Packers Are Super No. 3: It’s Aaron-Squared

Bill Huber

Note: With an 8-2 record at the bye, the Green Bay Packers are a prime contender to be playing in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2 in Miami. This is part of a six-part series – three on why the Packers will get to the Super Bowl and three on why they will fall short.

As long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy and on top of his game, the Packers have a chance to beat any opponent, anywhere.

Add in one of the game’s top counterpunchers, running back Aaron Jones, and the Packers look doubly dangerous as they enter the stretch run to an unexpectedly strong season.

If you need a reminder of the power of Rodgers, look no further than 2016. Despite a wide receiver playing running back, an injury-ravaged and porous defense, and receiver Jordy Nelson suffering broken ribs in the wild-card playoff game against Dallas and receiver Davante Adams suffering an ankle injury in the divisional game against Dallas, Rodgers carried the Packers to the NFC Championship Game.

If Rodgers can get that team to a championship team, what could he do this year with an excellent running game, a resourceful defense and a healthy roster? The last time he was armed with a dominant runner and a quality defense was the second half of 2014, when Rodgers, Eddie Lacy and a hot defense did everything but lead the Packers to a victory over Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Heading into Sunday, Rodgers is seventh in the league with a 102.7 passer rating and has thrown 17 touchdowns vs. two interceptions. After a slow start to the season as he gained comfort in Matt LaFleur’s offense and LaFleur gained comfort with Rodgers, Rodgers has completed 66.1 percent of his passes (eighth), posted a 105.0 passer rating (sixth) and averaged 8.15 yards per attempt (sixth).

As was the case with Rodgers, Jones got off to a slow start to the season, as well. Even with a 116-yard performance vs. Minnesota in Week 2, he averaged just 3.31 yards per carry through the first four games. In the last six games, among all backs with at least 50 carries, Jones ranked fifth in the league with a 5.18-yard average.

(Meanwhile, since returning from a concussion, Jamaal Williams is fourth in the league with 5.23 yards per carry among all backs with 39 carries the past five weeks.)

NFL's top scoring tandems: See video with this story.

With the passing game and running game working in concert, the offense has gotten in gear. Over the last six games, Green Bay is fifth with 27.5 points per game and 6.14 yards per play and second in turnovers per game with 0.5. For as flawed as the offense appears to be, it’s found a way to score points. Sometimes, it’s been Rodgers. Sometimes, it’s been Jones. And sometimes, it’s been Rodgers throwing to Jones. Again, going back to the last six games, Jones is seventh among backs with 23 receptions, third with 279 yards and tied for second with three touchdowns. (Williams is first with four touchdown receptions.) According to Pro Football Focus, Jones is second among backs with 2.66 yards per pass route.

“It changes,” Rodgers said of the offense’s plan of attack. “That’s the beauty of what we’re doing on offense. With Matt and Hack (offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett) and those guys, when they put together the plan, it’s, ‘What do we feel best about this week?’ And we’re going to do that. I said a couple weeks ago, we’ve learned how to win different ways. We’ve thrown the ball for 400 yards and a bunch of touchdowns (and) we’ve run the ball.”

For years, Rodgers’ presence has given the Packers a chance to play for a championship. With the emergence of Jones, the Packers have their best chance to play for a championship since 2014.

Contenders or pretenders?

Super Bowl contenders: Many ways to win

Super Bowl pretenders: Dangerously explosive

Super Bowl contenders: Here’s the point

Super Bowl pretenders: Adams and who?

Super Bowl contenders: Aaron squared

Super Bowl pretenders: The problem with bend-but-don’t-break

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