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Finesse? What makes a team tough?


Ryan from Stevens Point, WI

Vic, what matters most to a free agent? Does it all come down to money, or does the team situation play a role?

There have been players who've taken less money to stay where they are, but you could probably count them on one hand. We all love this game, but the fundamental premise on which professional football is built, which is to say play for pay, is the thing that brings us back to reality. It always does that for me. Some people don't like the mercenary quality that goes with play for pay, but I love it. I love the idea that a guy is subjecting himself to physical punishment to feed his family. I love the idea of every man chasing after the same carrot, and I love the Paul Brown philosophy about not patting players on the back every time they do something right: "I pay you to do it right; I'll tell you when you do it wrong." That's the hard edge about professional football I love so much. Just do your job. The satisfaction that comes with it and the money you've earned for doing it are your rewards. I covered a team that always stressed that play-for-pay attitude. The players played, and then the team paid, immediately. Even on road trips, the comptroller would sit at the locker room door with a metal box on a folding table, and he would hand each player his paycheck as he left the room, and that was long after more sophisticated practices for distributing checks were employed by other teams. I liked the message. If you were a player being handed a paycheck as you left the locker room, I think you almost immediately had to ask yourself: Did I earn this? It's a question that demands personal accountability.

Paul from Ossian, IN

Vic, let me give you my opinion of why the screen is so revered in Green Bay. When I think of the Packers resurgence with Holmgren and Favre, one play that comes to mind is the screen pass. I can still see Dorsey Levens catching a screen from Brett and taking it nearly 80 yards in the NFC Championship Game against the Panthers. I can still hear John Madden saying that Green Bay is the best screen team in football.

Well, now the Packers are the best back-shoulder team in football, just as the Lombardi Packers were the best power sweep team in football. Good teams have an identity. As I've said many times, the best teams are the most predictable teams. Lombardi was going to run the sweep, Holmgren was going to throw the screens, McCarthy likes the back-shoulder pass. Everybody knows what's coming, but they can't stop it. Good teams take what you give them. Great teams take what they want.

Jeff from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, I was reading Mike's injury recap on Davon House and he indicated that Davon was going to have to wear a shoulder harness this year. Could you give us some insight into how the shoulder harness functions to prevent further injury and what effects it has on the arm mobility of a cornerback? I know Tramon Williams had to wear one last year, but I never really noticed how it affected him.

Shoulder harnesses allow for what's called "controlled restraint." They reduce the chance that the shoulder will move into a position that would allow for it to pop out of place. Eventually, the muscles of the shoulder will recover their strength and provide natural support to the shoulder, or surgery will be required to assist that recovery. In the meantime, the harness will provide that stability. Players don't like them because they feel bulky. It's kind of like eating Thanksgiving dinner with your belt pulled tight.

Carl from Port Washington, WI

In your 10 things article you mention making San Francisco play dime. What does achieving this require other than running the passing game effectively?

You make a defense play dime by spreading your formation and loading it with receivers. Four-wide will do it when you have receivers the quality of the Packers'. When you're playing against a team with an athletic tight end such as Jermichael Finley, and a wide receiver corps that includes several big-play weapons, you better plan on playing a lot of dime. That leaves five to rush the passer against five offensive linemen and a running back, and I like those pass-protection odds. I also like the odds that say it's more likely the Packers' fourth receiver is better than the defense's fourth cornerback. It's how the Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. They spread 'em out and overmatched the nickel and dime backs.

Zach from Woodstock, IL

Vic, with the NFC North being the toughest division in football, in most eyes, which division do you think will produce the most playoff contenders?

I think most of those eyes are in the NFC North. Yes, this is a very strong division, and I think it's likely it will produce the most playoff contenders this season, which is partly based on the division's strength of schedule, but it's also a division that didn't win a postseason game last season, and I think it has to be acknowledged that each of the other three divisions in the NFC did, in fact, win at least one game in the postseason.

Dominick from Chicago, IL

Do you think Ted Thompson will use the franchise tag on Greg Jennings next year? Is there someone else they may have to use it on instead?

You don't always need to use the tag to achieve what you wish to achieve. Sometimes, just having the tag available is all you need. It has a way of stimulating contract negotiations. That's why it's so important not to use it. Once you use it, you don't have it to use.

Christopher from Pompano Beach, FL

Thanks for being free. There are enough things in this world that need to be paid for.

Free is me and I'll take three. It's the sports writers' manifesto. Fans pay enough for the enjoyment of pro football. News of it should be free.

Mandy from Blue Springs, MO

Vic, how much of an effect do you think Packers fans can make in Sunday's game against the Niners? All I'm saying is this is going to be a tough, hard-fought game and, as fans, we have to do our part and make it as hard as we possibly can for the 49ers to win. They can't get comfortable. And that means cheering as loud as we can for the Pack, no matter what goes down, this Sunday.

The home team feeds off the crowd's energy, and Lambeau Field has always been a high-energy stadium. I think it's this simple: Playing at Lambeau on Sunday is what makes the Packers the favorite to win this game. That's the impact of the home crowd.

Jared from Santa Maria, CA

Vic, with the passing of Art Modell, I would love to hear the take of an old-school football guy on this polarizing NFL figure.

I always liked him because he always had time for sports writers. He wore his heart on his sleeve and I always thought that made Modell a sympathetic figure. He had a marketing background that gave him a strong vision for incorporating TV into the NFL landscape. That was his greatest contribution to the league. I always thought he was a good owner, a Cleveland guy, and that's why it's a shame that he made some mistakes that ruined all of that. No. 1, he made an ill-fated decision to buy Cleveland Stadium from the city; that's what started it all. He thought he got a sweetheart deal, but what he got was the liability for a stadium that was falling down. Quickly, he knew he had made a mistake and began campaigning for a new stadium. It didn't play politically; the Indians got a new ballpark. The city continued to ignore Modell's pleas for a new stadium, and when Modell watched a new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame being built next to the stadium he owned that was literally in danger of falling down (the posts had rusted to the thickness of a pencil), his anger might've gotten the best of him. He had also stuffed his team for a title run and, in the process, fell deeper into financial difficulty. Baltimore offered relief. I had just covered a game in Cleveland when the news broke a few days later that the Browns were moving to Baltimore. With that, there was no doubt as to what Modell's legacy would be. Living in the present makes us do things that decide eternity.

Stephen from Chicago, IL

No one likes to be called soft or finesse, I agree, but I remember the 49ers of the 1980s being tagged finesse because of their timing offense. If the Packers share that kind of success, the media can label them anything they want, in my book.

I don't think you're as comfortable with it as you would have us believe, and that's why it's so important that the Packers get their edge back on defense. There are two things that give a team a reputation for being physical: the running game and defense. It's OK to have a finesse passing offense, as long as you play tough defense. No one will call you soft if you have a tough defense, and that's why nobody called the 49ers soft in the '80s. Once they got Ronnie Lott, soft was gone. A finesse offense added Roger Craig and Tom Rathman, and that's when the 49ers became anything you wanted them to be. They could pound it or finesse it on offense, and they had a defense with a lot of tough guys on it. That's why they were a great team; they could do it all.

Pete from Victoria, BC

As the season opener approaches, I could use some words of advice. Obviously, the hardest thing for us Packers fans is to think of our team actually losing a game (evidenced by the current poll stating that 71 percent of us feel the opener is a must-win game). However, if we think a perfect season is a distraction and a lot of pressure heading into playoffs, how do I reconcile that feeling with not wanting my team to ever lose a single game?

Just watch, Pete. You can't change the outcome, so why blunt your enjoyment of the journey? The great thing about being a fan is that you bear no responsibility for the result. Yours is not to suffer, only to enjoy. All of this is being done for you. Enjoy it. With that, I invite everyone to come to on Sunday for our live chat. It begins at 1:25 p.m. CDT.

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