Is A.J. Dillon Ready For a Bigger Role in the Offense?

On Friday, the Packers announced that starting running back Aaron Jones is nursing a strained calf muscle and will be a game time decision Sunday. That means that rookie A.J. Dillon may get his first chance to step in and play a bigger role in the Packers ground game against the Houston Texans.

Dillon has seen only limited action thus far this season. He has a total of 13 carries through the first five games and has gained 65 yards. Against the Bucs last Sunday, he broke off a 20-yard run, the longest of his career. He gained 31 yards on five carries and was on the field for 10 offensive plays. That is the most productive game he’s had so far as a pro.

There are two main reasons that Dillon has yet to see extensive action since the Packers selected the bruising 6’0”, 247-pound Boston College product in the second round of this year’s NFL draft. The most obvious one is that the Packers have two quality backs with experience ahead of him in Jones and Jamaal Williams. Jones is coming off his best season which saw him top 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career and finish second on the team with 49 receptions for another 474 yards. Williams is the Packers best receiver and pass blocking back and is also a reliable and tough runner who knows the playbook inside out.

The other issue facing Dillon has nothing to do with his running ability. In his limited action and in training camp, the coaching staff was able to see how dangerous Dillon could be carrying the football. During the first day of training camp, his huge thighs were the talk of social media and photos of Dillon in shorts were retweeted endlessly.

But Matt LaFleur needs more than just the ability to run from his running backs. Because the offense is predicated on running different plays from identical formations, the running backs in LaFleur’s offense must know how to pass block, pick up blitzes and run precise routes when asked to go out into the pattern. It is not coincidence that Jones and Jamaal Williams were second and third on the team in catches last season. Jones is second again this year with 18 catches after five games.

But now with the real possibility that Jones may not play Sunday or that he may be limited, Dillon may be asked to take on a bigger role in the Green Bay offense against Houston.

Running backs coach Ben Sirmans believes Dillon is prepared for more playing time. “I know he's ready,” Sirmans said before last week’s game in Tampa Bay. “It's just more of a product of those other two guys [Jones and Williams], sometimes based on what we're doing schematically, can fit in a little bit better than what he can. At the beginning of the year, without having OTAs, without having minicamp, those things take a little bit longer for guys to develop. But now that he's gone through training camp and now that we've gone through several weeks of the season, I think he's at that point where he's got a better grasp, not just of the offense, but just the speed of the game. It's just a matter of now just really putting him there and just letting him go.”

The Texans might just be the ideal team to have Dillon get his first extensive action against. Entering this week’s game against the Packers, Houston is ranked dead last in the league in yards allowed per game. Opponents are gaining an average of 181.8-yards per game on the ground against the Texans and are averaging 5.4-yards per attempt against the Houston defense.

When scouting Dillon, many people compared his style of running to Derrick Henry of the Titans. Last week, Henry ran for 212 yards against the Texans and scored two touchdowns. He averaged 9.6-yards per rush and ran for a 94-yard touchdown and scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

The Packers and Titans offenses are both off the same coaching tree and while there are differences between the two teams’ systems, LaFleur was Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in 2018 before becoming the Packers head coach. Dillon, Williams and Jones (if he plays) could be in for a big day against this defense.

Dillon has been waiting for this opportunity all season. He has endured the strangest offseason in NFL history, no rookie camp, no OTAs, no preseason games and an abbreviated training camp. This may be his first real chance to shine in an NFL game. We may soon find out if he’s as ready as his coaches think he is.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (41)

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Coldworld's picture

October 24, 2020 at 12:09 pm

I don’t know what the coaches think, but I’m ready for him to pound. With a little thought, pass blocking deficiencies can be managed. That said, last week was the time it should have happened. This week if Jones is down or hurting. Williams and Dillon make a good pair.

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Leatherhead's picture

October 24, 2020 at 12:13 pm

I thought Dillon would force his way into the lineup, but apparently the coaches aren’t of that opinion. I’m not going to second guess the guys that have won over 80% of their games.

Eventually, he’ll be the guy and he’ll help us.

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Stroh's picture

October 24, 2020 at 09:42 pm

IMO the biggest thing holding Dillon back is pass pro. Hopefully thry will figure out ways to minimize that for him and maximize Williams in in that regard. It may make it more obvious as to play calls depending on who's on the field, but for this game against a terrible run D, its worth it to get Dillon alot of exposure and experience.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:34 pm

Stroh, I think you nailed it and I did mention that in the article. The offense can't give away the play call based on Dillon being in there, it undermines the play action passing game. I hope he's ready to play this week. He can certainly run. Thanks for commenting.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:30 pm

Without an offseason and preseason, he will need some time, especially in pass protection. I think he will be a very productive back once he's ready. Let's see what he can do today. Thanks for the comment, Leatherhead.

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Bure9620's picture

October 24, 2020 at 12:40 pm

Yeah, I am ready for the same, he can break tackles and pound it up the middle, none of this outside zone stretch crap.....he would have been a better option against Tampa

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dobber's picture

October 24, 2020 at 12:41 pm

The Packers, under LaF, have had success running that inside zone look...especially in 2019.

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Stroh's picture

October 24, 2020 at 09:46 pm

Dillon should be ideal for inside zone, in much the same way as Jones is ideal for outside zone runs. Both Dillon and Williams are better inside zone runners, so lets hope LaFleur remembers and uses them to run inside. They should have last week vs TB speed at ILB.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:35 pm

No doubt. I expect to see more of it today. Thanks for the comment, dobber.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:32 pm

He and Williams ran effectively inside but the play calls kept trying to get Jones to run wide. I didn't understand that. Hope he has a solid game against Houston. Thanks for commenting, Bure9620.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:26 pm

I think Williams and Dillon will both do well against the Texans porous run defense. Thanks for the comment, Coldworld.

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Cheesey51's picture

October 24, 2020 at 12:18 pm

If the coaches think he's mentally and physically prepared then let's go baby!
With no preseason to look back on, this will be our first time to see AJ for extended period of time. I'd like to see what a 2nd round draft pick looks like.
Any word on kMal martins return

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 24, 2020 at 02:07 pm

His production at BC over his four year career surpssed Jones and Williams combined. It ain't rocket science.

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Oppy's picture

October 25, 2020 at 11:05 am

Ron Dayne’s college production dwarfed many of his contemporary’s output during college, too, and ron dayne wasn’t necessarily the best nfl rb.

It’s not rocket science, for sure.. but you can’t just gauge nfl production by collegiate output.

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packer132's picture

October 24, 2020 at 04:28 pm

Martin is active and should see a little playing time on Sunday.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:28 pm

Looking forward to that, packer132. Thanks for commenting.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:27 pm

Kamal is activated as I think you know by now. I hope Dillon is heading for a big day against Houston. Thanks for the comment, Cheesey51.

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dobber's picture

October 24, 2020 at 12:40 pm

Given the Packers sat a Davante Adams who said he was ready to play to make sure he'd be fully recovered, his injury was a late week injury report add, and given that calf injuries can be very tricky (to which I can attest through lengthy and unfortunate experience), I bet Jones doesn't play this week. That said, I wouldn't count on Dillon playing a lot...I think Williams gets 80+% of the RB touches.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:37 pm

You were right about Jones and nobody is surprised as you said, based on the way the Packers handle these kinds of injuries. I think Dillon will get more like 33 percent of the carries, but we shall see. Thanks for commenting, dobber.

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PackerBacker84's picture

October 24, 2020 at 01:04 pm

I believe the coaching staff is approaching this situation by utilizing depth and team philosophy. Next man up, and pull from the offensive depth. We’ve got players on the line that are interchangeable that are finally being called upon to use their extensive skill set. I believe this is a scenario where the defense is looking to bounce back and put together a decent game and we give the rock at least 30 totes, and pass to keep the box unpredictable. They drafted Dillon for this exact reason. Jones has been prone to injury and Williams is a solid piece worth retaining. Let’s pray for the best while keeping the reality in focus. Go Pack!

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:41 pm

Well said PackerBacker84. That's what we're seeing so far. Hope they keep on being productive. The next man up has to work especially in this crazy season. Thanks for commenting.

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Lare's picture

October 24, 2020 at 02:06 pm

IMO, the Texans are going to blitz like crazy tomorrow. Blitz pickup blocking will be critical to the running backs whoever they are.

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Packers1985's picture

October 24, 2020 at 02:17 pm

Unfortunately, now every team is going to follow the same mantra...Blitz and cover Adams and with Lazard out we hardly have any weapons apart from Adams and jones and even jones seems to be out this week.

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dobber's picture

October 24, 2020 at 04:13 pm

This hasn't been any secret. Teams have been trying this for a long time. There's a difference between planning to do it and being successful at it.

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Coldworld's picture

October 25, 2020 at 07:33 am

I agree, that recipe wasn’t developed last week but last season and it took not only the Blitz but Rodgers to go ice cold at the same time plus, in my view, a failure by LaFleur to adapt to mitigate to take pressure off and let him resettle.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:54 pm

Exactly. Very frustrating last week.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:52 pm

They will keep doing that till we prove we can beat it. Fortunately, most teams don't have the speedy linebackers that the Bucs have. But we'll see what happens against Houston and beyond. Thanks for commenting, Packers1985.

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Stroh's picture

October 24, 2020 at 10:11 pm

Run the ball down their throats! That'll put an end to blitzing. They're like the worst in the NFL vs the run. Keeps Watson off the field too. This is the game to run 60% and take selective shots downfield. But then last week was the time to run right at TB and they didn't. LaFleur better not outsmart himself again.

It takes pressure off the banged up OL as well. Makes all the sense in the world!

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Coldworld's picture

October 25, 2020 at 07:35 am

Agree, their D is the worst run D in the league. Tire them while playing on their expectation of a run heavy assault, hold possession and then use the pass.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:41 pm

Which is why we'll probably see Williams on most third down passing situations. Thanks for the comment, Lare.

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Archie's picture

October 24, 2020 at 02:58 pm

Remember the days of Zonk, Morris & Kiick? Dillon, Jones and Williams could be that all over again.

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Stroh's picture

October 24, 2020 at 10:17 pm

Except that was 50 yrs ago and this is the salary cap era, not the early 70's. This year only and they haven't given Dillon much of a chance.

You need a time machine old man.

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Archie's picture

October 25, 2020 at 10:49 am

Some things are as timeless as an ice cold Strohs.....

btw - doesn't mean all three RBs have to play every down.

MLF's offense could keep 3 RBs busy and productive.

With 3 great RBs, 2 great WRs and a few really good TEs, this offense would be unstoppable.

Looking forward to today's game v Houston. Sets up for a big game rushing but we are sans A Jones as well Tyler Ervin and a couple of TEs, not to mention Big Alan Lazard. Maybe Dillon becomes superman. If not, I don't see how we win.

On defense, I want to watch K Barnes and Kamal Martin on the field at the same time vs D Watson. So this game will tell us a lot about our team. A win would be much appreciated.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:47 pm

I think they bring Martin along slowly. He'll see limited action this week and then have to earn more playing time as he gets back into football shape. I am also eager to see what he can do. Barnes keeps looking god. Thanks for the comment, Archie.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:49 pm

To have that much talent in the backfield with the cap is rare and pretty impressive. I doubt we have them all after this year, but one game at a time. I hope Dillon sees more action this week. Thanks, Stroh.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:43 pm

Wow, that's high praise indeed. The potential is there for this trio to be special. Thanks for the comment, Archie.

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Archie's picture

October 24, 2020 at 03:11 pm

btw - I hope MLF goes back to being unpredictable......it seems to work well. Time for Dillon.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:45 pm

Yeah, mixing things up works well when they do it. So far so good for the offense today. Thanks for the comment, Archie.

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stockholder's picture

October 24, 2020 at 06:44 pm

Run the ball down their Throat. Of Course he needs a bigger Roll.

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GilMartin's picture

October 25, 2020 at 12:46 pm

They should and they hopefully will. Thanks for the comment, stockholder.

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ImaPayne's picture

October 25, 2020 at 06:11 pm

If this guy could hit the whole at full throttle he would be playing. From my observation his first two steps are way too slow for the NFL. Two runs for minus one yards. He got hit in the backfield both times. Hopefully I'm wrong and he will be something.
Just makes you wonder why a 2nd round pick ain't playing and it's game six now. The ones with talent and speed aren't bench sitting is all I'm sayin

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