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Defense gives Packers peaking potential

How do you stop Calvin Johnson, rush or cover?


Tony from Janesville, WI

Vic, I'm encouraged by the play of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix so far. Sure, he has missed some tackles and couldn't hold on to a Week 1 interception, but what I am encouraged by is I see him involved in the outcome of a play more often than not. I hear his name throughout the game, and not just because it sounds funny. That is more than I can say about Packers first-round picks of the past. What are your thoughts on Clinton-Dix so far?

I think he's developing into the player the Packers projected he would be when they drafted him. I also think your evaluation is brimming with enthusiasm for reasons other than Ha Ha's performance, and I think I know what the main reason for that is: He's your guy. My inbox is loaded with a lot of emails similar to yours. There's a lot of positivity for Ha Ha because Ha Ha was the fans' pick, and when you pick a guy, you're responsible for him. This is a good teaching event for fans because they're getting a chance to experience what it's like for a GM when he picks a guy. You believe in him. You support him through his development. You remain patient and committed to him. That's what the fans are doing with Ha Ha because he's their guy. They're not looking at the stats, they're seeing their hope.

Paul from De Pere, WI

Execution. Vic, will we ever see a return to fewer rules in football? Can we achieve greater player safety with fewer rules? Can the NFL get more offense with fewer rules?

It can't continue this way. Not only don't I know what a catch is, after 43 years of covering football I no longer even know what a tackle is. Eventually, the game will have to go into a simplification campaign or it will estrange itself from its fans. It's become too technical. Change is a fact of life, but the game is changing too much too quickly.

Michael from Abu Dhabi, UAE

Execution. Vic, I loved seeing Peppers almost get a pick in coverage on Sunday. His size makes him pretty decent for dropping into coverage after lining up in the box. Do you think we will see more interception opportunities for him?

That's the plan. I think you're going to see Julius Peppers become more comfortable with his role as time goes on. This is new for him. Come midseason, I think we're going to see Peppers take his game to a higher level, just when you want your team to take its game to a higher level. The growth potential on defense gives this team peaking power late in the season.

Gareth from Bangalore, India

Execution. Vic, could you explain exactly what is meant by scheme? Obviously, it makes sense to be in dime or nickel in passing situations. Are those considered schemes?

Sure they are. Everything you do is scheme. If you open in one defense and play it the entire game without playing anything else, that's your scheme. You can scheme to win with variety, or scheme to win with simplicity. Either way, the scheme has to be executed to win the game. The more varied the scheme is, the more difficult it is to execute the scheme. That's the slide-rule effect. As you increase the effectiveness of one, you might be decreasing the effectiveness of the other. Only play what you can execute. If you can't do it, don't try it.

Nathan from Olympia, WA

Execution. Vic, about what week do you usually start to recognize a team's identity and what will this team's identity be, if you were to venture a guess?

I hear a little bell ring the first week of November. That's when the season starts for me. That's when the real contenders begin to surface. My hope for the Packers is that come November they'll have a balanced offensive attack and a defense on the rise. At the risk of disappointment, I'll even go so far as to say that's my expectation. You might remember that's exactly what the Packers were a year ago when November arrived.

Mark from Verona, WI

Execution. What might Morgan Burnett be doing this year where he appears to be a more effective safety?

He's playing to the true identity of a strong safety, which I believe he is. He's up in the box banging. That's the strength of his game and that's where he belongs. He's not a centerfielder. He's a banger. The Packers are getting better play next to him, and I have a feeling that's allowing Burnett to play to his strength.

Dan from Pikeville, KY

Execution. Going into Ford Field to fight for the lead of the NFC North, is the defense or the run game the bigger question?

There's nothing wrong with the running game. The defense is coming off one strong half of football. I'm not going to make any proclamations based on a half of football. Stop the run. That's the challenge again. It all starts with stopping the run. When I see that on a consistent basis, then I'll know this defense is on the rise and has the potential to achieve my expectations for it.

Joshua from Mankato, MN

Do you think Kurt Warner is worthy of a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection? Some say no. Heck, some say he doesn't belong in the HOF period. I say his career numbers are nearly identical to Troy Aikman's. He played in three Super Bowls, won one of them and lost two in excruciatingly close fashion. No one batted an eye about Aikman going in on the first ballot. Should there really be a debate about whether Warner belongs at all? What is your esteemed opinion on this matter?

First ballot? No. It has to be more difficult than that for marginal candidates. The selection committee's job isn't to put people in, it's to keep people out. Comparing Warner to Aikman is ridiculous. Look at Kerry Collins' stats; 41,000 yards, 208 touchdown passes. It has to be about more than stats. It has to be about dominance at a player's position. Warner's career was up and down. He had some outstanding years, but he wasn't dominant.

Tyler from Columbus, OH

Vic, what do you think of Penn State's quarterback, Christian Hackenberg? He looks to have pro-quality pocket presence and isn't afraid to make the big throw. I think he could lead Penn State to a great year.

Not with that offensive line in front of him. Penn State has been depleted by punishment. That will change over the next few years, but it is what it is right now. I look at Hackenberg for what he might be at the next level, because he could come out after the 2015 season and be a very high pick. He's big and strong and has a great arm and solid mechanics. He's comfortable in the pocket and has a year of schooling under Bill O'Brien. Hackenberg is everything you want in a pocket-QB prospect. So why isn't he dominating? Aside from not having a strong cast around him, Hackenberg is the perfect example of the pains a program must endure to develop an old-fashioned pocket passer. You spend three years on him, and by the time he's developed, he's gone. Why do it? Why not just plug a new-age guy into the position, spread the field and let it rip? That's exactly what more college programs are doing and that's why new-age quarterbacks are the future of pro football.

David from Fredonia, WI

Vic, should a high school team with a very long losing streak just seek out lesser competition in order to finally break the streak?

Absolutely not. That's surrender and surrender is the worst defeat of all. Commit more deeply. When winning arrives, it will be the sweetest thing you've ever tasted.

Davy from Chetek, WI

Execution. I'm currently taking a course in Principles of Management. One of the reading assignments included a couple of paragraphs talking about Phil Jackson as an example. It said he could "lead skilled people by giving them what they need to do their jobs and then leave them alone." It then quoted him as saying, "I'm no savior. They have to be the savior of themselves." Players, not plays.

Bill Walsh, the greatest scheme coach of all time, said at some point in the season the coach has to turn the team over to the team. Marty Mornhinweg said on Monday he needs to trust Geno Smith to get it right, instead of trying to call a timeout to fix it. Lombardi and Noll allowed their quarterbacks to call their own plays; that's nine league titles.

Brian from Aebly, WI

How is it the league justifies player safety on the field and hypocritically turns a blind eye toward their off-field shenanigans?

It's not a blind eye. It's about a lot of forces being in play. Pro-active morality or due process? That's a debate certain to create passionate division. How do you win it? Fight the players union or work with them? The liberal media or the conservative media? You can't win. Believe what your heart says is the right thing to do, but respect the arguments for and against. That's my position on this subject.

Sergio from Winnipeg, MB

Scheme. Vic, in watching the Chargers beat the Seahawks, we saw Antonio Gates find a lot of success, seemingly as a result of good matchups. The Chargers seemingly have other players that are faster or have better hands. So why not send them out there to be covered by linebackers instead?

I don't know who covered him, but if the Chargers replaced Gates with a wide receiver – why would you take Gates off the field? – the defense would likely take the linebacker off the field and replace him with a defensive back, and that's probably not the matchup the Chargers wanted. Gates is a wide receiver in a tight end's body. He's too big for most defensive backs and too fast for most linebackers. This isn't new stuff; he's been winning one-on-ones for a long time. It's because he's good.

Eddie from Alger, MI

Execution. With half of the Packers' regular-season divisional games coming in the next three weeks, which defensive player do you think will step up his game during this important stretch?

I think Clay Matthews is on the verge of something big.

Jon from Camp Arifjan, Kuwait

Execution. Vic, how might Dom Capers scheme to isolate Calvin Johnson and take away his physical advantages? Or is it all about execution by our secondary?

It's rush or cover; it's not play higher. I say rush.

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