Packers’ run game readies for boost from Aaron Jones returning from suspension
GREEN BAY — Other than perhaps not running the ball frequently enough, coach Mike McCarthy was fine with what his Green Bay Packers got out of their ground game during the first two games.
Now, with Aaron Jones, their most explosive running back, returning from his two-game NFL-imposed suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, things should only get better.
The Packers used only two backs — Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery — during the first two games and the tandem has a combined 38 rushes for 144 yards (3.8-yard average) entering Sunday’s game at Washington.
After eschewing the run game during the second half of their season-opening comeback win over Chicago after digging a 20-0 hole, the Packers’ production was better during Sunday’s 29-29 tie with the Minnesota Vikings. The two backs finished with 90 yards on 21 carries (4.3-yard average) as Williams ran 16 times for 59 yards (3.7-yard average) and Montgomery had a big 16-yard run and finished with 31 yards on five carries (6.2-yard average).
“We’ve played two good defenses,” McCarthy said Monday. “I said this the last week: I don’t think there’s really enough attempts to dive deep into evaluation. I thought we ran the ball effectively against the Vikings. I’d like to have more attempts.”
Jones, who missed much of training camp with a hamstring injury, was officially reinstated by the NFL on Monday, but the Packers have a roster exemption for him and won’t have to make a corresponding move to get him onto the 53-man roster until they activate him.
Guard Lane Taylor said Jones’ quick, cutting style will give the Packers a different element in the run game, just as Jones gave them last year, when he led the team in yards per carry (5.5) and tied with Williams for the team lead in rushing touchdowns (four).
“He gets up to speed real quick, has really good vision, real good feel for the game. Last year, he hit some of those runs that weren’t supposed to hit where they hit, but he has a good feel, good vision,” Taylor said. “I just like that he gets up to speed so fast and makes guys miss.”
The Packers’ defensive problems Sunday coincided with second-year cornerback Kevin King sustaining a groin injury that forced him out of the game. King was on the sideline when Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to get the Vikings going during the second half.
McCarthy said he wouldn’t have an update on King until Wednesday but acknowledged King has been unlucky with injuries, having had season-ending shoulder surgery last year as a rookie and dealt with a different shoulder injury in training camp.
“He’s had a tough go,” McCarthy said. “I think you see players go through phrases. You have guys that go through little things that potentially turn into bigger things. Those are all part of being a professional. I’m not saying that’s the case in Kevin’s deal, but this is definitely something that’s new and once we get a better gauge on how serious it is, we’ll deal with it.”
“But we’re different when he’s in there.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy didn’t think quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ injured left knee was any worse for wear after playing with a large brace for protection.
“I mean he’s obviously sore. That’s to be expected,” McCarthy said. “He’s a warrior, just for what he gave us yesterday. (It) was outstanding. But I don’t have a read on whether he’s better this week than last week.”
While linebacker Clay Matthews’ roughing-the-passer penalty drew most of the postgame attention, another Packers penalty — a third-quarter holding call on Taylor that wiped out a Jimmy Graham touchdown catch that would have given the Packers a 24-7 lead — also bothered McCarthy. The Packers settled for a field goal on that drive.
“Frankly, I was more upset about that call than Clay’s,” McCarthy said.
Asked about the call Monday, Taylor replied: “It looked clean on the film. I mean, if you look from the back angle, I had my hand inside. I know I didn’t hook him or anything.”