A.J. Dillon Has Become An Asset

The 2020 second-round selection had his best performance of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs. 

What a rollercoaster it has been for running back A.J. Dillon. 

When the Green Bay Packers drafted Dillon in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the expectation was that he would provide a bruising presence, perfectly complimenting the shifty Aaron Jones. That did not immediately come to fruition during Dillon’s rookie season, one in which he missed five games after he was placed on the COVID-19 list. But there was a major bright spot in what was an otherwise pedestrian season for the Boston College product. In snowy conditions at Lambeau Field in Week 15 against the Tennessee Titans, Dillon exploded for 124 yards on 21 carries (5.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, running like a Mack Truck. The following season, the East Coast native elevated his game to another level as he finished with over 1,100 yards from scrimmage and seven total touchdowns. General manager Brian Gutekunst’s vision for the Packers’ backfield was coming into place perfectly, or so it seemed. 

Dillon’s production dropped off slightly last season, but he still finished with seven total touchdowns. In a contract year for Dillon and potentially the last season of Jones as a member of the organization, 2023 had the potential to represent a passing of the torch from Jones to Dillon as the team’s back of the future. The torch was dropped and flames erupted to start the season. Jones was in and out of the lineup due to injuries, which opened the door for Dillon to pace the Packers’ rushing attack. The opportunity was squandered mightily. He tripped over himself. He missed holes. He was running too straight-legged, rarely lowering his shoulder and using his brute strength to pick up extra yardage. At one point during the early portion of the season, I wrote that improvement for Dillon going forward was unlikely. Hand up, Dillon has proved me wrong. 

Against the defending Super Bowl champions in front of a national audience, Dillon turned in his best performance of the season in a game that establishing the run would go a long way toward easing the burden for quarterback Jordan Love, who was facing off against a stout pass defense. 

The Kansas City Chief entered the Week 13 matchup with the 19th-best run defense, allowing an average of 113.4 yards per game. The Packers finished with 25 carries for 129 yards (5.2 yards per carry). Dillon was responsible for 73 of those yards (18 carries), and he came to play from the first whistle as he carried the rock seven times for 30 times on the team’s opening touchdown drive. He displayed punishing physicality throughout, which has become a trend over the last few weeks, that was sorely lacking earlier in the season by fighting for extra yardage on several occasions. He hit the open holes with strong initial bursts. And when it mattered the most, in the fourth quarter of a close game, Dillon didn’t miss a beat, rushing seven times for 33 yards. 

All told, Dillon has transitioned from a liability to an asset, particularly in short-yardage situations, in relatively short order. With more cold-weather games on the horizon as the Packers look to clinch an improbable playoff berth, Green Bay is going to need Dillon. It looks like he will be ready to deliver. 

__________________________

Rex is a lifelong Packers fan but was sick of the cold, so he moved to the heart of Cowboys country. Follow him on Twitter (@Sheild92) and Instagram (@rex.sheild). 

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8 points
 

Comments (35)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Coldworld's picture

December 04, 2023 at 12:46 pm

Dillon is running naturally again. The key was ending the initiative to change his running angle. He’s back to being a pile mover. They are also running him more from under center, finally.

The question with Dillon is not whether he could contribute to this team moving forward, but how much he is worth. I don’t think he’s shown he’s a ideal primary back, but he’s a very good number 2 in a tandem and can help as a pass protector and quasi FB in the run and passing game as well.

Is that enough to earn him a new contract offer and would he accept one based upon that assessment? It’s worth noting that the Chiefs have been soft against the run between the tackles all year. We actually averaged less per carry than their recent opponents, albeit, with little effective blocking.

8 points
9
1
Cheezehead72's picture

December 04, 2023 at 01:54 pm

I agree with what you wrote. The Packers should offer Dillon a contract that would pay him to be a #2 RB because that is what he is. They should do it before the end of the season. Not sure if he will take it because there is probably a team out there that will give him more and possibly more opportunities.

I hope he stays with us as he is a good #2. Also if he goes to another team to be the #1 they might pick up another back or draft a back and Dillon would be #2 again. I wish him the best.

3 points
5
2
LLCHESTY's picture

December 04, 2023 at 01:56 pm

He's also averaging 9.9 yards a catch and probably should be getting a few more targets. The Giants, like the Packers, are giving up 136 yards a game on the ground so it should be a good game to give him 20-22 carries and see if he can bust a couple.

Hard to say what interest is going to be for him around the league but finding a complimentary back to match up with him would be easier than starting from scratch.

5 points
5
0
jannes bjornson's picture

December 04, 2023 at 04:32 pm

His forte is catching the ball in open space, destroying DBs a' la William Henderson. I like Dillon Johnson, RB from Washington.

1 points
2
1
jvole's picture

December 04, 2023 at 02:21 pm

Agree with all above. The big difference from the early season is that he was hitting the correct holes at full speed. But I don't think he has ever been a bruising, tackle-breaker; when he is at his best, when he gets hit, he falls forward for 2-3 more yards. Now Pacheco, that kid is a bruiser.

3 points
3
0
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 04, 2023 at 06:42 pm

Dillon knocked at least two people out of the game for being so foolish as to try tackling him. Maybe more than two.

He's a bruiser! He's piled up substantial YAC on lots of plays, but I'd like to see him breaking more tackles, too.

He's also been catching everything thrown his way!

He's not a bell cow though. A #2, and a perfect complement to #33; hopefully he comes back 100%. #27 is just not a good contrast to #28. #31? I'd like to see Goodson back, too ...

0 points
0
0
Bitternotsour's picture

December 04, 2023 at 02:40 pm

Dillon becomes a better back every time one of those jet sweeps is called successfully. Funny how a well called game impacts all aspects. Marching down the field three times, chewing clock in the first half held the Chiefs to three nominal possessions.

4 points
4
0
MooPack's picture

December 04, 2023 at 12:47 pm

Dillon is the type of back that needs to get a lot of carries to get going and wear down the defense. Unfortunately, this Offense and specifically OL is not built for that. LeFleur fed him more this game and it showed. However, for whatever reason, with the body type and massive legs he has, he still gets leg tackled too easily. He also tends to turn and push backwards. Effective at times, but you'd rather see him lower and have much more drive in those legs to potentially bust through. He did fine this game, but I do see the Packers taking a RB next year in the draft.

6 points
6
0
T7Steve's picture

December 04, 2023 at 12:49 pm

Rex, he may be picking it up, but isn't it a coincidence that the O-line seems to be picking it up too? I don't remember seeing too many holes that he's missed.

He does seem to be making more holes for his self though.

3 points
3
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Bitternotsour's picture

December 04, 2023 at 02:42 pm

Better play calling is improving the line play. The actual "illusion of complexity" becomes a thing and makes blocking easier if an opponent is on their heels.

4 points
4
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Coldworld's picture

December 04, 2023 at 02:57 pm

It’s a be benevolent circle. If one can stress a D horizontally and vertically then the run game benefits too, as does the OL and all in turn help the other.

2 points
2
0
jannes bjornson's picture

December 04, 2023 at 04:41 pm

Runyan and Tom opened some big caverns on wide-zone, a couple of times, but he didn't have the quicks to plant and blast through them last evening.

3 points
3
0
Bitternotsour's picture

December 04, 2023 at 04:57 pm

Don't ask a tank to be a roadster. Do it like San Francisco, have a wideout run those outside zone plays, smash Dillon between the tackles. Do more tight end screens. Use the assets we have in their best roles.

4 points
4
0
jannes bjornson's picture

December 04, 2023 at 07:46 pm

Tucker Kraft is a deep threat working the seams, but I can see three TE sets like Harbaugh uses with the Crows.

2 points
2
0
THESZOTMAN1's picture

December 04, 2023 at 01:06 pm

We're getting a little more push up front from OL, but Dillon got most of his yards himself and after contact. This is the AJ we know and love. Looking forward to how much we can lean on ground game down the stretch. Esp if the other AJ returns.
Any way we can keep them both again next year? If not, we gotta have Marshal Dillon, IMHO!
The Szotman

5 points
6
1
GTPack's picture

December 04, 2023 at 01:06 pm

Dillon appears to be running harder and more fluidly than earlier this season. I suspect he was probably playing with an injury that wasn’t serious enough to keep him out but enough to affect his performance.

2 points
2
0
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 04, 2023 at 06:50 pm

My guess is they screwed with his mechanics, which will always involve regression. I'm not sure if he's running with lower pad level than before they started, but I think the tripping over his shoelaces thing was due to bending over too far forward instead of lowering his pad level properly.

Maybe the intended adjustment worked? Maybe he gave up on that? I dunno but he's breaking through, and getting better blocking from everywhere, and I'd still like to see him breaking more tackles. Dude's a BEAST!

Not a bell cow though. Or maybe he can become that? Maybe there'll be some easy wins when MLF can experiment with the idea? I'd love to see it. Everybody's worried we won't have #33 next year ...

0 points
1
1
4thand10's picture

December 04, 2023 at 09:47 pm

Or the young Oline is starting to Gel. Or , yes he could have something nagging. But this Oline has been good at times but also suspect in many ways. If Dillon goes to a team with way better run blocking….people are going to start crying. Even in that one Rams game were Aaron Donald is wrapped on his back at the LOS and he still gets 3-4 yards?! What more can you expect. I think if the run blocking is on par, and he gets enough touches…he wears on teams. The Mayor of Door county is also Mr December.

1 points
1
0
MainePackFan's picture

December 04, 2023 at 01:46 pm

AJ is running with authority again. Just what you expect from a Quad Squad University graduate : )

5 points
5
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 04, 2023 at 06:51 pm

He knocked at least two people out of the game last night, maybe more. They should've known better than to try tackling him ...

2 points
2
0
MainePackFan's picture

December 04, 2023 at 07:03 pm

AJ has been playing with heart and attitude. I think that Sirmans tried to make some changes to his running style. They didn't work. AJ is back to being AJ. A big bruising back that knocks the snot out of you (reference to our fellow CHTV poster intended) : )

0 points
0
0
Qoojo's picture

December 04, 2023 at 02:39 pm

I thought the OL did a better job blocking too. Dillon really needs to be untouched before hitting the LOS. He needs that head of steam and generally loses a lot when having to cut early.

A lot of shoestring tackles on Dillon last night too. He was close to busting a couple of big ones.

4 points
4
0
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 04, 2023 at 06:52 pm

Definitely the O line has been playing better! Including some run blocking. Getting blocking from other places, too :)

It's fun being a Packer fan again

2 points
2
0
Lphill's picture

December 04, 2023 at 03:50 pm

except please stop tossing him the ball and making he run to the sideline only to get stopped making his cut , he is better head on not sideline to sideline.

4 points
4
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SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 04, 2023 at 06:54 pm

Absolutely. He's not that agile. Needing to cut gets him cut down. Downhill, and not into a wall is needed.

2 points
2
0
BAMABADGER's picture

December 04, 2023 at 04:33 pm

Dillion is a complementary RB. He will never be the go to back. The Pack should attempt to sign him for the average backup contract rate. If a reasonable contract can’t be worked out, thank you for your years of service, well done.

2 points
2
0
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 04, 2023 at 06:56 pm

He's the downhill thunder to somebody else's agile lightning, yes. Together with #33 at his best, they're really hard to defend against assuming they get solid run blocking. We saw some of that last night! And coming from more than just the O line, too :)

1 points
1
0
Tommy Phillips's picture

December 04, 2023 at 04:52 pm

Last night when Aaron Nagler was asked who was the unsung hero, I said his answer before he said it: A.J. Dillon. His stats may not look that great, but boy, did he run well. He came up with solid gains to set up short 2nd and 3rd downs, and he ran really hard. I'm glad he's coming through, and hopefully he's just heating up.

8 points
8
0
HarryHodag's picture

December 04, 2023 at 05:41 pm

I beg to differ. Dillon was never a liability and always an asset. Notice his play improved when the original offense by Matt LaFleur returned following the departure of AR?

6 points
7
1
SicSemperTyrannis's picture

December 04, 2023 at 07:04 pm

Agreed 💯, and I came here to say this. #28 was always an asset, but ya gotta use every tool correctly. This team is starting to gel, and while it's not road grader dominant run blocking all the time they did move some bodies last night! It was very impressive, and against one of the better defenses in the league.

Building on this progress would look like what? I'm not ready to predict their final record; everybody's saying we have to expect inconsistent play from a bunch of rookies. That's just not what we're seeing! They were a total mess, and now they're playing really well. I predict KC finishes with 13 wins, and the Eagles 14. SF will be tough. Thinking GB gets 10 wins leaves room for inconsistent play costing one loss ...

1 points
1
0
pantz_bURp's picture

December 04, 2023 at 08:09 pm

When the gales of Nov and Dec come to Lambeau, time to use the Bridgestone Blizzaks (aka #28)

Business decision,

Pantz

2 points
2
0
Johnblood27's picture

December 04, 2023 at 08:51 pm

I saw an OL that leaned on a defender and then watched 3 or more defenders jump on Dillon.

If you watched Pacheco, you saw a real OL. Those guys rallied to the RB after their initial block and made a big difference in total yards as well as the ability of a RB to break ONE tacklers grip instead of letting 3 or more guys drag the RB down (like our OL and Dillon).

Just less standing around please. I am really tired of crappy run blocking followed by indifferent behavior when the play is still going and the RB is still struggling.

Coaching, coaching, coaching. Get these guys to look for work until a beat after the whistle. Then I would feel better about this OL. There doesnt seem to be much of a hard working attitude in that OL room.

4 points
4
0
Johnblood27's picture

December 04, 2023 at 08:53 pm

...and one more thing...

just bench Walker-63.

Nijman is much better and gives the team a better chance of success in both run and pass.

Cut the crap and just play the better players!

3 points
3
0
SinceLombardi's picture

December 05, 2023 at 06:02 am

I have to agree that the improvement in the O line is a huge factor in Dillon’s improved performance. If he could be signed at a very reasonable “#2” back rate, I’d do it. But if not, let the season play out. At this juncture we know what he does and what he’s worth.

0 points
0
0
Connor Wall's picture

December 11, 2023 at 11:57 am

Dillon definitely deserves to get a contract. His power and determination should not go unnoticed. I mean, we shouldn't lose him to the competition. This graduate of Boston College wasted no time and is now charging forward like a locomotive. We need to use all available resources to secure victory. In college, if I had https://edubirdie.com/assignment-writing-service at my disposal, I used this tool and achieved excellent results. Similarly, we cannot turn a blind eye to a player like him who helps us leave opponents behind. All he does is showcase his professional growth.

0 points
0
0