Getty Head coach Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers reacts after a play in the second quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field on November 5, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
The Green Bay Packers missed a few opportunities in their last attempt to win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 10, but a “critical” mistake by star running back Aaron Jones stuck with head coach Matt LaFleur.
After quarterback Jordan Love connected with rookie wide receiver Jayden Reed for a 46-yard reception, Love checked the ball from the 35-yard line to Jones in the right flat on 1st-and-10 with 51 seconds to play . Jones caught the ball but tried to fight for extra yards instead of going out of bounds to stop the clock.
“When we checked the ball to Aaron Jones, I thought there was a chance we could go out of bounds right there, but we didn’t. And that was crucial because that wasted a lot of time,” LaFleur told reporters after the 23-19 loss to the Steelers on Nov. 12.
The Packers rushed to make their next play after the Steelers attacked Jones’ inbounds and managed to stop the clock with 28 seconds left when Love went out of bounds, but the entire situation left them with fewer opportunities to score a go-ahead score .
“We would have had a couple chances at the end of the game,” LaFleur continued. “It lasted like 20 seconds or whatever, it felt like forever. He tried to put us in a position where one of the receivers would lose the lead. It took too long, the whole operation there wasn’t good enough.”
Aaron Jones struggled overall in the loss to the Steelers
Overall, Jones struggled against the Steelers beyond his mistake on the final drive. He gained just 35 yards on 13 carries, a paltry 2.6 yards per carry, which was his lowest single-game average of the season. While he caught four passes for an additional 19 yards, he also dropped two of his pass targets, both times on third-down plays.
Mistakes will happen, but Jones is the Packers’ best offensive playmaker. They expect him to make plays as they try to get him close to 20 total touches per game. He did better in the Week 9 win over the Los Angeles Rams with 97 all-purpose yards and a touchdown, but even then he fumbled again for the Packers.
To be fair, Jones remains limited in practice due to a hamstring injury that cost him three games in the first half of the 2023 season, but the Packers will need more reliability from him if he wants to have a chance for the season to stay in Green Bay for the 2024 season.
The Packers have backfield decisions to make in 2024
On the bright side, the Packers had a strong performance from up-and-down running back AJ Dillon in their loss to the Steelers on Sunday. He took nine carries for 70 yards and tied for a season-best 40 yards. For the first time this season, he averaged at least 4 yards per carry in consecutive appearances, which is an encouraging sign for him.
Still, the Packers want to see more consistency from their running backs throughout 2023, as both Dillon and Jones have decisions coming up in 2024.
The Packers could make significant changes to the composition of their backfield during the 2024 offseason. Dillon is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent when his rookie contract expires in March, but he didn’t look like the same running back who totaled 2,092 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns in the 2020 and 2021 seasons combined. Without a strong finish through 2023, it could be difficult for Dillon to make the case for an extension.
The Packers’ bill also comes due with Jones, who signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension in the 2021 offseason. In 2023, Jones took a pay cut that reduced his cap hit to about $8.19 million, but it is expected to increase to about $17.17 million for the 2024 season. Even if the Packers want to keep him, they may not be able to do so unless they find a way to lower his cap hit.
Jordan J. Wilson is a sports reporter who covers the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers for Heavy.com. He previously covered all levels of sports – high school, college and professional – for a variety of publications, including The Indianapolis Star, The News-Gazette, Springfield State-Journal Register and Peoria Journal Star. More about Jordan J. Wilson
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