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Adjustments on defense?


Joe from Bloomington, IN

Coach McCarthy says players have to learn concepts, not plays. What are examples of key concepts for the offense and defense?

On offense, let's use the stretch play as an example. The key concept that makes the stretch play successful is being able to get the defense moving laterally so the back can cut back underneath the flow and use the defense's movement against itself. When you understand that concept, you understand the play's design. On defense, let's use the role of defensive linemen as two-gappers as an example. Instead of everyone chasing after the ball, in a two-gap scheme defensive linemen are used to absorb and occupy blockers, for the purpose of allowing quicker and more mobile linebackers to run to the ball unencumbered. When you understand that concept, you understand why linemen are asked to two-gap and what the expectation is.

Matt from Eau Claire, WI

Vic, with our offense clicking and starting to come alive, and our defense seeing an explosive offense like the Saints and being able to come out with a win, what can we look forward to this coming Sunday?

I focus on the big picture, not the brush strokes. What I see is a Packers team whose arrow is pointing up, in all ways. The offense and defense are reinventing themselves. The offense is becoming a master of the long, sustained drive. The defense is proving it can win without creating turnovers. The big plays will come. They're the cherry on top. What we're seeing right now is the construction of a foundation on which lasting success can be built. Making big plays and creating turnovers is great, but I don't like the idea of counting on that formula to win for you in the postseason because all the teams in the playoffs are good teams, and good teams don't allow big plays and don't commit turnovers, which means you're going to have to win those games the old-fashioned way: Drive the ball and stop the drive.

John from Port Edwards, WI

Well, Vic, it's the first quarter. What's your grade so far this season?

I'll give the Packers a B. A 2-2 record is a C, but we know it should be 3-1, plus, the Packers have done well to overcome some rather daunting circumstances and a tough opening schedule.

Jacob from Rockford, IL

Vic, much is being made about McCarthy being out of challenges and unable to challenge the Sproles fumble, but since Sproles was ruled down by contact, isn't that an unreviewable play?

In the old days, "down by contact" meant the play was not reviewable. Nowadays, if there's conclusive evidence of a fumble and recovery, the call can be reversed. That's how it's been explained to me. I think we have to consider the fact that Jeff Triplette, the referee in Sunday's game, has a reputation for reluctance in reversing calls, so I'm not as sure as Mike McCarthy and Shawn Slocum are that the Sproles non-fumble would've been reversed.

Jake from Madison, WI

To put it mildly, things didn't go very well when Graham Harrell had to come in for a play. With all due respect to Harrell, why not run a wildcat play with Cobb taking the snap?

Here's where you can apply the theory of concepts. If you can't trust a quarterback to execute a handoff, why is he on your roster? Graham Harrell is perfectly capable of executing a handoff. Things happen. Feet get in the way. A wildcat snap might've gone over Randall Cobb's head. It's the human factor that makes the game what it is.

Hunter from El Paso, TX

Vic, do you think that facing a rookie quarterback like Andrew Luck is more challenging than facing a quarterback that you have faced many times? I would think so because you have never faced him before and don't know what he brings to the table. Am I wrong?

I'll take my chances with a rookie quarterback. I think Coach Capers will have a lot of new looks to show Andrew Luck on Sunday.

Casey from Scott AFB, IL

Mr. Ketchman, recently I've been made to feel very foolish when I say "we" while talking about the Packers. I was called out by one of my bosses. He said, "Are you a part of the team?" It made me feel kind of bad. After I thought on it, I came to the conclusion that my emotional investment in the Packers does in fact make it "we." Your thoughts?

There's nothing wrong with considering yourself part of the team. What I encourage you to do is decide what perspective allows you the greatest enjoyment of the game and the Packers' performance in it, and then express that perspective as you see fit. If someone doesn't like it, as long as that person isn't a superior officer, tell him to honk off.

Charles from Port Saint Lucie, FL

Can you recall any high draft picks being considered busts by the team that chose them before training camp ended?

I can immediately think of two; one is in the Hall of Fame and the other was just inducted into the Jaguars' ring of honor. I'm talking about Franco Harris and Fred Taylor. Franco had a terrible rookie training camp. He looked soft and lazy. There were rumblings that he might not be tough enough for the pro game. He started slow but about five or six games into his rookie season he exploded with long runs and 100-yard games. He became a huge star whose rookie season culminated with the Immaculate Reception. Fred's rookie season was nearly identical. There were the same rumblings in his rookie camp. He, too, started slow, but a few games into his rookie season he, too, exploded with long runs and 100-yard games. I once asked Franco how he knew when he was having a good camp. He said, "I don't know. I've never had one." I asked his long-time running backs coach, Dick Hoak, why Franco was such a bad training camp player, and Hoak said it was because Franco was a cutback runner, and cutback runners need the defense running at full speed to be able to cut back and make them miss. Fred was a cutback runner, too. They're the two best backs I've ever covered and they had the look of big-time busts in their rookie camps. The moral of the story is: Be patient. C.J. Spiller looked like a bust, too.

Azad from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, how does the league know fans want a constant stream of long completions and want defense to do little more than make sure a shootout isn't a blowout? I have a hard time believing that I'm the only person in my generation who got more enjoyment out of each of the first three games this season than I did out of the Saints game. Am I really outnumbered or just disenfranchised?

You're a cut above the average fan. You're a man of discriminating tastes. You, sir, are a football purist, and it is a cross you must bear. Last Saturday, West Virginia defeated Baylor, 70-63. The score alone upset my stomach. The highlights intensified the feeling. The inability of either team to present any kind of resistance to the other is counter to everything I seek and find enjoyable in a football game. So what game did the TV networks jam down our throats in the highlights shows? You guessed it, that one. It catapulted Geno Smith to the top of the Heisman race, even though he was seemingly playing against air. Fans love offense. They love stats. Offense and stats sell. I honestly believe we have reached a point that the average fan has more respect and affection for stats than he or she does for winning championships.

Alex from Menomonie, WI

With the defense allowing so many third-down conversions on pass plays, especially over the middle, what adjustments in coverage can they make to fix this?

I like James Campen's approach to fixing his offensive line, after it allowed eight sacks in the first half of the game in Seattle. Campen said, "Block your man." I think that's a really good adjustment. In this case, it would be, "Cover your man or cover your zone." That'll work.

Hans from Front Royal, VA

Vic, I've heard some analysts say you can start to define who teams are after four weeks. Do you agree?

No, I don't agree. Teams are defined by how they play in December and January.

Hans from Front Royal, VA

Vic, it would seem the early story of this season is overcoming adversity. I wanted to know if you could share what you think is the greatest example of a triumph over adversity by an NFL team during the course of a season?

If I had been here in 2010, I'd probably say the Packers' run to the Super Bowl is the greatest example of triumph over adversity I had ever covered. The rash of injuries, rugged schedule and playoff road they had to overcome are the ingredients of what is possibly the greatest championship run in Packers history. The greatest triumph over adversity I have ever covered is the 1976 Steelers. They were 1-4 and had lost Terry Bradshaw for what was basically the remainder of the regular season. With a rookie quarterback and knowing they had to win out in their final nine games to make it into the postseason, the defense pitched five shutouts and allowed a total of 28 points in those nine games; 16 of those points came after the fact in a blowout win. It was the greatest run of defensive dominance I have ever witnessed.

Tony from Saint Paul, MN

Vic, what do you think of Capers' new "dollar" package? You know, we're not too far away from the "Ketchman prevent."

New? I saw a seven-defensive-backs defense intercept Brian Sipe five times in 1981. There's not much that hasn't already been tried in this league. Using seven defensive backs against Drew Brees is sound logic. The Saints have one of the worst rushing offenses in the league, but one of the best passing attacks. Did it work? No. Players, not plays.

Sven from Green Bay, WI

Hey, Vic, Jerry Jones just added a Victoria's Secret store to his stadium. I wish we had a Victoria's Secret at Lambeau.

Nothing beats some brats at the old tailgate party, followed by some window shopping at Victoria's Secret. Seriously, though, covering a game at the new stadium in Dallas made me feel like visiting a wealthy relative. I just wanted to go home.

Stephen from Abilene, TX

Mike McCarthy was talking in his press conference yesterday about going from a 53-man roster to a 46-man roster and having guys on the sideline in sweats. Is that something the coaching staff has to decide every week?

Coaches sweat bullets in deciding who's up and who's down. The special teams coach is in the head coach's ear about needing this guy and needing that guy. Roles are at a premium and the last thing a head coach wants is a starter who's battling through an injury and could experience a recurrence of that injury on the first play of the game. Now you're caught short at a position and the guy that can address that need is standing behind you in sweats. That's why coaches are reluctant to activate a guy until he's fully recovered from his injury. He has to be able to count on the guys on the 46.

Daren from Sydney, Australia

I love how you described Rodgers' courage being his vision of the field while displaying total disregard for the chaos and danger swirling around him. I think you just perfectly described why so few humans are suited to the role of NFL quarterback and why the Packers will contend every year Rodgers is healthy.

Lombardi said football is first and foremost a running game. I've always believed football is first and foremost a game of courage. You can't play this game if you're scared. It's not for everyone. It's played best by men who have total disregard for bodily harm. I also think the greatest example of courage on the football field is the quarterback's ability to focus his attention downfield and completely ignore the sounds of big, strong, mean men straining to reach him. As Joe Namath said, "We're the trophy." Stand in the living room and look out the window as your wife runs at you from behind and yells bad things at you. See if you flinch. Now imagine Jason Pierre-Paul, Clay Matthews, Jared Allen, etc., grunting and groaning as they close on you. Imagine calling an audible as Dick Butkus yells out what he's going to do to you. Take that back in the pocket with you, along with what you saw of Butkus on tape all week long. We take the courage these players possess for granted. We focus too much on the plays, and not enough on the courage required to execute the plays.

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