Photo by Brandon Magnus/Getty Images
For some reason, the Green Bay Packers continue to avoid featuring their best running back. This seemed to be an issue for Matt LaFleur last year in Tennessee, when he failed to embrace Derrick Henry until late in the season. This year, he is insisting on a time share between Jones and Jamaal Williams, despite evidence that one back is significantly better than the other.
This intends no disrespect to Williams, who is a good change of pace back and is useful situationally. But Jones should be receiving more than half of the snap load, and he certainly should not be touching the ball less often than his counterpart. Hopefully LaFleur figures this out down the stretch, much in the way he did with Henry in 2018.
Through 12 games last season, Henry ran the ball only 128 times, just shy of 11 carries per game, for a total of 474 rushing yards. In the final four contests, he got 87 carries and turned that into 585 yards on the ground. Jones is averaging a more robust 13.5 carries per game this season, but after a five-game stretch of great usage in the passing game — largely with Davante Adams out — he has been an afterthought since then. For the Packers’ offense to get back to the heights it achieved earlier this season, Jones must be more of a factor.
Here’s how playing time broke down on Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers.
OFFENSE (80 plays)
Was this Rodgers’ worst game as a pro? It’s certainly in the bottom five, as he averaged less than 3.2 yards per pass attempt and was sacked five times. His only touchdown pass came on a jet sweep “bump” pass to Davante Adams, and his longest completion was just 15 yards.
Rodgers admittedly did not get much help from his receivers — he threw a potential touchdown to Marquez Valdes-Scantling when MVS did not get his feet down in the back of the end zone and had a long throw to Jimmy Graham called incomplete despite the ball being ripped out of his hands after he hit the ground. But #12 was indecisive and seemed rattled by the 49ers’ pass rush. Perhaps the worst play of the game was when he ate the ball for a sack on 4th and 8 instead of at least throwing something up to one of his tall receivers to let them make a play.
Boyle came in for mop-up duty, completing three of four passes for 15 yards.
The coaching staff’s insistence on splitting the workload between Jones and Williams continues to be maddening to this writer, particularly given the difference in productivity that the offense displays when one back takes the field vs. the other. There is simply no excuse for splitting the snaps 50/50 and giving Williams five more touches (11 carries, 7 receptions) than Jones (13 carries).
Admittedly, neither player was particularly productive, as the 49ers sold out to stop Jones. But given Jones’ explosive ability and talent for creating something out of nothing, he must receive more opportunities moving forward.
What is there to say about the Packers’ receiving corps in this game? No player averaged better than seven yards per reception. Adams caught seven of 12 targets for 43 yards and a score. But there were essentially no down-field pass attempts in this game — the MVS and Graham passes mentioned earlier were basically it.
In particular, Allison’s workload continues to baffle Packers fans. He caught three of four targets, but all were around the line of scrimmage and he totaled just nine yards on those passes. He simply is not a player who is able to create in space.
Lazard delivered the team’s biggest play of the game, a 21-yard gain on an end-around off a play-fake.
There’s not much to say here. Tonyan caught two passes for eight yards, while Graham had one for seven. Graham should have had a 20-plus yard gain on that throw from Rodgers, but the referees blew it incomplete and Matt LaFleur elected not to challenge.
The Packers’ offensive line got schooled all night, as Rodgers was sacked five times and took ten hits. Part of the issue was Bulaga’s early exit, as he left during the third series with a right knee injury. That left Light to try to contain Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner on the edge, which did not end well.
Bakhtiari, Jenkins, and Light each were flagged once for holding, though Light’s was wiped out by an offsetting penalty.
DEFENSE (48 plays)
With the defense put in poor situations by the offense all night, the 49ers had to run impressively few plays to rack up their 37 points. Clark was a high-effort player all game, recording three tackles including one for loss and providing a little bit of push up the middle in the pass rush. Otherwise, there was little to say about the line, as the rest of the players up front were just there through most of the game.
The one standout player for the Packers’ defense was Za’Darius Smith, who tied for the team lead with six tackles. Smith had 1.5 sacks, bringing his total up to a career-high 10 on the year, along with three hits. He ate Justin Skule’s lunch for the entire first half before the 49ers pulled Skule for Daniel Brunskill, who seemed to have much better success. That swap coincided with the start of some sustained offensive success for San Francisco.
Preston added a half-sack to stay slightly ahead of Za’Darius, totaling three tackles in the game. Fackrell had one hit on the quarterback and one assisted tackle.
Martinez had a great sack of Jimmy Garoppolo when he came unblocked, and he actually seemed to hold up reasonably well in coverage early. The 49ers did end up averaging over 5 yards per carry, however, with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson breaking off a few long runs up the middle.
Campbell played a solid dose of nickel and dime linebacker in this game once again, but his second game back from coming off the PUP list was less impressive than his first. He had just one tackle in the game, Meanwhile, Amos and Savage each had four tackles, but Savage’s impact was felt on Deebo Samuel’s 42-yard touchdown on a crossing route. That came with Savage out of the game briefly after he got his bell rung, which resulted in Campbell and Tramon Williams being out-raced to the end zone.
Williams was in coverage on Samuel on that touchdown, and although the veteran is in great shape, he can’t keep up with some faster receivers. Alexander was mostly solid in this game, with a pass breakup and a single assisted tackle. King got picked on, however, and was in coverage on George Kittle for his touchdown catch. King turned toward the sideline and was completely fooled on a double-move, giving him the deep middle of the field.