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The Evolution of the Running Game Under Matt LaFleur

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The Evolution of the Running Game Under Matt LaFleur

The Underutilization of the Running Game Under McCarthy

Last year, one of the bones of contention of Mike McCarthy's offense was the underutilization of the running game.  The Packers ranked second in the NFL in rush yards per attempt averaging 5.0 yards per carry, yet there was not a firm commitment to consistently establish the running game week in and week out.  

One of the reasons McCarthy now finds himself on the unemployment line is because he neglected the run.  Now the Packers insert Matt LaFleur into the mix hoping for a more balanced attack in 2019.  

LaFleur was under the tutelage of both Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, and it is safe to say that the Packers will make a diligent effort to run the ball and utilize their running backs week in and week out.

Here is how I see LaFleur's philosophies playing out for the Packers trio of running backs: 

Aaron Jones

LaFleur is sure to adopt principles from Shanahan and McVay with plenty of outside zone runs while incorporating some jet sweeps to stay one step ahead of the defense.  I see Aaron Jones consistently getting 20 carries per game and using his patience and ability to hit the hole in the second level to average between 80-100 rushing yards per game.  

Jamaal Williams

I see Jamaal Williams consistently playing the role of a secondary back who will hear his number called to spell Aaron Jones and play a vital role in short yardage situations where he needs to hit the hole and take on a linebacker head on.  

LaFleur's commitment to the run will give Williams the opportunity to pick up first downs in short yardage situations and will allow the Packers to get back to basics and not always have to outsmart themselves on 3rd and 2 and 3rd and 3.  

Dexter Williams

Dexter Williams will have to spend much of the time during his rookie season honing his skills and adapting to life in the NFL.  He will need to improve his initial burst but shows much promise with his vision and patience.  He could definitely be another 6th round steal from Notre Dame for the Packers much like Equanimous St. Brown was a season ago.  

I think the goal for Dexter Williams would be to have him develop into a secondary back who could split the carries with Jamaal Williams in the case Aaron Jones has to miss a week or two with an injury.


1. I think LaFleur will consistently run the ball 25-30 times per game.  

2. I think Aaron Rodgers becomes more lethal in the play-action game because of LaFleur's dedication to running the football.

3. I think Aaron Jones has 250 carries for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns

4. I think Jamaal and Dexter Williams have a combined 125 carries for 600 yards and 5 touchdowns.  

5. I think the Packers will rush for a combined 1,800 yards, 15 touchdowns and average over 4.5 yards per carry.

Sound Off:

Let me know how you see Matt LaFleur's rushing attack playing out.  Are you bullish on the Packers trio of backs? Let me know why or why not.  I look forward to the conversation and debate.  


David Michalski is a staff writer for Cheesehead TV. He can be found on Twitter @kilbas27dave 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (32) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Coach JV's picture

Good article!!! I agree with this assessment of the running game, and the backs.

I think that Jones, in addition to a 1000 rushing yards/10 TD's, also grabs another 700 -800 receiving yards and another 5 TD's.

I think that Williams will get 600 rushing yards/3 TD's with 300 receiving yards with 3 TD's.

Our RB's catching game has been sorely neglected in the MM era too, and I think LaF will change that (one reason why Gute didn't bother getting more receivers).


Coldworld's picture

I agree, I think Williams has flashed in the passing game on the few occasions he was given a chance. He has good hands and can block. He is going to see the field and could benefit most if targeted through the air.

Nick Perry's picture

Remember that gave vs Pittsburgh with Brett Hundley at QB...Williams damn near beat the Steelers himself that night.

He's a damn decent RB, an Excellent #2 who can really do everything well. He's not as dynamic as Jones but he doesn't need to be.

I REALLY like Dexter Williams and agree with the writer he could be another Notre Dame 6th round steal. A beautiful thing about Dexter is he doesn't have much wear and tear from college.

BUT... I would still really like to see the Packers trade for Duke Johnson. Johnson is such a great receiver, better than any RB currently on the roster including Jones. That's NOT a knock on Jones, just mad props to Johnson's receiving skills. He'd be a nice addition to the backfield.

Old School's picture

I like the Duke Johnson idea. A trio of gameday actives of Johnson-Jones-Jamal Williams, IMO, is a pretty good group to help move the ball. 450 carries in the season, plus 45 receptions, means you need at least 2 pretty good guys and hopefully three.

These guys get hurt. You need spares. Sometimes, just for a game or two, and sometimes longer.

jannes bjornson's picture

Get the best talent your can acquire and leave the scrubs for the fanatasy league practice squad coming from the fan accolades during summer session. If Johnson is there for Jones, make the deal.

Qoojo's picture

I think Jones has to prove his durability before you can count on him for 20 carries per game. I agreed with MM's pitch count for Jones, and he still had health issues last year. I doubt all RBs stay healthy for the entire year, so at some point, Dexter Williams or another back will get a more prominent role.

Hopefully, the new additions to OL provide an upgrade for short yardage runs. They were just bad last year at G positions.

As far as run/pass balance, I am not so sure all those passes were the result of MM. I kind of suspect Rodgers changed the call to a pass and affected that balance. I am really curious to see if MLF can get buy-in for a more balanced attack.

Turophile's picture

Durability will always be a major factor, especially at RB.

How much commitment to the run game will depend on the score in the second half of games.

If, in the second half of games the Packers are behind by any distance, expect more passing and less running. Of course the reverse is also true. If the Packers are ahead they can run the ball more, especially if they are more than a TD ahead.

Old School's picture

As the saying goes "the most important ability is Availability."

If you've got a Pro-Bowl/future HOFer at RB, you give him the ball. But when you've got a bunch of guys on rookie deals you should try to spreads it around as best as you can , unless until the second half of the season.

Gort's picture

Injuries and the resultant unavailability are always a concern at RB. I would love to see the "projected" (wild ass guess) production stats for Jones, but I suspect that they are not likely. The committee approach is likely a necessity and I would be ecstatic if David's prediction #5 comes true.

"5. I think the Packers will rush for a combined 1,800 yards, 15 touchdowns and average over 4.5 yards per carry."

GLM's picture

Given what we've heard about Aaron Jones' committment to his off-season program, I expect his durability to be much better. Looking for great things from this group.

Bearmeat's picture

I had the same response to Corey not 5 hours ago:

I don't want Jones seeing 300 touches. He's not going to be able to handle that workload. For that reason, I think Jones will get no more than 800 yards and 6-8 TDs, with another 400 yards and 3-4 TDs receiving. He'll be a lethal player for us, but as a part time guy. I do think Williams will get more touches as a direct result of the above. The 3rd guy will see very little action unless (until?) RB 1/2 gets hurt.

I do think the play action game will be lethal this year.

ricky's picture

You're right. Jones has not been able to stay healthy his first two years with a lighter workload. Why would he suddenly be more durable with a heavier workload? Not a knock, just reality. Also, play action COULD be much improved IF Rodgers would be willing to take medium gains (12-20 yards) rather than always trying make that big play that ends up with him either getting sacked or running for his life. Be more Brady and less Marino.

ricky's picture

You're right. Jones has not been able to stay healthy his first two years with a lighter workload. Why would he suddenly be more durable with a heavier workload? Not a knock, just reality. Also, play action COULD be much improved IF Rodgers would be willing to take medium gains (12-20 yards) rather than always trying make that big play that ends up with him either getting sacked or running for his life. Be more Brady and less Marino.

Tarynfor12's picture

" The Underutilization of the Running Game Under McCarthy."

With ' denied ' assistance from Aaron Rodgers however obvious. How about when an article is written about the failings of MM, we not forget to mention his accomplice, though for other reasons. I'm not defending MM but I'm not ignoring the Rodgers effect either on the lack and failure of a run game.

LambeauPlain's picture

MM was alot like Capers. “Here is what we are going to run, so everyone learn it.” Both men demanded players adjust to their scheme.

ML and Pettine have both stated they will run plays that best fit the strengths of the players on the field.

Last year, MM had a very good run O but still insisted on his chunk play, perimeter passing game with long developing routes.

I read the Pack passed to the perimeter 40% of the time....the next closest team was around 30%. The O line, especially the Guards were much better run blocking than pass blocking where they allowed consistent pressure up the middle.

Last year in TN, ML had a banged up QB and problems in the pass game. So he looked to his strengths and fed his RBs the ball 50% of the time and just missed the playoffs.

I think Aaron is going to thrive with more run plays because his play action will be much more effective when he does pass.

Archie's picture

No more Thompson

No more Capers

No more McCarthy

My god, that's at least 3 wins right there.

We start the season against 5 defensive powerhouses. If we win 3 of those games, we will be playoff bound. 4-2 in division and 6-4 outside the division gives us 10 wins and hopefully a berth. Pack should be playing its best football down the stretch. If we even win 2 of the first 5 we have a good shot at making it.

Adorabelle's picture

Last season the Titans ran 456 times for over 2000 team yards. But of course that team has issues at quarterback and receiver. The Green Bay Packers ran 333 times. Of course this was the lowest in years and due in large part to being so bad and always behind. It will be interesting to see if the rushing totals approach Titan levels or somewhere in between.

Nick Perry's picture

If the Packers ran the ball 2 more times a quarter, 8 more times a game they'd actually be a tad over the 456. It doesn't sound like much, definitely doable in this offense.

One thing we think we know is MLF will STICK with the running game and they'll be fewer options for Rodgers to change the play. Far fewer 3 WR sets too.

Old School's picture

That's a difference of 123 attempts over a season or about seven or eight times a game on average. Obviously, you have to be ahead or close to keep chugging it, but just sticking it into the line for those boring 3 yard pickups keeps your quarterback from getting beaten up and the opposing quarterback off the field.

I know that a lot of us want/expect a lot from Jones, but I think we should let others shoulder more of the load early in the season and see if we can keep him fresh for the stretch from Thanksgiving through the playoffs. Utilize him as a change of pace guy in the beginning of the season and keep his touches down.

As many of you have noted. Williams is a more than capable back. In two seasons, he hasn't missed a game or had a turnover. It's not like he's a bad guy to have on the field.

Old School's picture

Upon Further Review.....

Sorry, but the 250 carries for 1200 yards, IMO, is kind of an unrealistic expectation, not only because of his history but because last year only six guys had that many carries and only three of them had that many yards: Elliot, Barkley, and Gurley.

Now, if you're talking about 250 TOUCHES (rushing and receptions) then that's a little diferent. It'd still be way more than he's ever done, but at least 11 RBs in the league did that last year, and it's kind of a Who's Who of the top backs in the league . IF Jones ….or anybody else.....could do that for us, we'd almost certainly be a playoff team.

250 touches would be about 16 attempts/game for 16 games. I think that's a little more in the realm of the possible. As far as goal , 8 out of the top 9 teams in rushing attempts made the playoffs last year. IF AS A TEAM, we could get 450 rushing attempts, we'd be in that group. That's about 27 a game, or 25 runs by your backs and an occasional reverse or quarterback scramble. I'd settle for three backs who could carry the load and try to keep them all fresh and healthy.

Handsback's picture

I hate to make comparisons between the Titans and Packers.
First off, the Titans have an All-Pro RB that takes a beating and keeps on ticking. Cant do that to Jones. Williams...yes but you won't get the same output.
Green Bay has an All-Pro QB so there will be more passes than with the Titans. You go with your strength so wouldn't expect similar results in the run game.
I do believe the Packers will emphasize the run more but enough to keep the defense honest not as their main gameplan.
Just my humble opinion.

Samson's picture

I think you've got it... The Packers are not going to turn into the Titans... They will in all likelihood emphasize the run game a bit more than the last several seasons but..... they have the highest rated QB in the history of the NFL. (he also gets paid big bucks).--- Handing the ball to your RB is something any NFL QB can do. --- Turning AR into a "game manager" will backfire.

flackcatcher's picture

Last year I hammered Rodgers for abandoning the Packers game plan at Detroit. It was an stupid decision that cost the Packers a win. It also pointed to the end of Mike McCarthy as HC. I always wondered if Gute would have move Rodgers if he wasn't signed to his new contract that year. This has been an long an ongoing problem that I fear MLF will not be able to control. Since Rodgers becoming QB1 the Packers had maintained a rough 60/40 split on pass-run plays. With the change in 2011 in NFL rules on pass coverage the Packers pass-run ratio probably shifted to something close to 70/30 with the addition of more one back offensive sets into McCarthy's west coast offense. Somewhere along the way, Rodgers began to check out of called run plays, to the point were the Packers were running less than 25% of the called run plays. (not a guess on my part. I asked a former offense coach in the Packers org about how many call runs Rodgers was checking out at the time.) This came to a head in 2014, when Rodgers was barred from checking out call run plays after the Bengals game. By the Tampa game, McCarthy had given Rodgers control at the line again, but the seeds where planted. While the Packers still maintained their 70/30 split, by 2016 they had shifted to the RPO system in their run game which reduced the actual run plays to somewhere between 20-25%. But lets give Rodgers credit here, after 2014 he committed to the run game in the Packer system, and there was no reason to think he would turn into the new age version of Brett Farve. But he did and we all saw the result. My fear is Rodgers will get frustrated and throw away the system because he's Aaron Rodgers and your not. And after last year, that's a real possibility.

GLM's picture

If AR can remember he doesn't need a huge play every snap, we should be OK. Some of his best years were when he hit second and third receivers and kept moving the chains. By keeping the opposing defense on its heels, the big plays will come naturally.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

Aaron Rodgers in legit play-action should scare the F out of NFL defensive coordinators.

wildbill's picture

Another great byproduct of utilizing the run more is that it allows our defense more rest time on the sidelines, which should pay big dividends in the fourth quarter

baldski's picture

The Packers used to have a great screen game. I would love to see a return to that with some great pulling guards or center.

Bart_Starred's picture

Excellent point baldski. Say what you will about Mike Sherman but that offense hummed when they had that Favre-to-Ahman Green screen play going. I’ve longed for our ability to run the screen anywhere close to that again. And with Aaron Jones??? Could be lethal.

Southside's picture

Throughout his career, the offenses in which Matt LaFleur has been involved have done a great job of getting the ball to running backs.

Dating to his first NFL job in 2009, LaFleur’s teams have thrown the ball to running backs far more frequently than the Packers. Not counting his one season with Notre Dame, the top receiving back on LaFleur’s teams have averaged 47.8 catches per season for more than 400 yards.

In that same stretch, the Packers’ leading receiving back has averaged just 32.8 catches per season for less than 270 yards.

Some of this has to do with personnel, to be sure, and LaFleur was only in a play calling capacity for one of the seasons. But he was significantly involved in the offense in each of these seasons, and I believe this shows LaFleur has deep schematic roots when it comes to getting the ball to running backs.

PETER MAIZ's picture

Hopefully, the running scheme will work. Aron is already teed at not having the freedom he needs besides being controlled by The Flower. I think Rodgers can read a defense better than anyone. Is another conflict in the making?

Aplinal's picture

I doubt if there will be any conflict. Of course A-Rod has 11 years of experience, but if he can see that the MLF system is a winning one, I would think he'll "sign in" to the approach. It's about winning now. A-Rod has a legacy, but he'll want at least one more SB ring. A better system and running game, and 2020-2022 could be very interesting for Packers fans!

This season, I'll be happy if we get into the play-offs (It would be a first for a first year Packers coach - so even that's a tall order)

Leprechaun's picture

Blocking and pass catching Fullback ?

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