Polzin: Hungry and humble, Aaron Jones may be Packers' meal ticket on offense this season
"Jones mixed power, speed and finesse from his first touch of the game until his last," writes Jim Polzin.
GREEN BAY — There have been times during Aaron Jones' career when the biggest thing limiting his production is not the opposing defense but his own head coach.
It happened as recently as the first week of the season to the Green Bay Packers running back, who was limited to eight touches — five carries, three receptions — in a season-opening loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Matt LaFleur owned up to that mistake in his postgame news conference and in another meeting with reporters the following day, but the only way for the Packers coach to truly show he'd learned from it was to put the ball in Jones' hands early and often against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.
What Jones did Sunday, Sept. 18, finishing with 170 total yards and two touchdowns in a 27-10 victory, was special. His performance also may have provided a glimpse into how this new-look Packers offense will have to operate to be at its best this season.
First things first: Before diving into Jones' monster game in the 205th meeting between these rivals, let's stop to appreciate how he handled playing a minor role in that 23-7 loss to the Vikings in Week 1.
Jones apparently didn't make a peep. Other stars around the NFL might not have handled being a bit player in a big game well at all, but there were no just-give-me-the-damn-ball demands to LaFleur, no grumbling in the media, no diva attitude at all from Jones.
"Yeah, never. I've never heard anything," LaFleur said. "Quite frankly, I don't know if I've ever heard a negative comment come out of his mouth. ... I'm sure it happens, he's human. But around here, we have a rule, 'No complaining. No excuses.' Never heard that from him."
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers joked that Jones was "in a bad mood" during the week before beginning a 236-word answer praising both Jones and AJ Dillon, who also heard his number called more against the Bears than he did vs. the Vikings. Dillon finished with 18 carries for 61 yards and a catch for 6 yards to complement Jones' 132 rushing yards and 38 receiving yards on 18 total touches.
"They are examples of what it means to be a pro, and especially here," Rodgers said. "The ascension year after year, and then just the art of being a good teammate."
LaFleur, behind closed doors early in the week, made it clear to Jones and Dillon that they'd play bigger roles in the game plan against the Bears. Naturally, they loved hearing that and Jones said he personally took it as a challenge.
"I knew I had to show up when my number was called," Jones said. "That just pushes me that much harder."
Jones mixed power, speed and finesse from his first touch of the game until his last. The Packers took control of the game with three touchdowns in a span of four drives in the first half and Jones had seven touches for 70 yards during that stretch, with a 14-yard run for a score to give Green Bay the lead for good on the opening play of the second quarter and an 8-yard touchdown on a jet pass two series later.
"Stay slippery," Jones said when asked why he was so difficult to bring down. "I think I have a knack for breaking tackles and knowing how to get tackled, like rolling with the tackle. Just being elusive and making the most out of every carry you get and not letting one person take you down. That's our thing in the running back room. We don't think one person should be able to take you down in a one-on-one situation."
The challenge for LaFleur is to give Jones and Dillon enough touches without overloading them. The Packers need them healthy and fresh late in games and, if possible, into January.
But making Jones a focal point of the offense should continue to be a priority for LaFleur. Somewhere in the range of 12 to 20 touches seems like a reasonable target to try to hit each week.
What was notable Sunday was that the Bears had to know Jones would be fed the ball and they still couldn't come up with a solution to stop him. Of course, this was an opponent in the midst of a perennial rebuild and better teams likely will make life more difficult on Jones and Co., perhaps as early as this week when the Packers (1-1) play at Tampa Bay (2-0).
But Rodgers said the Packers still have plenty left in the playbook that they haven't shown and hinted that there's a lot more to come for Jones in particular.
"We're just kind of scratching the surface with him," Rodgers said, "which is fun."
LaFleur gushed about his star running back, calling him "absolutely electric" as a playmaker and the total package when it comes to character.
"He's just a hell of a competitor and he's a guy that just embodies everything that you want in a football player, the way he works, how selfless he is, how he cheers for his teammates, how he supports his teammates," LaFleur said. "They don't make many like this guy. He is one of a kind. We're lucky to have a guy like that."
Now LaFleur just has to remember to keep finding ways to get the ball in Jones' hands.
Contact Jim Polzin at email@example.com.
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