Can Packers' Running Back AJ Dillon Turn It Around?

The Boston College product's third year in the league has been underwhelming thus far. 

When running back AJ Dillon was drafted in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the sixth running back off the board but the only one with tree trunks for quadriceps, NFL Draft Twitter erupted in flames — like a bad house fire. The Packers’ tweet promoting the selection has over 1,100 replies as of this writing, and most of those responding users were perplexed, to put it lightly. After all, the Packers had Aaron Jones on the roster, who was coming off a season in which he accumulated over 1,500 scrimmage yards and 19 touchdowns.

Adding salt to the wound was the Pro Football Focus brethren, as they chastised the selection left and right almost exclusively because the Pro Football Focus draft guide did not include the Boston College product as a ranked player. And after Dillon’s first season, they were somewhat vindicated. Dillon only rushed the ball 46 times for 242 yards and 2 touchdowns, coupled with two receptions for 21 yards, though he did average over 5 yards per carry. Still, he never carried the rock more than five times in a game, except in that snowy game against Tennessee late in the season. In the 40-14 victory, Dillon showed glimpses of the workhorse he could be for the green and gold, churning out 124 yards on 21 carries (5.9 yards per carry) for two touchdowns.

Thankfully, for the fans' sake and the team's sake, Dillon's game took a big leap in 2021. The bulldozing running back had 187 carries for 803 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and 5 touchdowns, and also posed as a threat in the pass game (34 receptions on 37 targets for 313 yards and 2 scores). Further, the analytics showed that Dillon was one of the better running backs in the NFL, if not one of the best running backs in the NFL.

First, and most impressively, he was first among running backs with at least 100 carries in Success Rate, meaning he was the most consistent running back in the NFL. He was 2nd in Rush Percentage Over Expected (48.4%), meaning he gained more yards than expected in almost half of his carries; 8th in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (simple translation: he was one of the best running backs at providing total value at the position); 10th in Expected Yards (1,007), which points to the fact that he played much better than his actual stats on paper; 15th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (more value per play), 9.7 percentage points above average; 16th among running backs in Rushing Yards Over Expected (RYOE), which Next Gen Stats defines as “as the difference between actual rushing yards and expected rushing yards on an individual play or series of plays;” and 17th in Rushing Yards Over Expected per Attempt (0.27). 

In other words, Dillon was a weapon. 

This year, though, has been a forgettable one for Dillon in which the weapon has been dull, despite roughly the exact same average number of carries year-over-year. He averaged 11 carries per game a season ago and is averaging 10.8 carries this year. However, his yard-per-carry average has dipped slightly from 4.3 yards per carry to 4.0 yards per carry. He is also averaging fewer yards per reception in 2022, from 9.2 to 6.2, and only has one touchdown to his name. On the bright side, the third-year back has been a top-10 running back in Rush Percentage Over Expected (47.9%), but the overall analytical picture is not pretty relative to a season ago. 

  • 26th in Rush Yards Over Expected (4)
  • T27th Rushing Yards Over Expected per Attempt (0.05)
  • 26th in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (among RBs with a minimum of 72 carries)
  • 26th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (6.5 percentage points below average)
  • 26th in Expected Yards (378) — meaning he is actually playing worse than his actual stats on paper (389 actual yards vs. 378)
  • 20th in Success rate

Does the play of the offensive line have something to do with Dillon’s decline? That is certainly plausible, as the unit’s run block win rate was fourth in 2021 but is 17th this season. Then again, Aaron Jones ranks pretty high in a lot of the aforementioned analytical categories for the 2022 season, so I am not so sure you can pin Dillon’s lackluster play entirely on the offensive line. It simply seems like Dillon does not have that same consistent burst that he did last year. Evidence of that in the form of a question: how in the hell has he been stuffed so many times at the goal line this season, considering he weighs 247 pounds?

With so few bright spots on the team thus far and glimmers of hope for the future dwindling by the week, it sure would be nice if Dillon could provide us with some excitement as the season finishes out by returning to his 2021 form. 

__________________________

Rex is a lifelong Packers fan but was sick of the cold, so he moved to the heart of Cowboys country. Follow him on Twitter (@Sheild92) and Instagram (@rex.sheild). 

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1 points

Comments (58)

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Coldworld's picture

November 11, 2022 at 11:14 am

He could tell Rodgers to run him from under center and to reinstate some power blocking. To be honest, Dillon has looked better to me recently despite the OL issues in the run game.

9 points
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DaleDanTony's picture

November 11, 2022 at 11:20 am

I agree I thought he looked better last week and at Buffalo, before that he just seemed to not have the burst he had in previous seasons.

2 points
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Coldworld's picture

November 11, 2022 at 11:23 am

I heard he had some quad issue, but I can’t find anything to substantiate that.

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jannes bjornson's picture

November 11, 2022 at 06:28 pm

Keep Deguara as a FB and he can also be a two-way threat. Get the extra hat on the defenders. Rodgers should snap out of it and realize this week's game plan is pound the ball and the short passing game. The base WCO. Dallas doesn't like to get beat on and endure long drives. Wear them out and if Barry doesn't open the playbook, relieve him of his duties @ Halftime.

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LLCHESTY's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:04 am

Rodgers devises the game plan? What do they even need LaFleur for them?

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KenEllis's picture

November 12, 2022 at 09:58 am

Over-drafted and over-hyped, Dillon is nothing more than a decent, plodding backup RB.

Hell of a way to spend a 2nd round pick.

Love, Dillon, Degaura, Love are you first 4 picks from the 2020 draft, the 3rd year guys the team should be relying upon hitting their peak performances.

Way to go Gutester.

0 points
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Rebecca's picture

November 11, 2022 at 11:34 am

I don’t put much value on those stats. We fans see a player have a career day like the 2020 Tennessee game and we declare him a major asset only to have our egos deflated by the reality that this is foremost a team sport. I don’t care too much about averages and expectations as much as throwing a great block or gaining a tough first down or a crucial td. You’re only as good as the teammates around you. I think he’s a damn good football player.

8 points
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fangirl's picture

November 11, 2022 at 12:13 pm

I think he's an asset but rather one dimensional. He's a lovely person, though. (We met him @ training camp)

3 points
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Swisch's picture

November 11, 2022 at 04:25 pm

It's great to hear that you had a good encounter with A.J. Dillon.
***
As a rambling old-timer, I like to relate that it was once thought that Paul Hornung had zero dimensions as a pro.
The top selection in the entire draft class of 1957, he wasn't considered a good enough passer to play quarterback, the position at which he had won the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame.
Also, Hornung was considered too slow for halfback and not powerful enough for fullback.
As I understand, he was not only a bust as a pro his first two seasons, but a joke amongst the people of Green Bay amidst the folly of the entire team in the 1950s.
Even his commitment was questioned. During a game in Los Angeles, as Hornung languished on the sidelines, a pretty girl came up to him for a photo, and he obliged.
Maybe he was just being polite, but perhaps he was also discouraged and distractable.
(See the book, "That First Season," by John Eisenberg.)
***
All of which is to say that I'm not ready to give up on Dillon, or Amari Rodgers, or Jordan Love, or anyone else on the Packers of this dysfunctional and difficult stretch.
They may not turn out to be hall-of-famers like Hornung, but they may turn out to be solid players and important contributors to a winning team with the right leadership.
It seems to me there's a lot of talent on our Packers right now, despite the miserable slide. If the organizational side is straightened out, and the culture encouraged, the downtime for the team may not be as long as it seems -- another lesson from the Lombardi Era.
Never underestimate the power of esprit-de-corps.
***

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LLCHESTY's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:09 am

You forgot to mention that without Bart Starr's leadership Horning would have just been another troubled young man, cast adrift in a never ending string of drinking establishments and superficial one night stands. Hey wait a minute, that happened anyway. Nevermind.

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stockholder's picture

November 11, 2022 at 12:17 pm

I think he's regressed to his Covid status. It might be because of the OL. But he's just not the same player from last year.

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ricky's picture

November 11, 2022 at 12:29 pm

Why is he getting stuffed at the line? Because opponents are emphasizing stopping the run. They don't take Rodgers as seriously as a passing threat as they did in the past. The Packers also seem to have de-emphasized the running game, so he is getting fewer carries. When given the chance, he will help wear down a defense.

6 points
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mnbadger's picture

November 11, 2022 at 12:47 pm

His average PFF statistic of all his readings 20.833..
This means that only 21 teams have ONE back that's better than him.
11 teams' BEST RB is worse than him.
His pass blocking has been mostly excellent. His hands have been excellent, catching many poorly thrown and contested balls and dropping just a few.
Just a reminder, he's our 2nd best back.
He'll never be the home run threat that others may be, but cut him some slack.
Our problems this year should not be laid at the feet of AJD.
It is healthy to look closely at every player though, for that I say thank you.
GPG!

5 points
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TarynsEyes's picture

November 11, 2022 at 12:53 pm

Did you see the size of his 'THIGHS'?

How can we miss them, they're basically standing still most of the time.

How's those 'Thighs' looking?

I've seen glaciers move more and faster.

4 points
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hacksaw61's picture

November 11, 2022 at 06:08 pm

Wow...just .. .wow

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LLCHESTY's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:16 am

Sounds like she put a fresh coat of black paint on her windows for the winter.

https://youtu.be/tIfQipkkOqs

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Packerpasty's picture

November 11, 2022 at 06:47 pm

He....is.....sloooow...but those THIGHS!!! Quadzilla!!

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dobber's picture

November 11, 2022 at 12:55 pm

"Does the play of the offensive line have something to do with Dillon’s decline? That is certainly plausible, as the unit’s run block win rate was fourth in 2021 but is 17th this season. Then again, Aaron Jones ranks pretty high in a lot of the aforementioned analytical categories for the 2022 season"

So when the OL becomes very average, the less elusive and more blocking-dependent back is less effective.

There's a shock...

9 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:13 am

We will probably never know how good Dillon can be until he goes to power team that gives him a work load and let's him wear down defenses. You know, before he comes back to be mayor of Door County.

2 points
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Swisch's picture

November 11, 2022 at 12:57 pm

There seems to be a miasma over and around the Packers that is dragging down all of our players. Many guys may be giving their best, but it's hard to overcome an oppressive atmosphere.
Therefore, I'm hesitant to evaluate players with conclusiveness under these conditions. We all know how much better we function in situations of order and competence and encouragement and camaraderie.
A couple of months ago, we at CHTV were talking about all of the talent assembled by the Packers. I don't think that was inaccurate -- but all human organizations tend to disintegration unless there is a driving force for goodness and excellence.
***
To me, it bears repeating that Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, and Ray Nitschke were considered busts after the 1958 season in which the Packers were an abysmal 1-10-1.
When Vince Lombardi became the head coach in 1959, the team went on to win five championships in the 1960s, with all of these guys becoming members of the pro football hall of fame.
What Lombardi did, though, that seems highly relevant to today, is to gain full control of football operations from the front office. It seems to have taken desperate times for the Packers -- including the possibility of the franchise moving away from Green Bay -- for the front office to relent.
***
Now, I believe it's unwise and actually impossible to duplicate the past; but it's folly to not learn the lessons of the past and apply them to the conditions of today.
Why make the same mistakes of the past when we can learn from them and avoid them?
We don't live in the past, but carry on the best of the past.
***
A major lesson is that leadership matters, especially at head coach and quarterback. Starr had plenty of talent, which has gone largely unrecognized; but he also was magnificent in uplifting the entire team into a spirit of excellence and sacrifice and solidarity.
Yes, Lombardi made Starr; but then it was that the unassuming, but steady and steely Starr helped to elevate the mercurial Lombardi to greater heights.
These two legends must be taken as a pair, a collaboration of men with character that led the Packers to the greatest run of triumph and glory in NFL history.

5 points
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LeotisHarris's picture

November 11, 2022 at 02:46 pm

It's always been interesting to me that Lombardi reportedly explored trading Starr to Dallas for Don Meredith. In 1961 Lombardi is said to have offered Dallas general manager Tex Schramm "any two players on his team in exchange for Meredith." After the 1963 or 1964 season, the offer was for a straight up swap of QBs, which Schramm rejected.

3 points
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Swisch's picture

November 11, 2022 at 04:01 pm

My theory is that Lombardi's moodiness may have worn thin with the players after the first two championships, and that after the next two seasons outside of the playoffs, Starr was the key player in getting the Packers back on track with an amazing three titles in a row.
***
Plus, there seems to have been a great symbiosis in Lombardi and Starr preparing the game plan on offense each weak with great strategy. It's important to remember, though, that Starr called the plays on the field.
What seems to have been the case is that Lombardi could have perfect confidence that Starr would execute Lombardi's offense with sincere fidelity and to its fullest potential, even though Starr had discretion with each particular play.
How priceless was that for Lombardi to have a quarterback of both obedience and initiative, who was creative but within the overall scheme.
This may not have been the case with the Colts between Johnny Unitas and his head coaches, Weeb Ewbank and Don Shula, which may explain why the Packers won five championships in the decade of the sixties, the Colts zero. It seems both teams were brimming with talent, but it takes more than talent to get over the top.
Whether Lombardi appreciated Starr fully from beginning to end, I like to think that his appreciation grew over time.
A huge part of the greatness of Starr, though, is that he was willing to let others take center stage for the most part. He allowed himself to be underestimated, perhaps even to Lombardi. His humility was a matter not of weakness but of strength.
***
In any case, after Lombardi had left the Packers to coach the Redskins, he was in Green Bay (presumably in the offseason) and visited Bart and Cherry Starr.
The couple gave Lombardi a tour of their home, and they said with heartfelt gratitude that all of it was because of Lombardi.
Lombardi got emotional, a mostly endearing aspect of his nature. He gave both of his hosts a big hug, and then overcome by the moment, excused himself to leave.
Before the start of the next football season, Lombardi was dead of cancer.
***
To me, this story (as best as I understand it), is a poignant illustration of a wonderful bond between two men who worked together so well until it became a kind of true friendship.
There's something special about being a part of teamwork, from youth sports to the pros, as well as in other endeavors of life. It's something the Lombardi Packers had in abundance, the current Packers seemingly almost not at all.
To share titles is terrific, but strong relationships even more so. Yet, it's the relationships -- forged in adversity and advancement -- that make the difference in winning the titles.
The leaders of the Packers of today don't seem to get this, and it will be painful to watch our favorite team on and off the field until they do.

1 points
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LeotisHarris's picture

November 11, 2022 at 04:41 pm

It's always been interesting to me that one of Coach Ewbank's younger brothers could not pronounce the name "Wilber" correctly and called him "Weeb." The nickname stuck for a lifetime.

Although this occurred in the early 1900s in Richmond, Indiana, I like to think Weeb's younger brother was offered some type of speech correction assistance. Perhaps his parents came together during fireside chats to encourage him to enunciate, it's difficult to say. I'm sure neighbors offered assistance as well as best they could, and that no one poked fun at the youngster for his misarticulations.

At any rate, Weeb had back-to-back championship teams with the Colts in the 50s, and that little win with the Jets in 1969. Not bad for a guy from Indiana.

5 points
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baldski's picture

November 11, 2022 at 09:00 pm

And if I remember correctly, Starr was a 7th round pick!

0 points
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Iain's picture

November 12, 2022 at 02:44 am

It was the 17th round.

3 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

November 13, 2022 at 01:46 am

They also drafted the Mad Bomber, it would have been interesting if he had signed with the Packers instead of going to the AFL.

0 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:20 am

We need to build you a time machine,

🎵Glory days, they'll pass you by🎵

0 points
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13TimeChamps's picture

November 12, 2022 at 11:56 am

"We don't live in the past...."

I can certainly think of one person on here who does.

0 points
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barutanseijin's picture

November 11, 2022 at 01:24 pm

Dillon has never been as consistent as you’d want him to be getting that one or two yards for the first down or TD. There was that one game in the snow, but he’s always been a tease.

1 points
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DaleDanTony's picture

November 11, 2022 at 02:43 pm

Yeah he doesn't seem to really move the pile unless he's already got a full head of steam going. I'd rather have Jones in on a 3 or 4th &1.

2 points
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Lphill's picture

November 11, 2022 at 01:38 pm

should have used him for trade bait, doesn't seem focused this year.

-3 points
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Fubared's picture

November 11, 2022 at 05:48 pm

No value

0 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:21 am

BS

-1 points
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wildbill's picture

November 11, 2022 at 02:55 pm

Seems to be hesitant when looking to find the hole. Could be poor blocking but a lot of dancing behind the Los. His average doesn’t worry me as he does a lot of short yardage runs. Still was a good draft choice cause there is a strong chance Jones leaves next year..

2 points
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Fubared's picture

November 11, 2022 at 05:48 pm

Its because he lacks and always has exeleration. That was the knock on him. He is a one or two yard guy not a break away threat. Thus, he is getting less carries too.
We have a 6'3 running back who is faster and a better runner then Dillion who is bench sitting.

-2 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:25 am

Yeah that's why his speed score was almost as high as Jonathan Taylor's. You're a black hole of BS.

0 points
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NickPerry's picture

November 11, 2022 at 04:31 pm

I think there's a few things that would help AJ Dillon. I've had him on my 2 fantasy teams in which there's money involved, and I still haven't dropped him because I keep thinking MLF will FINALLY tell Rodgers to run some semblance of the MLF offense. I'd bet an amount of money that mattered if Jordan Love was QB and running the MLF system, Dillon would be far more effective. Once Rodgers embarrasses the Packers and himself AGAIN this weekend, it's maybe one or two games more before he's shown the bench...At least that's my hope.

Rodgers HAD got to get under center and run some play action. I just don't give a damn what he likes, ESPECIALLY since what he likes hasn't worked ALL season.

I never thought I would say this, but I CAN'T WAIT until Rodgers is GONE! I actually preferred the wishy-washy Brett Farve and his annual will he or won't he retire to this douche...

1 points
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barutanseijin's picture

November 11, 2022 at 07:42 pm

At least Favre seemed to enjoy playing football most of the time.

1 points
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4thand10's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:28 am

Agree NP, the last 3 yrs MLFs offense works, this year the 50 million dollar tea drinking guy got what he wanted and it has been atrocious. why no emphasis on running, power sweeps, screens ( especially when your OL are getting mauled) is beyond me. I don’t want MLF gone, I want AR gone. He can’t do the things a MLF offense requires or flat out doesn’t like to. The responsibility though does fall on MLF….for not being assertive with a vet QB.

2 points
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4thand10's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:28 am

Agree NP, the last 3 yrs MLFs offense works, this year the 50 million dollar tea drinking guy got what he wanted and it has been atrocious. why no emphasis on running, power sweeps, screens ( especially when your OL are getting mauled) is beyond me. I don’t want MLF gone, I want AR gone. He can’t do the things a MLF offense requires or flat out doesn’t like to. The responsibility though does fall on MLF….for not being assertive with a vet QB.

0 points
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Fubared's picture

November 11, 2022 at 05:45 pm

My observation, he has a slow first two steps. On his third step he is getting hit at or behing the line of scrimmage then its a battle from there. He lacks acceleration. Unlike Eliot who is older but when the ball is snapped he is hitting the hole behind his blocker right away and getting through the hole for decent yards. Its all because of speed and Dillon lacks speed, always had and the reason he was available.
Other teams werent impressed

2 points
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Return_To_Sanity's picture

November 11, 2022 at 05:52 pm

Hes 250 pounds. Hes not meant to run out of shotgun where he has to slow down to take the handoff. Hes being criminally misused.

3 points
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Guam's picture

November 12, 2022 at 08:58 am

Thank you RTS! Dillon is a much better back with the QB under center. Dillon gets two steps and a head of steam up while the QB is turning to hand him the ball from under center. Big difference between that and the hesitation he has to make while getting the handoff from a QB in shotgun.

Just another mismatched set of assets (Rodgers and Dillon), just like Rodgers and his WRs trying to run the old MM offense. What was Murphy thinking?

2 points
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Return_To_Sanity's picture

November 11, 2022 at 05:51 pm

No more shotgun runs would be a nice start.

3 points
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NickPerry's picture

November 11, 2022 at 06:06 pm

This is a link to a Kurt Warner breakdown of the Packers vs Lions. You guys should watch it. Sammy Watkins should be cut NOW, and Rodgers sat. I mean it's a comedy of WTF!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0z24xipRE_I

0 points
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BirdDogUni's picture

November 11, 2022 at 07:33 pm

Just FYI - That link has been shared around here all week. (Since Tuesday I believe.)

But, you're right. Sammy should be cut. Maybe they told him he could go on the injury report or be cut and he chose the injury report, IDK.

I didn't see him hurt his knee, although he's been so bad I wish they'd just cut him.

2 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

November 12, 2022 at 11:30 am

If he's starting on Sunday, you know the FO is making the call. He should be selling programs.

0 points
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barutanseijin's picture

November 11, 2022 at 07:44 pm

There’s a Dillon gaffe in Warner’s lowlight reel.

0 points
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BAMABADGER's picture

November 11, 2022 at 11:15 pm

Sammy doesn't appear to know the plays. But it appears none of the receivers know how position themselves to use leverage to get open. This leads me to believe the WR coach, OC, and MLF are doing a poor job of coaching these guys.

1 points
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4thand10's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:18 am

precisely…because other teams get new WRs and are productive out of the gate. This hasn’t been the case in GB in a couple of yrs.

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Leatherhead's picture

November 11, 2022 at 07:43 pm

I liked Dillon in college, and I was very surprised he dropped to us in the 2nd, since he'd been selected in many mock drafts by then. The previous season, the Packers were a bad short yardage team, just like now and I thought he'd be a guy who can push a pile..

But we don't make piles. We use motion and pulling and trapping and misdirection, and overall it's very effective, we just don't do it enough. But I truly believe we're too tricky for our own good in short yardage.

Put Dillon behind the QB, put a DT in as lead blocker., run the I. Power it straight over your best side. Pull a weakside lineman to push the pile. This is not a play designed by an offensive genius, but you'd be surprised how many times it'll get you a yard.

5 points
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splitpea1's picture

November 11, 2022 at 07:53 pm

Great comment--definitely worth a try. I wish we had done on the goal line last week.

1 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

November 12, 2022 at 10:30 am

Most prognosticators had him going in the 3rd or 4th but you do you.

1 points
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SinceLombardi's picture

November 11, 2022 at 07:48 pm

They should have re signed Billy Turner. He gave the line an attitude.

3 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

November 12, 2022 at 11:37 am

Draft an OT in the fisrt or second last draft, c'est la vie. Mocked Abe Lucas for the second Rd. Starting RT for Pete Carroll. No worries for the Seahawks....

0 points
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LLCHESTY's picture

November 12, 2022 at 09:33 am

"Evidence of that in the form of a question: how in the hell has he been stuffed so many times at the goal line this season, considering he weighs 247 pounds?"

Because it's dumb to ask a back that big to run at an angle to the LOS with the QB in shotgun on short yardage. Jones is the better goal line back anyway but maybe give Dillon a chance by putting Rodgers under center with Dillon behind him and do some power blocking. With zone if the RB is to the QB's right side the run is going left. In short yardage the defense has the advantage before the ball is snapped, they know what side the ball is going. Add in Dillon not getting a full head of steam because he's not moving straight ahead. I'm not sure how many times LaFleur needs to see those runs stuffed but it's been way too many times for me.

2 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

November 12, 2022 at 11:40 am

Straight dives and the I formation with a FB/HB clearing the plugger. Gives him vision to find the spot going downhill. Where did we learn that scheme? I guess in 7th grade football, but what would we know?

0 points
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Oppy's picture

November 12, 2022 at 11:44 am

I 100% agree about running out of the shotgun with Dillon.

That said, a number of Dillon's runs have been stuffed at or near the LOS this season because he's too concerned with looking for the cutback lane- stuttering at the LOS looking for a better hole to attack, and once his momentum is stopped he's no longer the wrecking ball he's capable of being.

I understand, even appreciate, that he's looking for the home run, but Dillon needs to play to his size and realize that he's capable of carrying defenders 5 yards from the LOS if he just decisively runs behind his pads and keeps the legs churning from the moment the ball gets placed in his bread basket... He can worry about dancing for the big yardage once he's in the second level.

1 points
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