GREEN BAY — Someone named “Aaron” is still making big plays out of the Green Bay Packers backfield.
With Aaron Rodgers out indefinitely with a right collarbone injury, the hard running of rookie Aaron Jones will have to do for now in Green Bay.
Jolted by the loss of the two-time NFL MVP, the Packers are in transition. A bye this week gives coach Mike McCarthy more time to find ways to get the team back on track under backup Brett Hundley .
A once high-octane offense hit a speed bump last week in Hundley’s first NFL start against the New Orleans Saints .
Forget about thinking Super Bowl, the Packers must regroup quickly just to keep pace in the NFC North.
“Is the game plan as big as it was the week before? Absolutely not,” McCarthy said. “We need to be more creative and make sure we’re giving (Hundley) the things that he needs.”
This might be McCarthy’s biggest challenge since the Packers last had to play an extended period without Rodgers, a seven-game stretch in 2013 when the quarterback had a left collarbone injury. Back then, they were 5-2 when Rodgers went down during a Monday night game in a loss to the Bears, what would be the start of a five-game winless streak. They recovered and still made the playoffs in part after getting consistent production from the running game behind then-rookie starter Eddie Lacy.
Lacy is now in Seattle, but McCarthy may have found a viable alternative in Jones. The fifth-round draft pick had 131 yards on 17 carries against the Saints, and the Packers ran for 181 yards overall.
And to think Jones was inactive for the season opener against the Seahawks .
“Everything’s happening fast,” Jones said about his emergence. “I don’t know another way to explain it, I’m definitely enjoying it.”
Jones shot up the depth chart after then-starter Ty Montgomery (ribs) and second-stringer Jamaal Williams (knee) were knocked out of a 35-14 win over the Chicago Bears last month. Montgomery hasn’t been productive since his return playing with a flak jacket, while Williams is healthy again.
McCarthy turned to Jones to start against the Saints, and the 5-foot-9 slasher set an early tone with a 46-yard touchdown run.
“You always want to be able to run the ball, that makes it easier (for) any quarterback,” Jones said after the game.
Except the Packers weren’t able to capitalize by taking more deep shots or hitting play-action passes after establishing the run with Jones.
The plan in part with Hundley was to take advantage of his ability to play outside the pocket. Hundley might be in his third year in the system, but the Vikings game, when he replaced the injured Rodgers, was really the first time he had meaningful snaps in the regular season.
Against the Saints, Hundley ran for a 14-yard touchdown, and finished 12 of 25 for 87 yards and an interception.
“It’s tough. It’s all about building chemistry with your quarterback when you’ve only had a week to do that,” receiver Randall Cobb said. “It’s going to be important for us to continue to build confidence in him to throw it to us in different situations.”
Part of the emphasis for Hundley moving forward will be getting him more comfortable in the pocket.
“You look at how many dropback passes he had, there’s where the majority of our time clock things were, we weren’t very clean there,” McCarthy said. “The action passing game, the footwork was perfect and we had protection issues on two of them.
“You have to take in all the information. You can’t let him feel the weight of the world, it’s part of playing the position, I get that,” McCarthy added. “Just stay in tune with what he’s being asked to do.”
The job might be easier if the Packers were able to get the ball more to their collection of playmaking receiving threats.
Jordy Nelson is tied for the NFL lead with six receiving touchdowns, while Davante Adams is tied for second at five. Cobb is a threat to turn short passes into long gains. Tight end Martellus Bennett has had several drops this season but still provides an athletic, 6-foot-7 target over the middle.
Together, the four players combined for just seven catches for 57 yards with no scores against the Saints.
“Jordy Nelson, Davante, Marty, Randall Cobb, those guys have got to touch the ball. We didn’t get that done,” McCarthy said. “Now, how many times have we run for 180-plus yards? Not very often. You’re supposed to win those games. So, we have a lot to build off of.”