Jones can keep Pack­ers in the run­ning

Packer Plus - - Analysis - TOM SILVERSTEIN

Green Bay — It is prob­a­bly a mis­take to judge Green Bay Pack­ers quar­ter­back Brett Hund­ley on just one NFL start, but it is not a mis­cal­cu­la­tion to say rookie Aaron Jones is the team’s best hope for sal­vaging some­thing out of an Aaron Rodgers-less se­cond half of the sea­son.

When in each of a guy’s first two starts in the NFL he breaks the 100-yard mark and av­er­ages more than 6 yards per carry, you don’t need to give any­one else a shot just to make sure you’re not over­look­ing some­thing.

The fifth-round pick out of UTEP is the best of­fen­sive player the Pack­ers have now that Hund­ley is the quar­ter­back and re­ceivers Da­vante Adams, Jordy Nel­son and Ran­dall Cobb won’t be get­ting their hands on the ball as much.

The Pack­ers’ 26-17 loss to the New Or­leans Saints on Sun­day at Lam­beau Field was a sneak pre­view of what is go­ing to hap­pen the rest of the sea­son un­less coach Mike McCarthy can do with Jones what Kansas City’s Andy Reid has done with Ka­reem Hunt or Wash­ing­ton’s Jay Gru­den has done with Chris Thomp­son.

Un­less McCarthy es­tab­lishes Jones as the most dan­ger­ous player on the field to his op­po­nents, he’s go­ing to have an up­hill climb get­ting Hund­ley to win games for him. As Hund­ley showed with a 39.9 passer rat­ing in his first start, he’s not ready – and pos­si­bly not ca­pa­ble – of suc­ceed­ing in the cur­rent of­fense.

The guy who is ca­pa­ble is Jones, who fin­ished with just 17 car­ries gained 131 yards, in­clud­ing 46 on a first-quar­ter touch­down run in which not a sin­gle de­fender laid hands on him. His per­fectly timed ac­cel­er­a­tion be­hind guard Justin McCray’s pulling block showed he’s way ahead of the rookie curve.

“I think he’s got a knack for un­der­stand­ing block­ing schemes and he has vi­sion,” Pack­ers left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “There are cer­tain things you have to un­der­stand schemat­i­cally and cer­tain things where you need in­stinct. He has a good bal­ance of both. It shows.”

It’s one thing, how­ever, to just give Jones the ball and an­other to build an of­fense around him.

He’s not Ezekiel El­liott or Le’Veon Bell or Leonard Four­nette, but there’s a chance Jones can do for Hund­ley what Hunt has done for Alex Smith (120.5 rat­ing) or Thomp­son has done for Kirk Cousins (106.4), which is force de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors to fo­cus on ways to stop some­one other than the quar­ter­back.

Given the vet­eran na­ture of the Pack­ers’ of­fen­sive line, it wouldn’t be that hard to em­pha­size a quick-hit­ting ground game that fea­tures quicker backs such as Jones and per­haps fel­low rookie, De­vante Mays.

“I think over­all, we’re very com­fort­able with our run game,” tackle Bryan Bu­laga said. “Maybe not many peo­ple give us credit for it. That’s fine. Maybe peo­ple call our of­fen­sive line more of a fi­nesse line. What­ever, that’s fine.

“But we’re more than ca­pa­ble of run­ning the type of runs that we had today. We have a back in Aaron Jones that sees things very well. Once he gets through that line of de­fend­ers, he can make a lot of guys miss. As an of­fen­sive line we have to con­tinue to just get him in space and let him do his thing.”

The Saints didn’t come out try­ing to stop Jones, and they paid for it dearly in the early go­ing of a soggy-filled game. Jones, start­ing for Ty Mont­gomery, busted off a 15-yard run on the very first play.

Af­ter runs of 3 and 6 yards, he fol­lowed McCray into the hole on a power play that Hund­ley switched to at the line of scrim­mage based on the Saints’ align­ment and ran 46 yards for a touch­down. On a five-play, 75yard scor­ing drive, Jones had ac­counted for 70 yards.

“He got us go­ing there early with the big run,” McCarthy said. “He has good vi­sion. I like his ver- tical slash­ing style. I thought he did a lot of re­ally good things today.”

Teams who de­fend the Pack­ers don’t usu­ally start with their run game and then work from there, even when Rodgers is home with a bro­ken right col­lar­bone.

They still have too much re­spect for Adams, Nel­son, Cobb and tight end Martel­lus Ben­nett to go in that di­rec­tion.

Asked how much he thought his for­mer team de­voted its at­ten­tion to the run game, guard Jahri Evans said, “I don’t think it was any­thing glar­ing.”

Jones had 97 yards on 10 car­ries and three catches for 7 yards at the end of a first half in which the Pack­ers led, 14-7.

Com­ing out of the half, McCarthy for­got about Jones and gave it to him just once on a failed five-play drive in which Hund­ley com­pleted 2 of 3 passes for 21 yards but took a crit­i­cal 8-yard loss on a sack and fum­ble with the ball at the Pack­ers 42.

The Saints sand­wiched a touch­down and a field goal around that drive to take a 16-14 lead be­fore McCarthy got back to Jones.

The rookie car­ried four of the first five times on a drive that started on the 19 and gained 29 yards to­tal.

“We had a good drive run­ning the ball but just kind of stalled out,” Bu­laga said. “Ob­vi­ously, they’re go­ing to make ad­just­ments, we’re go­ing to make ad­just­ments. We just need to ex­e­cute bet­ter.

“But I thought there was even in the se­cond half room for us to run the foot­ball. We felt con­fi­dent with the ad­just­ments made at half­time; we felt re­ally good about it.”

Jones needed a break on that drive, and McCarthy sent Mont­gomery in. Hund­ley threw in­com­plete to him on first down and Mont­gomery ran for zero on se­cond down, all but doom­ing the drive. Hund­ley threw in­com­plete on third and 10.

In­sert­ing Mont­gomery into the lineup shouldn’t have slowed things down, but it did. Given the runs McCarthy had been call­ing, Mays prob­a­bly would have been a bet­ter fit, but he was in street clothes, a healthy in­ac­tive mak­ing way for Jones, Mont­gomery and rookie Jamaal Wil­liams.

All game long, the Pack­ers looked in­ept run­ning screen passes, which is some­thing at which Jones and pos­si­bly Mays could ex­cel. It would be part of shift­ing the of­fense more to­wards Jones and away from Hund­ley.

Ul­ti­mately, New Or­leans pinned the Pack­ers back in their own end late in the game and then fo­cused on stop­ping Jones, drop­ping him for a 3-yard gain and a 2-yard loss. The Pack­ers never re­cov­ered and head into their bye at 4-3 and with a lot to con­sider about their run game.

“We have to be able to adapt and do any­thing we are asked to do,” Bakhtiari said. “We have a lot of ath­letic and ver­sa­tile play­ers on this of­fen­sive line. What­ever men­tal­ity we need to go into a game, we can do a good job ad­just­ing and mov­ing on.”

DAN POW­ERS / USA TODAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Green Bay Pack­ers run­ning back Aaron Jones fends off New Or­leans Saints cor­ner­back Marshon Lat­ti­more in the se­cond half. Jones rushed for 131 yards against the Saints.

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