World’s Best Preview: One-Two Backfield Punch
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Jones was, well, Aaron Jones last week against Washington.
For the fourth time this season, the Green Bay Packers’ dynamic third-year running back piled up more than 150 yards from scrimmage. He was dynamic on the ground with 134 yards and an 8.4-yard average, and his 25-yard catch on third-and-long in the fourth quarter helped clinch a tougher-than-expected victory.
As the Packers’ offense struggles to consistently produce yards, explosive plays and points, Jones needs to play a starring role on Sunday against Chicago, next week at Minnesota and beyond. However, Jamaal Williams has played a mean and underappreciated second fiddle in giving Green Bay a reliable one-two punch that makes the running game perhaps more important than the Aaron Rodgers-led passing game.
“I know everybody talks about Aaron (Jones),” coach Matt LaFleur said. “But I can’t emphasize enough how important Jamaal is to us, as well.”
It’s a point LaFleur made a few times in the past week. While Jones is tied for second among running backs in 150-yard games, he hasn’t been the hot hand every week. Fortunately for the Packers, when Jones has been stuck in neutral, Williams has been able to get into gear. And when Williams has been spinning his tires, Jones has been in the fast lane.
For the season, Jones is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and Williams is averaging a career-high 4.3. What’s interesting is that in the six games that Williams has averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry, Jones finished below his season average five times. And in the seven games that Jones has averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry, Williams averaged less than 3.5 in five of those games.
The last two games serve as the perfect examples of the somebody-is-hot Packers backfield. Against the Giants, Williams averaged 4.1 yards per carry compared to 1.6 for Jones. Against the Redskins, Jones’ 8.4-yard average not only was better than Williams’ 3.4 but it was better than Williams’ best gain of the day of 7 yards.
“They can’t stop both of us,” Williams said. “The defensive might have a good string of plays but they can never keep it going. As long as we stay with our game plan and our execution, we’ll be fine.”
Jones and Williams have formed a difference-making tandem because they are complementary players with similar skill-sets. Both are three-down backs who can run, catch and block. LaFleur doesn’t have to run a vastly different set of plays depending on which back is in the game. However, they have different running styles.
Jones is the perfect back for Green Bay’s zone running game with his ability to plant and go without losing speed.
“Once he gets the ball, it’s how fast he can get up the field,” Williams said when asked what he likes about watching Jones. “I just like seeing his quickness, his burst. The first 5 yards, it’s fast! And I like the way he can maneuver his way past defenders without losing speed. He’ll make you miss but still have that burst to take it all the way. He doesn’t really do a lot of jiggling. He just runs right past them or he might give his hips a little shift to get past him but he never really does a real jiggle. I just think it’s amazing how he can go full speed and make people miss just by swerving his hips a little bit to the side.”
The phrase “thunder-and-lightning backfield” has become cliché but it fits Green Bay’s tandem. Williams brings the thunder as he runs bigger than his 213-pound frame. The cheap-shot concussion sustained early in the Week 4 game against Philadelphia didn’t change his violent style one bit. The defender might get Williams down, but he’s going to squeeze every inch of potential out of the play.
“He’s fearless,” Jones said when asked what he likes most about watching Williams. “Anybody who’s in his way, he doesn’t care who you are or how big you are, he’s running at you. If you don’t get out of his way, he’s going to run you over. You see the energy on the field when he does that. You see everybody on the sideline jump up out of their seat. It might be quiet on the sideline and you’ll see everybody running up almost on the field. He gives everybody energy. He gives everybody juice.”
The numbers from Pro Football Focus are fascinating. Jones has forced 38 missed tackles and ranks 14th of 42 backs with at least 90 carries with 3.08 yards after contact. Williams has forced only 11 missed tackles but is averaging 2.96 yards after contact. That ranks 16th.
In other words, vastly different running styles but similar results.
“I know everything that Aaron can do, I can do; everything I can do, he can do,” Williams said.
The obvious difference is Jones is a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. Jones has 32 plays of 10-plus yards (19 rushes, 13 receptions), including eight of 20-plus yards (three rushes, five receptions). Williams has 19 plays of 10-plus yards (10 rushes, nine receptions), but only one of 20-plus yards (a 45-yard run vs. Detroit).
Jones has taken a huge step forward in the passing game to emerge as a star. He has 45 receptions for 425 yards in 12 games this season vs. 35 receptions for 228 yards in 24 games in his first two seasons.
“This year, you saw the expansion of his game with some of the pass-blocking stuff that he’s been doing really well, which allows him to be on the field for third down, and then allowing him to be on the field for third down really expands his route tree,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “And him proving every week that he can make those catches just gives him more opportunities. I think the talent was always there, the ability was always there. I think he did a really good job with his body from last year to this year, and then he just kind of completed the circle and became a three-down back.”
Who will be the man on Sunday against Chicago? Or next week at Minnesota? Or in a potential playoff run? Maybe it will be Jones. Maybe it will be Williams.
Said Jones: “We’ve always wanted to better each other and elevate each other’s games.”
Together, they’ve elevated the Packers to the brink of the postseason.