Aaron Jones: Difference-maker for Packers eventually, if not now

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There’s the Green Bay Packers' run game, and then there’s the run game with Aaron Jones.

Anyone who thinks there’s not much of a difference should consider this:

In games during which Jones has touched the ball since the start of the 2017 season, the Packers have averaged 125.9 rushing yards. In games he didn’t, their rushing average dipped to 79.0 yards.

That’s not all Jones’ doing, of course. In one of those games, he touched the ball one time -- granted it was on the game-winning 20-yard run in overtime against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

So why wouldn’t Mike McCarthy scrap what he has done with Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery over the season's first two weeks, while Jones served a two-game NFL suspension for violating the substance abuse policy, and go all-in with Jones in Sunday’s game at the Washington Redskins?

“Well, Jamaal and Ty have been playing good football,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “So I understand what Aaron gives us. But his role will be secondary. Jamaal and Ty will be in the first slot. And how we use them, that’s why we play the game. Schematically, reps, play time and all that, that’s for Sunday.

"But yeah, I’m excited to have Aaron back. I think our backfield, if you look at the age of these guys, I think we’re going to have a dynamic group for a number of years. So it will be good to get Aaron back in the fold.”

There’s little doubt that Jones is the most dynamic of the Packers’ top three running backs. While Williams is more of the plodding, workhorse type with a career rushing average of 3.6 yards and Montgomery is the more versatile former receiver, Jones’ explosiveness brings a different dynamic to the offense.

Through two games without Jones this season, the Packers are tied for 25th in the NFL in rushing (although they’re 18th in rushing average, at 3.98 yards per carry).

"I feel like I could be a little explosive in the run game,” Jones said. “But they've done a good job with everything they've done -- pass protection, running the ball, averaging 4 yards a carry. It doesn't get any better than that."

As a rookie last season, Jones had four games with a carry of at least 20 yards (including the team’s longest run from scrimmage last season, a 46-yard touchdown against the New Orleans Saints on the opening drive). His 5.5-yard rushing average ranked No. 2 among all NFL backs with at least 75 carries (behind only Alvin Kamara). His games of 125 yards rushing (against the Dallas Cowboys) and 131 (against the Saints) tied him for the most 125-plus-yard rushing games by a rookie in franchise history.

“Just what we saw last year, he’s a great slasher as a runner and he’s always moving downhill,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said this week. “He made a number of good runs for us last year. Good out of the backfield. He made some tough catches along the way, as well. It’s good getting him back in the mix. Ty has had some runs for us, good catches; Jamaal, he’s a tough runner. He’s a big-time back for us, so it’s good having three guys now.”

And McCarthy plans to use all three -- for now.

“I have great confidence and fully anticipate us to have a good running game this year,” the coach said. “So we played two games. First game we didn’t really get off the way we intended to get going. So, as far as statistics and opinions of three phases of offense -- runs, protections and pass game -- it’s important for us to get going. We’re playing on the road. This is always a challenge, especially the first time out there. You need to run the ball even more so on the road in my opinion. So again, we can definitely benefit from a good run game each week.”

The Redskins, however, might not buy the notion that Jones will be eased back in.

“I think we'll see some Aaron Jones a lot,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.

Jones not only missed the first two games of the season because of the suspension, but he missed the first two preseason games because a hamstring injury. Combine that with the two knee injuries he suffered last season and perhaps that’s part of why McCarthy doesn’t plan to simply turn the running game over to Jones just yet.

At least Jones was able to work out at Lambeau Field and attend meetings during the suspension; he just couldn’t practice or attend games.

"It was very difficult; it was very humbling,” Jones said. “You see it from two different perspectives. You're in here during the day with them in meetings, and then you have to go home. Sundays you're at home watching the game and you're like, 'I was just there in the facility with those guys.' It was very humbling seeing it from a different aspect."