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Balance early, but not late


John from Kalamazoo, MI

If there's a turnover during a two-point conversion attempt, can it be returned for a touchdown?

No, in the NFL, conversion attempts are untimed downs in which only the offense is permitted to score. The moment the defense gains possession of the ball, the play is blown dead.

Dave from Sauk City, WI

I'm still trying to get an idea of what a really good candidate for a defensive end in a 3-4 looks like.

He tends to be a player that was a tackle in a 4-3.

Brian from Ames, IA

How soon can the Packers begin to use their franchise tag, and if they can use it now and haven't, does that indicate Flynn is unlikely to be tagged?

Franchise tags may be assigned beginning on Feb. 20. The deadline for tagging players is March 5. By then, we'll know what the Packers' plans are for Jermichael Finley, Scott Wells and Matt Flynn.

Adam from Great Meadows, NJ

Vic, I have watched every game that Aaron Rodgers has ever started and couldn't help but notice that on some plays he has an open receiver in the flat or on a short route for a guaranteed 5-, 10-yard gain, but chooses to hold the ball longer and use his mobility to search for the big play. What is your opinion on Rodgers not taking the guaranteed 5-10 yards on that short route and using his legs to search for a bigger play?

Big plays are better than little plays.

Red from Sherman, TX

Can you give us the dates for the combine and draft and other offseason stuff?

Here are some important offseason dates and deadlines: Feb. 6, players may be waived; Feb. 20-March 5, franchise and transition tags may be assigned; Feb. 22-28, Indianapolis scouting combine; March 13, free agency begins, RFA tenders must be extended; April 2, offseason conditioning may begin for teams with new head coach; April 16, offseason conditioning may begin for teams with incumbent coach; April 26-28, NFL draft.

Jerry from Des Moines, IA

If Nick Collins cannot continue his playing career, does finding a safety become as important as finding another pass rusher in this year's draft/free agency?

I think safety is a position of need.

Spencer from Lakewood, CA

Vic, my dad is on the "fire Dom Capers" bandwagon. He says the scheme has been cracked and Capers is now useless. He also believes that Aaron should be traded away for a ton of players and/or draft picks because, and I quote, "just about any quarterback can come through the Packers system and play like Rodgers does." Is it time to put pops in a home or the looney bin? I think he's finally gone off the rocker.

Just tell him they fired Capers and traded Rodgers. He won't know the difference.

Cody from Elgin, IA

So, the Giants could have put their whole roster out there on the field and made sure the Patriots did not complete a pass. The clock would have run down and the Patriots would just be wasting their time?

I'm not sure. There's a rule in the rulebook called a "palpably unfair act." It's meant to cover a situation in which a player would come off the bench to trip a runner headed down the sideline. I wonder if it might apply in a situation in which a team would deliberately commit a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty as you're describing. That would certainly be a palpably unfair act. There's also a rule that would prohibit such a penalty from being committed. It's a "fouls to prevent score" penalty I've never seen invoked. A warning must first be issued before the penalty may be assessed. If the violation occurs after the warning, a score is awarded. This is likely to be addressed in the offseason, probably next month at the owners meetings, which means the rulebook is likely to get thicker.

Richard from Gaithersburg, MD

While Mike McCarthy got away with this on numerous occasions this past season, Bill Belichick did not get away with it at this year's Super Bowl. I'm wondering what you think about coaches with high-octane offenses trying to burn up clock with less than a one-score lead. I feel clock management beat the Patriots.

The ball hit Wes Welker in the hands. Catch the ball. That's what wins, players making plays at crunch time. Mario Manningham made the catch and the Giants won. Welker didn't make the catch and the Patriots lost. That's how I define winning and losing.

Max from Atlantic Beach, FL

My friend said he couldn't believe Wes Welker dropped that pass, that he usually would catch that pass in his sleep. I told him it's not a video game. He just gave me this blank stare.

Pressure caused him to drop that ball. The three-foot putt you sink when you're playing with your best friend is a downhill, left-to-right six-footer in the U.S. Open. It's the human confrontation: man against man and man against himself. Some guys get it done, some guys don't. That's the purpose of all of this, to find out whom the guys are that get it done. Then, when we find out who they are, the fans that identify with the players that don't get it done make excuses for them by pointing to their stats and altering the circumstances. Not me.

Sean from Toronto, Canada

Just curious why the voters made Rodgers the MVP but not the offensive player of the year? I understand they are different awards but Rodgers won MVP for his offensive numbers, so what are voters looking at different in the two awards?

I think the voters wanted to honor both men, and I think that's evident in the disparity in the vote for both awards. I also think MVP is a cut above offensive player of the year, therefore, I think the voters are telling us Rodgers was their No. 1 guy.

Theodore from Fulton, MO

I'm a big fan and I have to tell you that, at first, when you compared Rodgers to Bert Jones, I was taken aback. I had never even heard of him, like most people, so I didn't think it was much of a compliment, but apparently the forgotten quarterback sounds a lot like Aaron: a pure passer. I wish I had known about Bert Jones before now. Are there any other forgotten players that were great but no one seems to remember?

Bert Jones forgotten? Really? He played 10 years and was the 1976 AP MVP. Well, if that constitutes a "forgotten player," then you'll love Greg Cook and Willie Gallimore. Look 'em up.

Otis from Pearland, TX

There are currently only three players on the Packers roster that were here prior to the arrival of Ted Thompson: Donald Driver, Chad Clifton and Scott Wells. Furthermore, it is at least possible that none of these three will be on the roster next year. Do you think this speaks more to Thompson's preference for youth or to the fact the Packers had some pretty poor draft classes in the early-to-mid 2000s?

I think that's a little more accelerated than what would be considered normal roster attrition, but you might be surprised by how quickly rosters turn over in the NFL. It's a young man's game. It's not a game of maintenance; it's a game of replacement. Those are two "isms" I like to use to explain roster attrition. As I've said, a team is only as young as its quarterback. Quarterbacks tend to define eras. The rest of the roster undergoes continual change. Thompson knew he had to get young at the quarterback position, and that effected a roster-wide youth movement. It was the logical thing to do. Teams must be vigilant about staying young.

Jack from St. Paul, MN

How many Super Bowls are among head coaches you've covered?

I've covered coaches that have won eight Super Bowls: Noll (4), Coughlin (2), Cowher (1), McCarthy (1). What do they all have in common? A franchise quarterback: Bradshaw, Manning, Roethlisberger, Rodgers.


William from Jacksonville, FL

After Coughlin's interview with NFL Network, he ends up hugging Flavor Flav (old-school rapper). Sign of the coming apocalypse?

I wouldn't know Flav if he fell on me, but I couldn't help but laugh at the sight of Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick attempting to hug. It was the most awkward hug I've ever seen. It was a kind of ex-husband, ex-wife hug. It was as though they were attempting to invent hugging without touching. Having spent a lot of time interviewing both men, I can tell you that I don't regard either man as huggable. That postgame "hug" was a moment for the ages.

Jeff from Topeka, KS

Vic, the thing that stood out to me about the Giants' win was that the team was more balanced offensively and defensively with a punter who just nailed it that game. Do you think the Packers want to be more balanced? If so, what positions do they need improve to achieve this?

Early in the season, I thought the running game was headed for more balance. It was a factor in Weeks 2 and 3 and I think it helped open the passing lanes for Aaron Rodgers and company. Late in the season, however, I think the Packers lost some of that balance from the running game and I think it allowed teams such as the Chiefs and Giants to largely ignore the run and focus on the pass. I can't help but think back to the Tampa game. I think the Bucs showed future Packers opponents that they could play run on the way to the quarterback.

Andrew from Jacksonville, FL

Vic, can you explain the difference between a typical 3-4 defense with two-gapping defensive linemen and Wade Phillips' version of the 3-4, which I have heard allows the linemen to be penetrators?

I'm not familiar with Phillips' version of it, but there's no hard and fast rule that says 3-4 linemen have to be two-gappers. A 3-4 front can play gap-control just as a 4-3 plays gap-control. The idea of using 3-4 down linemen as two-gappers is that by doing that you're using men that aren't real athletic or agile to occupy blockers and allow very athletic and very agile linebackers to run to the ball unencumbered. Maybe Phillips believes his defensive linemen are as athletic and agile as his linebackers, which is almost what you would have to believe to put your down linemen in a gap-control, penetrate-and-disrupt scheme. Typical 3-4 linemen are space-eaters, not run-to-the-ball guys.

Paul from De Pere, WI

We know the Giants matched up well against our Packers. Who matches up well against the Giants?

The Saints, which is to say a team that could run (No. 6) and throw (No. 1). That kind of balance would take the Giants out of rush four, drop seven. The Saints' ability to run the ball would require the Giants to commit more defenders to the line of scrimmage and that, of course, would open the passing lanes to the big play. The Patriots were a good match up for the Giants because the Pats aren't a good enough running team to force the Giants to commit more defenders to the line of scrimmage. Football is a game of matchups. I thought the Packers needed to avoid the Giants, and my guess is the Giants wanted to stay away from the Saints. They did, thanks to the 49ers.

Dean from Waukesha, WI

The Giants enjoyed success in the postseason due in large part to the fact they could get pressure rushing four. Does this change how the rest of the league approaches the draft and defense in general? Did we just witness the beginning of a seismic shift in defensive philosophy?

Yeah, at least for a year, just as we did following the Giants' win over the Patriots in the 2007 season's Super Bowl. Following that game, everybody wanted every-downs, 4-3 defensive ends, even though it was a bad draft for them. It's a copycat league and there's always a mania for whatever worked, the extreme example of that being the "Wildcat." The problem is you can't make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. Players, not plays.

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