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Day Two of 'Les Miserables,' Packers style

Recovery process from playoff loss to 49ers continues


Bill from Pittsburgh, PA

So the SF read-option is not unbeatable. Seahawks destroyed it in Week 16, but they used a 4-3 and have good cover DBs and safeties. Can teams use that pattern of defense to beat SF and, if so, why didn't we try it even though we don't have the same personnel as Seattle?

The 3-4 is a schematically sound defense against the read-option because the 3-4 is effectively the college 52 when it's playing the run, and the 52 has been the preferred run defense of college football for a long time. The intent of the read-option, when combined with a spread formation, is to create a numbers mismatch, but that usually can't happen unless the quarterback is a runner. For example, against four-wide, colleges will usually employ six defensive backs. That leaves five against seven, which is a numbers mismatch, but only if the quarterback is a runner. If Peyton Manning was running the read-option, it would not be a numbers mismatch; it would be five defenders against five blockers and a pre-designated runner. Whether you're playing the 4-3 or the 3-4, you're going to have the same number of defenders in the box against the read-option. With the 3-4, you're going to have more athletic ability on the field, and that's what you want against that offense.

Gabor from Budapest, Hungary

In the preseason, Aaron Rodgers asked: "Do we really need to run the football?" I like him, but I really hope he will never ask this question again. Any thoughts?

It was a joke, but I think he would agree that, after this season, it's no joking matter. He needs a running game. It helps a team protect its quarterback.

Eli from Passaic, NJ

Now that the other fans have attacked Capers and the defense, I want to turn my attention to the real failure in the loss to SF: The lack of running attempts in the second half, which made it virtually impossible for the Packers to sustain an offensive drive, score to keep up with the 49ers and keep the defense off the field. For a coach who is constantly stressing the importance of the run game, even if it's not overly productive as it sets up play-action, why were there only four rushing attempts in the second half, two of which were by Randall Cobb, a wide receiver, and just two by Harris, who ran well in the first half and even scored a touchdown?

The 49ers took the Packers out of the run by scoring touchdowns on consecutive possessions. With 14:57 left in the game and the 49ers holding a 38-24 lead, the time for establishing the run had long since expired. I think Coach McCarthy sensed he would have to score often to win, and that he would lose a time of possession game. That's one answer. The other answer is this: The Packers went into this game with a game plan to spread the field in the second half and let it fly. As I either wrote or spoke last week, teams become true to their real identity in the postseason. The Packers' identity is for a wide-open passing attack. I think it was a good plan. The Packers just aren't a running team. If they're running the ball, their opponent is happy. That's something I'd like to see change.

Dave from Sumter, SC

Let me see if I have this right. To beat the Packers, all a team needs to do is play cover two on defense and read-option on offense.

A better running game will take care of cover two, and didn't the Packers beat the Vikings' read-option? I think something is getting lost in our mania to blame the defense. In my opinion, the Packers' wide receivers did not win on the outside. They were covered in the first meeting between the two teams, and they were covered in this game, too. The Packers averaged just 9.9 yards per reception. They averaged 11.6 in the regular season, and that's down from 13.7 in 2011. I think that's something that bears consideration and investigation.

Kelvin from Warwick, UK

Vic, hope the inbox isn't too full of anger. My question is where do you think Tom Brady will be placed when he eventually retires, considering the consistency with which he seems to be able to take his team deep into the postseason. Is he going to be considered the best by you?

He might be. He's in my top three. If the Patriots defense had stopped the Giants at crunch time, Brady would be going for Super Bowl title No. 6. If that was the case, there's no doubt in my mind that I would consider him the greatest quarterback of all time. He's the best crunch-time quarterback I have ever seen.

Bryant from Indianapolis, IN

What do you feel we need to address first in the draft?

I see the Packers' needs as running back, big guys and linebackers.

Rhonny from Madison, WI

Vic, do you think there is any chance Ted Thompson takes a shot in free agency this year?

I don't think he's opposed to free agency, but I'm pretty sure he's committed to value, and it's tough to find value in free agency because it's a process that tends to overpay its participants, and that damages a team's long-range salary cap health.

Mike from Moorpark, CA

Vic, in one of the videos posted, Jennings was asked what would be most difficult about leaving Green Bay. He responded by saying I don't think there is a most difficult thing. I get the impression he might want to leave and possibly be in a more traditional No. 1 receiver offense. What do you think?

I think it hurts to have to leave a place you love. When it's forced on you, it hurts even more. I've never known a player in this situation not to feel some bitterness. I was with Aaron Kampman in Jacksonville when he was signed by the Jaguars from the Packers. Aaron is as gracious a person as there is on the face of the Earth, but I could still detect hurt and bitterness for having to leave Green Bay. Pro football requires its players to always have an edge. There is no relaxing in this game. There is no security. Everybody is on the clock. I can remember how bitter Leon Searcy was about having to leave his team, only a few weeks after playing in a Super Bowl. The Jaguars made him the highest paid lineman in NFL history, but he was bitter. Why? Because rejection hurts. In time, those players that had to leave come to understand the reason for it, and all of the warm feelings they left behind return to them. They realize the team isn't to blame, the system is to blame, and it's a system they negotiated and approved.

Leonard from Milwaukee, WI

I personally believe we were out-coached and uncharacteristically undisciplined. I was one who was open to the firing of Dom Capers, but the fact of the matter is he is probably one of the best defensive brains out there. Vic, do you think we should try a 4-3 scheme next year?

I'm OK with it. Any scheme will work if it's played properly. But you must understand this: If you go to a 4-3, sacks will decline. The 3-4 is a pressure defense. That's the whole premise of it: Attack! Maybe the Packers only need more players that can attack.

Michael from Blacksburg, VA

Vic, with the emergence of the read-option as the new wildcat in the NFL, could we possibly see a formation in our offensive scheme in which Randall Cobb sees some limited time as a read-option quarterback?

I won't answer no, because I'm not against creativity, but I love the way Cobb was used in what I call the "Cobb set" on Saturday night. He gained 23 yards on two carries and Aaron Rodgers didn't have to leave the field. What's wrong with using Cobb that way? He rushed 10 times for 132 yards this season; that's 13.2 a carry.

Dustin from Louisville, KY

We couldn't catch Colin Kaepernick? Is that seriously your response to people's questions as to why we couldn't stop the read-option out of the pistol? I've seen this style of football since middle school. When you're playing a QB that likes to run, you stop the run first and make him be a passer.

Get out! That's genius. Why didn't I think of that?

Dennis from Queenstown, New Zealand

Hey, Vic, how come you guys always talk about championships and big wins if it's obvious the team's not ready for any of this? I will explain my question further: I watched last year's game from Germany and Saturday's game all the way from New Zealand, and even that far away I could figure out the outcome of those games way before they were actually played. How come you, as well as the team, always seem to be overconfident and then come crashing down to Earth afterwards? Don't you guys watch the rest of the league at all or am I just being too negative? A little more realistic views would be nice for the fans in the future.

Send me your e-mail address and I'll prepare you for defeat next season.

Lewis from Lewiston, ID

Has McCarthy figured out that an up-tempo offense tires out your defense if you do not convert third downs? Can we be done with zone blocking yet? Finally, will you go back to work for the Steelers and get away from the Packers?

Yes, no, no. Here's one more thing that tires out your defense: When it can't stop third-down conversion attempts. The 49ers were eight of 13 on third down, and that was seven of 10 in the first half, when the 49ers owned a 21:47-8:13 time of possession advantage.

Graeme from Waterdown, Ontario

Vic, looking ahead to this year's draft. What are your thoughts on Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and would he be the BAP on Green Bay's draft board? He would seem to fit the biggest current need of the defense. He's a big, athletic, playmaking inside linebacker. Of all the mock drafts I have looked at so far, it seems he is unlikely to slide past Pittsburgh. Do you believe Ted Thompson would trade that far up in the draft if Te'o were to slide outside the top 15?

I can't answer your questions now, but I'll be covering the Senior Bowl next week and I hope to be able to start providing some answers to questions about draft prospects, after I get a look at the talent on display in Mobile. The only thing I know right now about this year's draft is what a scout told me a few weeks ago. He said it's a bad year to be high.

Todd from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, the week before, in the wild-card game, every one on the defense maintained lane integrity and played disciplined. This last week, there was zero lane integrity from the left side of the defense, Walden being the main culprit, crashing down every time and losing contain. Is this a case of that's what the game plan called for, or was he just not playing disciplined?

Staying in your pass-rush lane is a matter of refusing to be pushed out of your pass-rush lane. The game plan wasn't the problem. Getting pushed out of the pass-rush lanes was the problem, and that's about a big, talented offensive line winning at the point of attack. The 49ers' offensive line includes three first-round picks and three Pro Bowlers. You know what I'm thinking. I'm not going to say it.

Calvin from Crestview, FL

After discovering Kaepernick could and would run, wouldn't it have made sense for Coach Capers to have a spy on the quarterback?

The Packers used spy technique nearly the whole game. I saw several guys employed that way, most memorably Dezman Moses. I wrote in our chat that I don't like spy technique cause I've seldom seen it work. In my mind, it's just a way of taking a player out of the rush or the coverage; I think it's like playing with 10 guys because it always seems the quarterback eludes the spy. I saw teams use it over and over against Mark Brunell, when he could run, and it never worked.

Jessica from Butte, MT

I thought the turning points of the game were the two turnovers. The muffed punt hurt but the interception was a killer. After that, our defense was exhausted and that's when Kaepernick took over. Tell me why I'm right.

You're right for the reasons you gave. I'll give you a more subtle turning point: the holding penalty against Tramon Williams on the third-and-two incomplete pass. It immediately followed Sam Shields' pick-six. Kaepernick was struggling and looked skittish. Had no penalty been called, and had the Packers gotten the ball and scored, I'm not sure how Kaepernick would've reacted to being down 14-0.

Scott from Livingston, NJ

Do you think the Packers would have won if Alex Smith was playing?

I think it would be unfair to say the Packers would've won. After all, Smith was the starting quarterback when the 49ers won convincingly at Lambeau Field in the season opener. I will say, however, that I think the game would've been a lot tighter. Kaepernick beat the Packers with his feet.

Jesse from Anoka, MN

I don't believe Capers should be fired outright, however, I believe he should be on somewhat of a hot seat.

Jesse, all coaches are on the hot seat all the time. When you win, you're great; when you lose, you stink. It takes a very special person, a person hardened by his commitment to his craft, to endure the criticism coaches do. Ask yourself how you would react if you were them.

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