Dillon is coming off a down 2022 season. A big area of emphasis for him over the summer was to make sure that he is consistently playing with a low pad level, using his size to his advantage, and finishing runs. Rather than trying to play perfect, as Dillon said prior to the season, he wanted to be dominant.
Along with focusing on his pad level, running backs coach Ben Sirmans also wanted Dillon to focus on running more free, and letting his natural abilities take over, rather than overthinking.
“I think that as he tries to elevate his game,” said Sirmans prior to Week 5. “Sometimes you can overthink your abilities and just get out there and play. If you’re out there thinking too much about how I need to do this or I need to be this type of guy, that’s going to take away from you playing natural football. So that’s the biggest thing, just get out there and be natural. Let your abilities speak for themselves.”
As Sirmans’ comments suggest, early on this season the Packers did not see Dillon running freely. From a process standpoint, Dillon was missing running lanes, wasn’t breaking many tackles, and at times, was even off-balance. Through the Packers’ first four games, Dillon had averaged just 2.7 yards per rush, had only one carry of 10-plus yards, and ranked 41st out of 56 running backs in average yards after contact.
However, over Green Bay’s most recent four game set, we’ve seen a much more productive version of Dillon. He is running much more aggressively and has been far more decisive as a decision-maker — a likely product him playing more freely — and Dillon has seen positive results.
That previously mentioned average yards after contact stat from PFF perfectly encapsulates what I just described. After ranking 41st in that category during the Packers first four games, in the last four he ranks eighth. Not surprisingly, his average yards per rush figure has sky-rocketed to 4.6 yards during that span as well.
“He’s done a nice job,” said LaFleur of Dillon’s performance. “He’s lowering his pad level, he’s finishing runs, and that’s what we expect out of him. He’s a big back and he’s getting downhill. We’re getting him going a little better the last couple weeks. We need him to continue to do that and hopefully it gets better from here on out.”
Also contributing to Dillon’s improved play is that the offensive line has been performing better. There have been far too many runs this season where Dillon was hit in the backfield before he even had the opportunity to get going—not to mention that Aaron Jones’ presence, even in a limited capacity, benefits everyone on the offense.
As we saw Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, the run game plays a very important role in the overall offense’s success. After finally being able to lean on the run game this past week, it helped keep the offense out of obvious passing situations, set up play-action, and in general, opened up opportunities in the passing game for Jordan Love, who had a very efficient performance not coincidentally.
Dillon’s continued progression as the second running back option and key member of the offense will be crucial to keep the run game moving in a positive direction and taking some of the playmaking burden off the passing game.
”AJ Dillon is another guy that’s been running better and better. We’ve all seen it, especially the last few weeks. He’s playing his best football of the year right now.”