Lions' Kerryon Johnson, Packers' Aaron Jones get it done, despite cautious workload
Allen Park — While it's not entirely accurate to compare the two running backs stylistically, there's significant overlap in the way Kerryon Johnson and Aaron Jones have been used and how they've produced.
Two of the NFL's most-explosive runners from a year ago, neither Johnson nor Jones carried the ball more than 20 times in a game in 2018.
Jones, who is in his third season with the Green Bay Packers after being selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, peaked at 17 carries, hitting the mark twice late in the season. Johnson, in his rookie year for the Detroit Lions, topped out at 19 carries in his 10 games.
But the two were wildly efficient, finishing first and second in yards per carry, with Jones edging out Johnson, 5.5 to 5.4 yards.
Having both established themselves as their team's best backfield option, the two backs are being leaned on more this season. Johnson has topped his personal-high in carries back-to-back weeks, taking 26 hand-offs in Detroit's loss to Kansas City before the bye. Jones is coming off a 19-carry outing in a victory over Dallas, which included four touchdowns.
Now the two figure to be a focal point when the Lions and Packers square off on Monday Night Football.
"I think what you’re seeing is upfront, they’re just creating the holes with space," Lions coach Matt Patricia said about the Packers' run game. "You’re really seeing the stretch run game, a lot of influence from (Packers coach) Matt LaFleur’s time with Kyle Shanahan and some of the different run schemes back in the day, when they were together. You can see the space in that run game and (how they) open it up. The history of that run game has been one of which where the system is just so effective, really with whatever back they have back there.
"A guy like Aaron Jones just has great explosive power and burst and balance, and I think he has really just taken full advantage of the space in there.”
Patricia said Jones is having a lot of success running stretch plays to the outside. That's backed up by data tracked by the NFL. For every yard Jones has gained, he's actually running 4.82 yards, indicating he spends a lot of time going east and west, looking for a hole to open up.
"He puts a lot of stress on you, puts a lot of stress on the defense," defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said.