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Packers feel more Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon could ease transition on offense

Veteran running backs combined for 167 yards against Vikings

RB Aaron Jones
RB Aaron Jones

GREEN BAY – For everything that didn't go according to plan for the Packers in Week 1, the highly touted backfield of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon lived up to its offseason hype.

Green Bay's offense was at its best Sunday against Minnesota when feeding its running backs. With 167 total yards on 23 touches, Jones and Dillon produced more than half of Green Bay's offensive output in the 23-7 defeat at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Jones' 29-yard run sparked the Packers' only scoring drive, a seven-play, 75-yard series in the third quarter, that culminated in Dillon's 2-yard touchdown run.

As Green Bay turns the page to Sunday night's matchup with the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field, Head Coach Matt LaFleur feels it's no secret what needs to happen.

"We need to get them the ball more, especially in the run game," said LaFleur at his Monday news conference. "I thought we were running the ball pretty efficiently. We had a couple of explosive runs. Our backs, I really love how they competed. I mean, they were fighting for every inch out there.

"I love the energy and the effort they bring and certainly want to get them more involved in our offense and quite frankly take a little bit of pressure off everybody else."

One of the most popular topics of the offseason centered on the utilization of Jones and Dillon following All-Pro receiver Davante Adams' trade to Las Vegas in March.

It's justifiable. Since Dillon graduated into a more prominent role in 2021, the Packers are 10-0 in the regular season when Dillon and Aaron Jones combine for at least 25 touches in games Aaron Rodgers has started.

Conversely, Green Bay lost three of its four regular-season games last season when the two either were held under that threshold for touches (12 against New Orleans) or Jones was inactive (at Minnesota and Detroit).

Jones surpassed Tony Canadeo for fourth in franchise history in career rushing yards (4,212) against the Vikings but carried the ball only five times. Together, Jones and Dillon produced 94 yards and a TD on 15 carries (6.3 yards per attempt).

A team captain who also was the Packers' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee last season, Jones was all smiles when asked about his workload on Monday. Whether he receives five carries or 25, Jones has one singular focus – production.

"I can affect the game in other ways as well whether it be pass protection, catching the ball out of the backfield or running it," Jones said. "Just being there and being there for my team and my teammates, if it's them who are having a great game or going off and helping us and I'm doing my part, then so be it. It doesn't matter how many times I'm touching the ball as long as I'm out there contributing to helping my team."

The Packers were able to test drive the next evolution of their two-RB "Pony" package in Minnesota, which features Jones and Dillon on the field at the same time. The scheme is aimed towards keeping the opposition guessing about who will be in the backfield, while also providing motion opportunities.

On several occasions, the look freed up Jones and Dillon for passes in the flat. Dillon finished as Green Bay's leading pass-catcher (five catches for 46 yards), with Jones adding 27 yards on three receptions.

"Just keep eye candy, keep them guessing," Jones said. "That's why we do a lot of motions in this offense. It moves people out of their gaps and creates a gap for us."

A productive backfield not only helps Rodgers but also can aid a young offensive line in a state of flux, as the availability of tackles David Bakhtiari (knee) and Elgton Jenkins (knee), and left guard Jon Runyan (concussion) remains uncertain for Week 2.

The blueprint is there for Sunday's primetime showdown with the Bears, who still allowed 176 rushing yards and a touchdown to San Francisco during Sunday's 19-10 win over the 49ers at rain-drenched Soldier Field.

In Green Bay's two wins over Chicago last season, Jones and Dillon combined for 307 total yards and three TDs. If that's the direction LaFleur goes Sunday, his backs will be ready.

"The urgency's there," Dillon said. "I think everybody's going to be dialed in, locked in. Obviously, we've got a sour taste in our mouth from losing but I don't think it's anything for us to have our heads down low. … Our next goal is to go 1-0 this week. That's where we're at."

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