Packers RBs with big game potential vs. Broncos defense

Oct 16, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) catches a pass during warmups prior to the game against the New York Jets at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) catches a pass during warmups prior to the game against the New York Jets at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

If Aaron Jones is available for the Green Bay Packers matchup with the Denver Broncos this week, he will have the opportunity to make a big impact upon his return against a defense that has struggled to defend running backs.

Jones was sidelined Weeks 2 and 3 with a hamstring injury. He returned for the Detroit game but was on a snap count. He then missed Green Bay’s game before the bye week against Las Vegas after having a setback during that Saturday’s practice. An official injury report is yet to be released, but Jones was on the practice field this past Monday.

Statistically, the Denver defense is the worst in the NFL. They’ve struggled, in particular, against running backs, both as ball carriers and in the passing game. As a unit, the Broncos are allowing 5.6 yards per rush this season, by far the most in football. In the passing game, running backs have caught 40 of their 46 targets and are averaging 8.03 yards per catch.

Against the Bears in Week 1, the only game this season that Jones was available and not on a pitch count, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, despite there being inconsistent running lanes, and had 86 receiving yards on only two receptions with two total touchdowns. In short, this Packers offense, and not only this season but throughout Jones’ career, operates differently when he is in the field.

"“He is an explosive player that does a great job just generating plays,” said offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich on Monday. “I think with our offense, the biggest thing right now is us. You may have a perfect play called, and you just get the bare minimum. Or you have a bad play called, and a playmaker doesn’t get you out of it. He’s one of those guys that really has a knack for, he’s shown over the course of the last five years, pretty exceptional when it comes to that. So anytime you take a playmaker off the field like that, it’s going to affect your offense.“It’s just a matter of allowing these other guys opportunities to create plays. So we are still figuring out which guys we can put in which area and which guys we can count on. It’s one thing to be out on the practice field, and they show up, but once the game time rolls around, you might be getting a different story. So we’ve just got to keep hammering home and keep our faith in these guys because we do have some talent.”"

The Packers have really struggled in the run game this season, averaging only 3.5 yards per attempt. In part, it’s because they haven’t had Jones, but the much larger issue has been the blocking of the offensive line. This inability to pick up yards on the ground has left the offense in predictable passing situations, allowing the defense to do the dictating by getting into favorable matchups and the front to pin its ears back and get after Jordan Love.

On the flip side, if Green Bay can find some success moving the ball on the ground, it will help open up the playbook for Matt LaFleur – there are only so many things you can do as a play caller when consistently facing long down and distances – and opportunities in the passing game, specifically off play-action.

Routinely being in second and third-and-long situations only exacerbates the issues that an already inconsistent passing game is experiencing. However, being able to rely on the running backs in the passing game, especially against a defense that struggles to defend in that capacity, will take some of the burden off of Love by setting up quick and relatively easy completions that have the potential to pick up chunk plays, keeping Green Bay ahead of the sticks and allowing them to move the ball.

During the Packers’ most recent matchup with Las Vegas, AJ Dillon looked a bit like his old self. His final numbers didn’t leap off the page, averaging 3.7 yards per rush, but that was a full yard better than his season average. He was also more decisive and physical with the ball in his hands. While there weren’t any explosive plays, an offense averaging around four yards per rush can work with that. It keeps them even with the sticks and allows the passing game to build off of the ground game.

Of course, the hope is that Jones can go on Sunday, and if he can and at full capacity, there is no reason that he doesn’t have 20-plus touches in this game, given the matchup and that he is the Packers’ best playmaker on a unit that needs a spark. With that said, considering the struggles that Denver has had defensively as a whole this season and specifically against running backs, there’s no reason that Dillon or whoever else is getting some touches shouldn’t be able to have big play opportunities as well.