Green Bay Packers Need to Get Back to Running the Ball vs. Lions

Sep 20, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) rushes with the football during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 20, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) rushes with the football during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

There are a myriad of reasons as to why the Green Bay Packers lost to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in such an ugly fashion. In fact, there are too many to get into in just one article. However, one of the big contributors was their inability to run the football–or should I say their decision not to run the football.

The Green Bay running backs would finish the game with only 14 total carries — including just nine combined for Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon — for 42 yards.

Now, of course, in games that get out of hand quickly, just as this one did, time is of the essence, and scoring fast is at a premium. But that also doesn’t mean that teams should panic and scrap the entire game plan either, which in LaFleur’s offense consists of running the ball or at least having the defense believe that you could run the ball at any time.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened.

With 6:11 left in the third quarter, the Green Bay Packers had the ball and were still down 17-3. While there certainly isn’t this exorbitant amount of time left on the clock, there was still more than enough time to make up a two-score deficit. However, at that point, the Packers had completely forgotten about the run game — and had for some time — as Jones and Dillon had only six combined carries.

With that said, I’ll admit, as Aaron Rodgers mentioned after the game, it wasn’t always easy running the ball–Jones had only nine total yards on five rushes. But Dillon did find some success, totaling 19 yards on four attempts, including back-to-back six-yard rushes in the second quarter.

Unfortunately, after those two runs, Rodgers would take a sack, he would then complete a short pass to Davante Adams, and then take a deep shot to Marquez Valdes-Scantling that fell incomplete. Dillon would not see another touch until the 5:34 mark in the third quarter, where he ran for a five-yard gain.

Following the game, both Rodgers and LaFleur would talk about how the Saints playing cover-2 really caught them off guard and caused fits for the passing game. But one of the ways to beat cover-2 is by running the ball up the middle, which is in part why Dillon found success.

In the Divisional Round of the 2020 playoffs, the Green Bay Packers went up against the Los Angeles Rams, who had the best defense in football last season and played two-high more than anyone. Yet Green Bay still found success, and a big reason is that they ran the ball. Jones, Dillon, and Jamaal Williams combined for 32 carries, and the success on the ground then opened up the passing game.

Why the Packers were so quick to abandon the run — even before the game was out of hand — is a mystery, but it’s a common theme in the very few games that Green Bay has lost during the LaFleur era.

We saw it all last season as the Packers were the best offense in football, and Rodgers went on to win MVP, running the ball — or at least there being the threat of it — is a must if this unit is going to fire on all cylinders. Although being down by two scores in the third quarter is far from ideal, it’s also way too early to abandon the run and rarely leads to any sort of success.

Fortunately, the Green Bay Packers have the opportunity to try and right the ship this week against the Detroit Lions, who have struggled against the run.

In 2020, the Lions allowed 134.9 rushing yards per game, which was the fifth-most in the NFL. Against the Packers specifically, Detroit allowed a whopping 259 rushing yards in Week 2 of that season and 120 yards in Week 14.

This offseason, Detroit did try to bolster their interior defensive line depth by selecting Levi Onwuzurike in Round 2 of the NFL Draft, then Alim McNeil in Round 3 and signing free agent Michael Brockers.

However, against San Francisco this past week, they still gave up 127 rushing yards to the running backs, including 104 to Elijah Mitchell after Raheem Mostert left the game with an injury.

The Green Bay defense can provide some help by not putting the offense in a hole early on, but even if they do, LaFleur and Rodgers need to remember what has made this group so successful in the past–and that’s running the ball.

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Couple that with a Detroit defense that has given up a lot of yards on the ground, and there’s no reason that Jones and Dillon shouldn’t be the focal points of the Green Bay Packers offense on Monday night.