Week 8 Film Review - Aaron Jones explodes through the air
That was unexpected. Just two weeks after I looked at how Christian McCaffrey is so versatile and capable in all possible elements of the game; Aaron Jones comes out of nowhere and puts up the most randomly massive receiving performance of a running back this year. The Packers running back is a very talented player, but he isn’t considered a receiving specialist – he’s even on many occasions been taken off the field on passing downs This week that was far from the case.
Aaron Jones put up astronomical numbers – which would have been great for a wide receiver – and the Kansas City defense couldn’t stop him. Those numbers ended up at 7 receptions (on 8 targets) for 159 yards and 2 Touchdowns. He took over on Sunday Night Football and the game plan to get him involved in a different way to normal helped to guide Green Bay to their seventh win of the season.
The planning is obvious because the majority of the damage was done somewhat early on, during the scripted portion of the offense. Matt LaFleur, after taking over from a head coach who wasn’t so creative with – or interested in – the running backs in the passing game, set this out as a key part of the early strategy, and it worked.
On the first drive of the game, Jones got five touches (would have been six but his first touchdown effort of the day was called back for holding) of which three were through the air. This is a clear demonstration of the planning that went into this game, and it continued on throughout.
Let’s start with that first drive though, after Jones’ TD run was called back, the Packers got the ball straight back to him but this time through the air.
This play is the second of Jones’ receptions of the whole game, and was a tone setter for the very rough day that KC had against him. After coming out in a two-by-two formation with a tight stack to the boundary side, Rodgers motions the widest receiver over towards the field, and into a trips formation. When this happens, nobody moves, so one of two things – 1. It’s not man. 2. The Chiefs want you to think it’s not man.
The defense is hoping to create some confusion by walking a linebacker up to the line of scrimmage but then drop him out to help in what we discover post-snap actually is man. The funny thing is, though – they did create confusion, for what’s it worth – they end up getting their assignments mixed up and Aaron Jones isn’t accounted for. After the motion, there are two receiving threats to the right of the centre, Jones and tight end Jimmy Graham, and the defense has three players to stop those two. The issue is that the linebacker who should be covering Jones goes to help with the big-bodied TE instead. After watching the play many times over, I’m honestly not sure why the linebacker thought he should help with Graham when Jones could release, but he did, and Jones did exactly that.
The route that Jones ran was an angle route and it led him into about as much space as you will ever see open underneath a defense, he is absolutely wide open. He would have been open on literally any route, though, to be fair. This busted coverage made it easy, but nonetheless, Aaron Jones got his hands warmed up and made a nice 17-yard gain on this one.
The very next play, now on 1st and goal, the Packers went for one of the more new play designs to pop up in the NFL over the last couple of years, a sweep pop-pass, which is basically a running play that boosts the QB’s passing stats – and, of course, Jones’ receiving line.
Getting a bit creative with the use of their two running backs, the Packers dial up this pop-pass play from an unlikely formation and motion in which Aaron Jones lines up flexed out as a tight slot stacked receiver, and runs a double motion, upon the second of which he receives the ball, and runs back to the side he came, for his first ‘receiving’ TD on his third reception of the night.
This play design is taking over for what I assume to be protection against fumbling on jet sweeps, either that or they are literally just padding stats, but either way, jet sweeps have always been successful and with some good blocking, this one was too. I won’t spend any more time on it because it’s basically a run play, but this demonstrates that Jones was part of the game plan, and he didn’t need to do it all from the backfield.
Speaking of him not doing it from the backfield, on their third drive of the game Aaron Jones pulled in his fourth reception in spectacular – should have been even more so – fashion. This play is the one that really impressed me. The Packers come out in a tight set, and then motion Jones out of the backfield to the left sideline. When he moves out there, the linebacker who is responsible for him in man coverage follows. The ball is snapped as soon as the half-back sets his feet; why? Because Rodgers loves what he sees.
When the ball is snapped, Jones – who I should remind you is not considered to be a receiving-specialist HB – runs a slick double move. It isn’t quite a sluggo route, per se, but the two steps that he gives the linebacker inside are enough, and when he turns upfield and goes deep, he completely turns him around, and there is absolutely no help whatsoever. This is good play design because the motion puts the linebacker on an island, and they very intentionally use the other routes on the field to take everything away from the location of possible help for the stranded LB.
You can see from Aaron Rodgers’ body language that he wants to get this ball to Jones’ as soon as he can. Without giving the game away too much, he hurries up and then delivers the ball perfectly in stride of the running back (turned temporary receiver). Unfortunately, on this play – which should 100% have been a touchdown, Jones stepped out of bounds down the sideline, unnecessarily, and Jamal Williams ended up punching it in. Still, this was a fantastic flash of ability that nobody expected to see from Jones, least of all the Chiefs.
The final play we will look at was Jones’ penultimate reception of the day. This time it actually did result in a touchdown, and a long one at that.
Green Bay line up five-wide without any motion this time. There are three receivers to Rodgers’ right and two to his left. Jones is the widest of the latter two. To the trips side, the defense is showing man coverage, with a head-up alignment over them, and a safety over the top. Over towards the less congested side, however, Jones and Graham don’t have quite the same tight defense. It’s still very possible that the coverage is man – most likely a cover 2 man – but the three defenders are much further away, most notably the cornerback opposite Jones is 9-yards off the ball. The Packers have exactly the look they want.
Jones moves in on a short motion, just so that he is in a slot stack with Graham, and then they run a wide receiver screen to him, and spring him when Graham gets the single block they needed to buy time for the two offensive lineman to get out and create the lane. This was as basic as just finding the right separation and once they had the room to work with, they just needed three blocks and he was gone.
This 67-yard touchdown was the nail in the coffin for the Chiefs, who lost 31-24.
Aaron Jones was a key part of this win, and undoubtedly the game plan which got them there. He put up an unforgettable performance through the air, and demonstrated how using a running back who isn’t super human like McCaffrey can still be incredibly effective in the passing game, all it takes is the right play call to attack the right look, and the rest is easy.
Well, the Packers make it look easy, at least.
A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL.
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