounded No. 2 running back for the Green Bay Packers, he was limited—lacking that explosive playmaking ability. Coming out of BYU, he posted a below-average Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 4.54, and over his career has averaged 4.0 yards per carry and 7.9 yards per catch. Again for some context, in 2020, 4.0 yards per rush would have ranked 49th out of 63 eligible running backs, according to PFF.
When Green Bay had two running backs on the field, Williams likely didn’t command much of the attention, and the focus still landed on Jones for the most part–making it more difficult for him to find those one-on-one opportunities. However, with Dillon stepping into that RB2 role, that very well could change because Dillon is a big play waiting to happen.
At 247-pounds, Dillon posted an elite RAS of 9.18 coming out of Boston College and rushed for over 1,100 yards in all three seasons, including over 1,500 in two of those years while averaging 5.2 yards per rush. Even in his very limited action as a rookie, we saw that playmaking on display as he rushed for 124 yards on 5.9 yards per attempt with two touchdowns against Tennessee.
It’s this home run ability from Dillon that will have the attention of opposing defenses, and that could lead to more opportunities for Jones in the passing game as opponents will have to choose between trying to stop Jones or trying to stop Dillon–not to mention that there is also Robert Tonyan, Davante Adams, and others to worry about as well.
During Jones’ first two seasons under McCarthy, he was targeted just 45 times in the passing game. But under LaFleur, he saw 74 targets in 2019 and 68 targets in 2020, even though he missed two games. Over these last two years specifically, Jones has recorded 887 receiving yards with six touchdowns and 8.3 yards per catch.
His ability as a pass-catcher both out of the backfield and in the slot has become an important part of this Packers offense and helps LaFleur achieve that “illusion of complexity” that he talks about–which essentially means keeping defenses off-balance and guessing by running the same play from a variety of personnel — requiring versatility — as well as different plays that begin very similarly.
More opportunities for Jones to touch the ball is always a good thing, and although he’s already become a key member of the passing game under LaFleur, the potential for him to see more targets is certainly there with Dillon now in the mix. When both Jones and Dillon are on the field, defenses will have a hard time choosing who they will want to stop.
Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl.