Packers' offense could run (and pass) through rookie Jamaal Williams

Packers rookie Jamaal Williams had 135 total yards last week, the fourth-best total for any running back in the league in Week 12. Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon and Le'Veon Bell. They were the only three NFL running backs who totaled more yards from scrimmage last week than Green Bay Packers rookie Jamaal Williams.

That's impressive company for the player who in short order has become the focal point of the Brett Hundley-led offense.

Williams' rushing performance -- 21 carries for 66 yards -- in Sunday's 31-28 loss at Pittsburgh was a grind. His longest run was a 12 yards -- his biggest gain of the season. But throw in four catches for 69 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown on a screen pass, and his 135 total yards from scrimmage was fourth-best among all backs in Week 12.

"Anytime we talk about the running back position we look at can they play all three downs?" Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "And obviously being a good receiver is part of that."

That could continue to be the formula for Williams the rest of the season. Since fellow rookie Aaron Jones' knee injury on Nov. 12 at Chicago, Williams has been the workhorse. No back has carried more than Williams in the last three weeks. His 59 carries in that stretch is tied for the league lead with Atlanta's Tevin Coleman. Although he's averaged only 3.2 yards per carry, he ranks sixth among all running backs in total yards from scrimmage since Week 10.

"It's important to get your playmakers the ball," McCarthy said. "If you can have running backs that can only hand it off at 7 yards deep in the backfield, obviously it limits you on what you can do, and the defense knows that and they play to those tendencies and the mannerisms of where they're lined up and whether their toes are at 7, their heels are at 5 or if they're in a cheat alignment, if they're splitting the tackle's outside leg or sitting in the B gap, all those things.

"That's why you have to be versatile, and your backs have to be versatile, because you want to hand the ball off to them but also you want to be able to get the ball out of the backfield and throw it to them."

The screen for a touchdown showed that. He read his blocks perfectly and ran practically untouched after center Corey Linsley made the initial block to shove linebacker Ryan Shazier out of the way.

"Give thanks to Corey," Williams said. "If Corey didn't make that play, Shazier definitely would've got me. But after that, I saw it was open and they were overplaying. I saw field and I was trying to get to the end zone."

Williams is the latest Packers running back to get his chance as the No. 1 guy. The fourth-round pick from BYU started the season No. 2 behind Ty Montgomery. After Montgomery broke his ribs in Week 4 against the Bears, Williams moved up, only to injure his knee and make way for Jones, a fifth-round pick.

The three backs have almost the identical number of carries -- 71 for Montgomery (who has 273 yards) and 70 each for Jones (370) and Williams (224). Both Montgomery, who re-injured his ribs, and Jones have missed the last two games.

Jones could return to practice on Wednesday. If he's able to play Sunday against the Buccaneers, it could give McCarthy an intriguing combination between the two rookies. Or perhaps the Packers will just stick with Williams as their main back.

"When you go back and you look at what he's been able to accomplish really in all three areas -- from a runner, whether it's pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield -- I think he's been extremely consistent in all of those areas," Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. "I think that's probably the No. 1 thing that jumps out when you think about him and what he's been able to accomplish so far."