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That truly is the game

Posted Jan 23, 2018

We witnessed the value of home-field advantage this weekend


Shane from York, NE

Wes, welcome back. Which is easier: Reading the Inbox or changing a diaper?

My wife is a saint. She’s been great with our son and handled most of the overnight episodes. As I stated on Twitter last week, I remain a work in progress as a parent, but I’m always open to learning. I’m happy to be back here. Let’s get started.

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

Would you be surprised if the Packers picked an offensive player with No. 14?

No. It’s been six years since the Packers used their first pick on offense. I could see it, but the main thing is finding an impact player. Teams want to get bang for their buck when picking early regardless of whether it’s on offense or defense.

Ron from Mitchell, SD

I think Minnesota’s loss in Sunday’s game really points out the obvious. Home-field advantage is so important and is the deciding factor most of the time.

We witnessed the value of home-field advantage this weekend. Just look at that stat Spoff dug up on Tom Brady’s postseason success at home. Those crowds inside Gillette Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field were electric from start to finish. I totally understand why Aaron Rodgers brought that up last year after the NFC title game in Atlanta.

Sean from Johnston, IA

The Eagles have 20 of 22 starters under contract for next year. How does that happen? Their arrow is definitely pointing up.

They signed a handful of mid-level free agents last year and have drafted well. Philadelphia also locked up Alshon Jeffery, who would’ve been one of the top UFAs in March.

Leslie from Stony Brook, NY

I’ve learned so much from the Insider Inbox over the years. To answer the age-old question, “Does defense win championships?” I have my first Spoffism: “Every team builds around what it has and takes its best shot. That’s the game.” Thank you. Just do something great and do it better than the other team.

It’s a great line and so incredibly true, which is why I built the headline for this Inbox off his genius. Look at the Packers’ two most recent Super Bowl championships. Fritz Shurmur and Dom Capers did a masterful job of taking what playmakers such as LeRoy Butler, Reggie White, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson did well and tailoring it to the scheme. That truly is the game.

Charlie from Ali Al Salem, Kuwait

Mike, in reference to the great question about what a TE with the ability to stretch the field can add to the offense, wasn’t that the plan for a healthy Ty Montgomery — make a team decide whether to put a DB or an LB on him and call the plays accordingly?

Yes, but I think the chess match with Montgomery goes one step further because defenses cannot be certain whether he’s lining up in the backfield or splitting out on a given play. Tight ends and running backs can be dynamic and effective in a variety of ways, but lining up hybrid players out of the backfield multiples the mind games.

Fletcher from Fall River, WI

With Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, are you seeing our new version of Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens?

I don’t look for a new version of Bennett and Levens. I’m more intrigued to see what kind of the Swiss Army knife the trio of Williams, Jones and Montgomery can be moving forward. The two teams playing in the Super Bowl have 10 combined running backs on their active rosters. What does that tell you about the NFL in 2018?

Dan from Saint Louis, MO

Do the Packers have the offensive personnel to do what the Eagles did last night to the Vikings’ defense? It seemed like just quick passing and a steady run game, with a few deep throws peppered in. Nothing crazy.

Nothing crazy. Just effective and efficient. The Packers have the personnel to be among the league’s top offenses with Aaron Rodgers at the wheel. That power is still there.

Robert from La Puente, CA

While Green Bay isn’t known for dipping into free agency, we see that this organization is willing to sign players with the confidence that the free agent will provide a big impact. Under new GM Brian Gutekunst, will the Packers sign an impact free agent this offseason? And which free agent do you see the Packers signing who can make the big impact?

It’s impossible to know. Ask me in April. If you posed the same question last January, I never would have predicted the Packers signing Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks or Jahri Evans. I’d say let’s wait to see where all the chips fall, but they’re not even on the table yet. The only thing I can assure you is Gutekunst is going to keep his ear to the ground and make sure the Packers have all the information before a UFA signs.

Jeff from Wentzville, MO

Several people have asked you guys about free agency and the draft and the Packers’ needs. When exactly is the list of free agents made available? When can teams start to negotiate with these free agents? Are their own teams still able to negotiate during this time? Thanks.

The NFL sends out a list of players with expiring contracts on the eve of unrestricted free agency. Teams are permitted to start negotiations with soon-to-be unrestricted free agents on March 12 and may sign players beginning at 3 p.m. CT on March 14. Clubs may negotiate with their own free agents anytime they desire.

Andrew from Huxley, IA

Hi Wes, welcome back! Isn't it more important to find the right guys around the backup QB before worrying about who that backup QB is going to be?

It takes everyone. Teams that have succeeded with a backup quarterback – the Rams with Kurt Warner, the Ravens with Trent Dilfer and now Nick Foles and the Eagles – have advanced to the Super Bowl because all 53 players on the active roster took their game to the next level.

Keith from San Antonio, TX

Going into Sunday, what was the over-under on flea-flickers? Has there ever been that many in one day before?

I remember when the Packers executed one earlier this year and some commenters called it gimmicky. I love the flea-flicker. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Marc from Aachen, Germany

Think you reminded us about that earlier: the Vikes’ D played together the whole season. Now one core player down and their supreme D did not look the same. This made me thinking about what our D look would like without so many injuries the last few seasons.

You can get lost in the hypotheticals, but consistency and chemistry are the biggest keys to achieving defensive cohesiveness. You need guys to step when starters are unavailable, but they are starters for a reason.  

Nathan from Spring City, TN

Mike/Wes, the "draft process" starts with the Senior Bowl this week. It is said that through the combine and Senior Bowl certain players rise in the ranks. Is it that the players actually rise in the ranks, or is it that the combine and Senior Bowl begin to reveal who teams already like through years of scouting these players? Do teams already have their draft board set?

Players rise and fall on draft boards well into April. As we’ve seen in recent years, some even fall on draft night. While the Packers and most NFL teams might have an idea of which round a prospect might be slated, they use the Senior Bowl, NFL Scouting Combine and pre-draft visits to gain more insight into potential draft choices and college free agents. It’s also a time for players to get on the radar of teams and improve their stock.

Vincent from Boston, MA

Is it just me or is Patrick Robinson’s pick-six a great example of executing a play: he waits for his blockers, then changes direction when the lanes all close down, picks up more blockers, directs them, bides his time, then turns on the after-burners. Playoff football brings out incredible plays.

It was a great play by Robinson, but Ronald Darby deserves some serious credit. He ran 50 yards downfield and then got lit up trying to block Jerick McKinnon. However, it was enough to give Robinson the edge for the touchdown.

Dean from Leavenworth, IN

Mike correctly pointed out yesterday the Patriots converting on third-and-18 in the fourth quarter as a key turning point. But for me an even bigger play was with about two minutes left in the first half. The Jags converted a third-and-long to get in field-goal position and had the play negated by a delay penalty. This came after a timeout and was absolutely inexcusable. They could have run out the clock and I think it cost them 10 points. It also gave the Pats a huge momentum swing after they played a dismal first half. At such a crucial moment, how could the Jags coaches and QB allow that to happen?

It brings me back to what the Jaguars coaches were telling the players before the game – they need perfection to beat the Patriots. It was going to take a 60-minute performance to turn back New England at home. Those small lapses are what breed comebacks. I give Jacksonville credit, but the Patriots play situational football as well as any team in the league. The Jaguars gave them an inch and the Pats took a yard.

Al from Green Bay, WI

Count me among the millions that wanted Jacksonville to win. Yes, they will rue third-and-18. But in my mind, they gave NE a gift at the end of the first half. After the NE touchdown, Jacksonville got the ball back at their 25-yard line with 55 seconds left and two timeouts. They killed the clock without so much as an attempt to get downfield. They "played it safe.” How did that work out for them? Coach McCarthy would not have wasted that possession.

I saw it as playing not to lose. Conversely, Doug Pederson took the opposite approach and it was vital in the Eagles putting away the Vikings. The Eagles kept their talon on the pedal despite the fact they were getting the ball coming out of halftime.

Andy from Corona, CA

Did the Vikings blow it for their chance to make it to the Super Bowl at their home stadium? Give Doug Pederson credit for game-planning to expose the Vikings’ defense like no other team really did.

Masterful job by Pederson and Frank Reich. They devised a great game plan for Minnesota and trusted Nick Foles to execute it. Philadelphia’s defense was going to make life difficult on Case Keenum and Co., but it was essential for Foles to move the ball efficiently and effectively in order to win. Underdogs or not, the better team is representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Eagles proved that Sunday night.

Eric from Antigo, WI

Can we start to consider Anthony Barr a dirty player? His hit on Foles where he led with the crown of his helmet and drove him into the ground sure looked like there was intent behind it. You can argue it was legal and all, but anytime you lead with the crown of your helmet, it’s dangerous no matter where you make contact.

I’m not into labeling players, but the first thing that crossed my mind watching the game was, “I’ve seen that hit before.”

Cliff from Henrico, VA

The rarity of playoffs without the Packers has shown, as you say, how tenuous a playoff victory is. We Packer fans can lament fourth-and-26 and all the others, but now we can look back and at the current teams and recognize what Dallas must have felt last year, what Minnesota must feel this year, Pittsburgh without a return to the Super Bowl since 2010. The list can go on and on. But what still irks is two rings for the Giants and Ravens. Not everything can be explained. Let's return to the playoffs soon.

Twelve teams enter, but only one wins. That’s the reality of this game. Fans always think their team has endured the greatest hardship because that’s where their eyes are set. Face the facts – only one team ends the season with a smile on its face.

Rohan from St Paul, MN

When will coaches learn not to play not to lose against Belichick? I knew the Pats would win with 55 seconds left in the first half, when Marrone elected to have the Jags kneel down rather than attempt to drive with two timeouts.

No lead is ever safe. It’s like when I used to play Ryan Hartwig in Madden. I could lead for the entire game and yet he’d find a way to win in the final moments. The Jaguars will learn from this, but there’s no question it hurts to get so close after such a special year.

Michael from Stephenson, MI

I’m shocked no one brought up the ref that was laughing and having a good time in the end zone with the Patriots players after they scored a TD.

I’ve seen the photo. Maybe someone said something funny and it’s being taken out of context, but I raised an eyebrow or two. Bizarre.

David from Hilliard, OH

What do you think of the Patriots being flagged only once for 10 yards vs. the Jags?

I don’t know what to make of that other than Jeff Triplette obviously wasn’t officiating.

Mike from Algoma, WI

If a hit to the helmet incurs a 15-yard penalty, how can DPI (spot of the foul) ever be justified? Seriously, a 36-yard penalty? How about 40, 45, maybe 50 yards? Ridiculous! 15 yards and an automatic first down is fair.

I used to be a strong proponent of spot-of-the-foul penalties, but I’ve changed my tune in recent years. With how much today’s NFL favors the offense, I’d be in favor of a switch to the college rule.

Blint from Budapest, Hungary

Why is it inconceivable in football to have the Pro Bowl as an additional bye week in the middle of the season like in the NBA or NHL?

I don’t think it would fly. What if there was another Tyler Eifert incident? That could ruin a team’s season. Plus, wouldn’t players use the extra bye week to heal up for the second half of the season rather than spend the week traveling and risking injury in the game?

John from Trego, WI

Is it legal for a college player to decide to skip the draft and contact a team he wishes to play for, for a tryout?

There are two ways for players. They can either enter the NFL Draft or the NFL Supplemental Draft. You’re then free to sign with anyone if you go undrafted, but not before.

TD from Potosi, WI

As journalists, does it bother you when Troy Aikman constantly uses "he" or "they" after saying a player or team name? Like "the Eagles, they..."

I guess I never noticed. It’s a tough gig, so I always cut those guys some slack. Hey, we can’t all be Tony Romo. That man brings to football what Pepper Brooks brought to dodgeball for so many years.


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