The Packers run game stole the show in the playoffs against the Rams last year. Brandon Staley’s two-high shell defense was focused on stopping the pass and forcing the opposing offense to slowly matriculate the ball down the field. The Packers were the first team that really accepted what was there and patiently moved the ball.
Of course, Aaron Donald was hurt for that game. Let’s go over what happened last year and what’s in store for this week’s game.
Despite playing more two-high coverages and light boxes than any other team in the league, the 2020 Rams still had an elite run defense. The d-line used a gap and a half techniques to clog up the middle and slow running backs down and the linebackers were free to hit whatever gap they needed to to make the play work.
The Packers counteracted this by using a lot of pony (two running back) sets and motioning Aaron Jones out of the backfield to lighten the box even more. AJ Dillon had several carries with no linebackers in the box. Imagine being a 190 lb safety having the fill a gap from deep with AJ Dillon running at you.
Eventually, the Rams adjusted to that play, but the Packers were still able to open holes in the run game. Aaron Jones had the longest run play against them the whole season and the three running backs ended the game with over 190 total rush yards.
Fast forward to today. Aaron Donald is healthy. Aaron Jones isn’t. Elgton Jenkins, David Bakhtiari, and Corey Linsley won’t be there to open holes on the o line. It doesn’t look great for the run game. But it’s still imperative that the team run the ball.
The Rams still focus on defending the deep pass and the Rodgers/MVS connection has all of two big plays this season. If the Packers have any chance of slowing down the Rams pass rush and moving the ball, they will need to run it and stick to running it.
The good news is AJ Dillon has taken a big leap this year. Without a doubt, he is one of the top 3 or 4 power backs in the league. Aaron Jones may play a few snaps, but Dillon is the Jenga piece this week.
For Dillon to get going, the team will need to be patient again and feed him the ball – even if the results are poor in the first quarter or first half. For that to happen, Aaron Rodgers needs to let it.
We’ve heard it several times in post-game press conferences. Coach LaFleur tried to establish the run but multiple runs were checked into passes or turned into quick screens at the line of scrimmage by Rodgers.
This isn’t an every week problem. Constraint plays and getting out of runs against bad box counts are necessary for any offense. But sometimes, you just need to run the damn ball. Even if the corner is playing five yards off Davante. Even if the safety is creeping into the box. Even if the rhythm isn’t there yet.
The offense depends on the defense not knowing what’s coming. Misdirection and different plays looking alike until the last minute are key. To make that work and keep the chains moving Rodgers will need to let the offense work.
The good news is that Rodgers acknowledged that in a press conference this week. He talked about the success the run game had in the playoffs last season and said that they would need that to happen again. Here’s hoping that it does.
Mike Price is a lifelong Packers fan currently living in Utah. You can follow him on twitter at @themikeprice.