Rams Packers playoffs - Aaron Jones

The numbers jump out of the two box scores, even if it’s an oversimplification to draw a straight line between the productivity of the Packers’ running game (or lack thereof) and the team’s playoff success (or lack thereof). In their 32-18 NFC Divisional Playoff win over the Los Angeles Rams last year, the Packers' running backs (Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, A.J. Dillon) ran the ball a combined 32 times for 191 yards. Jones (above) had a 60-yard run, but all three backs averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry.

Then, in their 31-26 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a week later in the NFC Championship Game, Jones had six carries for 27 yards and lost a costly fumble before departing with a chest injury; Williams had seven carries for 23 yards; and Dillon carried three times for 17 yards. Jones and Williams each had 12-yard runs, meaning their other 11 combined carries netted a not-so-grand total of 26 yards.

Now, the Packers enter Saturday night’s NFC Divisional matchup with the San Francisco 49ers well aware that their defense’s biggest challenge is to stop the 49ers’ ground game, with versatile Deebo Samuel having added an additional wrinkle. No one has forgotten the 2019 NFC Championship, in which the 49ers ran circles around (and through) the Packers defense.

But just as important for Green Bay will be getting their own running game going, as productivity there generally portends playoff success for them.

“Every game — every game — you’ve got to have a run game. The two best things for an offense are to be able to run the ball and protect the quarterback. You do those two things, you're going to have a successful day,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said at midweek. “And for us, (running the ball) is just something that we’ve got to keep doing. We’ve got to be sure that we stick to our plan and if it is running the ball, then we’ve got to keep running the ball.

“In playoff football, you're going to have to run it, especially in the cold weather.”

So while the Packers defense, which allowed the third-worst yards-per-carry average in the NFL during the regular season (4.7), will have to deal with the 49ers rushing attack, the Packers can — and must — make life easier for Aaron Rodgers & Co. in the passing game by getting production on the ground.

“I think it’s huge. It sets the tone,” said Jones, who sat out the Jan. 9 regular-season finale at Detroit to rest a knee injury and said he has “fresh legs” as a result. “That means the guys up front are getting after it as well. It lightens things up. Now they have to respect the running backs and respect the run game.”

Originally published on madison.com, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.