Unsurprisingly, Ty Montgomery is the Green Bay Packers running back receiving the most attention after the team’s Week 8 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. While his kick return miscue is rightfully attracting notoriety, he’s involved in one of Green Bay’s longest-running mistakes this season.
Coach Mike McCarthy is committed to the “running back by committee” philosophy. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this approach, especially in the modern NFL. However, riding the hot hand, so to speak, is a key element in using a committee. If one back is playing particularly well, whether that be in an individual game or over a prolonged period, they naturally deserve a greater share of touches.
The Packers haven’t followed that part of the strategy.
Aaron Jones is clearly the Packers’ best option out of the backfield. He leads the team in rushing yards, yards per carry and touchdowns this season. Beyond that, over the course of his brief career he’s shown that he’s a competent-at-worst receiver (this year he has six catches for 41 yards).
Looking past the numbers, he possesses a special kind of burst through the line, something that was apparent again versus Los Angeles.
In case you haven’t gotten the gist yet, take a look at a side-by-side comparison of how the Packers’ three running backs have performed this season:
Jones’ production clearly outpaces his counterparts. With that in mind, there’s no reasonable explanation for why he’s anywhere close to splitting carries evenly with anyone.
It’s not as though this is simply an issue among Packers faithful, either. National media has chimed in after seeing Jones’ face on a milk carton, while the fantasy football community is joining the widespread clamor for the second-year back as well.
FREE AARON JONES!!!!!!
— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) October 28, 2018
While Jones is the obvious RB1 option, the other backs still serve a purpose. Jamaal Williams is a competent shorter-yardage back (and was used effectively in that role against the Rams on the goal line). Plus, he’s Green Bay’s best pass blocker, grading out as one of the best pass-protecting running backs in the NFL last season. Ty Montgomery, his mind-numbing decision late in the game versus Los Angeles aside, brings versatility to the offense and is another threat to line up at a receiver spot. There’s a place for all three of these guys. There’s a beneficial rotation to be found.
The problem is that McCarthy hasn’t figured out what that prime rotation is yet.
This inconvenient truth was apparent once again on the second-most infamous play in the Packers’ loss to the Rams. After old friend Sam Shields downed a punt at the one-yard line, Jones was sent in as the lone running back. Again, Williams is the more adept short-yardage back. Against a defensive line anchored by Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, things went about as well as you’d expect.
Williams may have met the same fate as Jones given the personnel across the line of scrimmage. However, a coach’s job is to put players in the best possible position to succeed. Running Jones straight ahead into a mass of humanity with no room to make use of his top-tier athleticism is not putting him or the team in that position.
Also worth noting is that during the bye week, McCarthy said the Packers need to run the ball more. Against Los Angeles, Green Bay ran the ball 19 times (for 5.6 yards per carry), which comes in below its season average of 21.6 carries per game.
The Packers have the pieces conducive to being a lethal running attack. Actually implementing those pieces correctly, however, has proven time and time again to be a challenge for the coaching staff. Jones has earned the lead back role, and keeping him out of it is a detriment to the offense at this point. That doesn’t mean the other backs should be relegated solely to mop-up duty and riding the pine. But for this offense to reach its full potential, it needs to reassess and reorganize its running back committee.
Jones needs more than 10 touches per game, whether they come via the run or the pass. That’s the first dilemma that must be rectified for the Green Bay offense. Ideally, the roles for the other two will work their way out from there. McCarthy and his staff need to correct this soon, though, because the longer things go without maximizing the Packers’ potential offensive output, the rockier the road to the playoffs will be.