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Inbox: A new opponent awaits, and solutions must be found

These next three weeks are a huge part of the evaluation process

DL T.J. Slaton; LB Rashan Gary
DL T.J. Slaton; LB Rashan Gary

Rick from Trempealeau, WI

Wes, are there certain Tuesdays (like this one) that you're glad you didn't have to fend off the Monday onslaught?

Oh, there was plenty left for me on Tuesday.

Chris from Voorhout, Netherlands

People forget some of this Tampa team won the Super Bowl not that long ago. While the press was all over Tom Brady, that was – and is still – a good team on the defensive side of the ball. This was never the "gimme" people seemed to think it was going to be. There is a culture of winning crunch games in that Tampa outfit, and this is crunch time of the season. Something Matt LaFleur alluded to a few weeks when he talked about get back to .500 a couple of weeks ago.

Matt LaFleur said what he said two weeks ago for a reason: This league does indeed have a way of humbling you fast. I give credit to Jordan Love and the rookie pass-catchers for how well they played against Tampa's defense. They had some big moments. Unfortunately, the Buccaneers had more.

Markus from Aurora, CO

Folks, oh boy, oh boy! I saw lots of promising stuff (for 2024) on offense, but there are evidently (?) issues on defense: Plays? Now, because we've been taught "it's players, not plays," do we have the right players? If yes, then it's a DC issue? If not, then it's a personnel dept. issue? Lots to figure out in the coming weeks…

It's everyone and everything you said. With all due respect to Baker Mayfield, you can't give up a maximum passer rating at Lambeau Field in the month of December. It cannot happen, but it did. A new opponent awaits, and solutions must be found. The season depends on it.

Barry from Green Bay, WI

Happy Tuesday! Now that the dust has settled and we all move on, I am curious how the Packers stack up with the rest of the league with regards to turnover margin and interceptions in particular? It just seems to me they are few and far between, and despite five sacks Sunday, we had zero takeaways. Thank you for any info you might have regarding this.

The Packers are tied for 22nd in takeaways (16) and 29th in interceptions (six). Green Bay is tied for fourth with 10 fumble recoveries, a possible reflection of the pressure numbers. Do with that information whatever you will.

Isabel from El Paso, TX

I think the frustration with us fans is that GB has spent what like eight first-round picks on defense, and we will probably draft another defensive player, for the defense to continue to play like this. Injuries or not, excuses or not, it's just disappointing to keep getting the same results over and over and over again.

The Packers have been without four of those eight for most of the season, but I get your point. Sunday wasn't good enough, but it also takes more than just draft capital to build a winning defense. You need the players, you need the coaches, and you need the progress. Green Bay has three more guaranteed chances for growth.

Jim from Westland, MI

In September, tempered expectations for a team with no cap space and starting a rebuild were the logical mindset. However, when growth in a young team exceeds the mindset, hopes and goals (other than steady growth) the only reasonable result is disappointment. Enjoy the process.

The disappointment you feel stems from the development of the young players on the roster. You see the promise but not the wins and that's frustrating for all parties involved.

Jesus from El Paso, TX

To my untrained eye, it seemed the Bucs only used variations of four or five different plays to shred the Packers' defense. Did the Packers deploy a variety of tactics to adjust, and nothing worked, or did they keep calling the same game, assuming mistakes would get cleaned up?

Kingsley Enagbare and some of the defenders talked after the game about this. Green Bay made adjustments, but Tampa kept solving the riddle. While the game was vastly different than New York last week, the opposition gained way too many yards in the middle of the field. That part the Packers must get cleaned up.

Doug from Eugene, OR

You made an interesting point about "goals and perspective." It is so easy to blur performance goals ("beat your man") and outcome goals ("win the game"). Item A precurses item B. My question is how can we even evaluate this team? We haven't had our starters on the field once this whole season: no WR1, (now no WR2?) RB1 limited, RB2 out or vice versa. TE1 out and that's just skilled positions on offense. Rookies or No. 2's all over the field. I'd like to see what we really have...but how can we?

The thing with injuries is the players may change but there's still X number of snaps out there on offense, defense and special teams. So, you evaluate what you see based on who's available. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, either. Aaron Jones, Keisean Nixon, and many past Packers graduated to starting roles after earning those opportunities.

Steve from Savannah, GA

Good day Wes, I have been an avid reader of II for many years. I was at the game Sunday and was wondering why the offense seems to be getting a pass whereas the defense is being attacked by most everyone. Of the 20 points scored by the Packers' offense, seven points were directly related to the defense giving the ball back to the offense near the goal line. Seems to me the offense didn't do nearly enough to win this game. What's your take on the offensive performance?

Good but not good enough in the midst of a shootout.

Don from Big Flats, WI

II, we haven't scored over 30 points since Week 1. Five of eight losses by one score. It seems we can score through the air, but not such on the ground. We haven't had the occasional big run for a TD from Aaron Jones, or anyone else much at all. We could really use some more big plays in the run game. We need to outscore the opponent to win. I would love to see this offense go a whole season with a healthy No. 33. One of the TV announcers said the same thing I was thinking, that we have a good 4-5 year window.

The future is bright for Love and the offense, but to expand on the previous question, the Packers are still 6-8. While the defense wasn't up to snuff against Tampa, Green Bay just hasn't been consistent enough in all three phases. Like Mike talked about, the double-digit-win teams minimize their off days and often find ways to win in spite of them. The Packers are what their record says they are.

Bret from Hertel, WI

Dear Wes, the first drive had a great mix of runs and passes, but at the goal line they go into shotgun and try to run out of it. It has not worked for them. Most of the runs out of shotgun have been negative plays. Has Coach LaFleur ever addressed why he uses that formation and why he abandons the running game? It seems that when Jordan Love is under center the runs are better and so is the play-action. Five rushes over 3½ quarters are not balanced football or play calling.

The emphasis to get the ball in Aaron Jones' hands was there early on (eight carries for 43 yards) but Green Bay seemed to get away from the run after Kenyan Drake was dropped for no gain. LaFleur lamented not establishing the ground game afterward. I'm not sure what Jones' rep count was for the game, but he played 29 of the 60 offensive snaps.

Highlights from the moments leading up to the Week 15 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023.

Peter from Hemet, CA

At this point in the season, are the remaining three games helpful for evaluation purposes moving forward? Making the playoffs would be nice, however given the team's inconsistent play, I don't see them making a deep run. No matter we only have three games left before the season ends, so we should enjoy them because when they're done the offseason is upon us. As a fan who has been spoiled for decades, this season has been difficult to endure. Fan for life.

These next three weeks are a huge part of the evaluation process. I want to see who wants it most? Who's got that killer instinct to keep playing ball into January? If this team gets to the postseason, that would be incredible experience for Love and this young roster. Perhaps the most frustrating thing for me is I'd still take Green Bay over any of these 6-8/7-7 teams in the NFC. I like the talent. I like the QB. It would be good for the NFL to have the Packers in the postseason, but…They. Must. Earn. It.

John from Yorba Linda, CA

For TB's offense, they exploited the GB defense with the 15-yard seam route behind the linebackers and in front of the safety. The Packers' defense made no adjustment and it destroyed them on third downs. Question is, will the Packers plug that gap and take it away from their next opponents?

They better because the ageless Adam Thielen has been one of the few bright spots for the Panthers this year. A day later, I'm still perplexed why Chris Godwin caused so many problems Sunday. Godwin is a Pro Bowl receiver but has been pretty quiet this year. On Sunday, he was an absolute game-wrecker, and the Packers didn't have an answer.

Brian from Madison, WI

Wes, I think I heard you say on "Unscripted" that you were regretting picking Chris Godwin instead of Mike Evans for your fantasy team. So, was Godwin's big game at least a silver lining for you this week?

…I already cut him.

Gary from Chippewa Falls, WI

Replacing a quarterback is hard. See Patriots, Steelers, Commanders, Falcons, and Raiders. Change is swift in the NFL. At least the Packers had a plan that gives us hope for the future. The sun came out today.

I have a lot of respect for Love and how he handled success and setback in his first year as a starting quarterback. I don't think I'm steering out of my lane saying he's been this team's MVP this season. Through endurance and attrition, Love has worked his way into the top five in touchdown passes (25) and top 10 in passing yards (3,368).

Dave from Savanna, IL

Have you heard anything about why Keisean Nixon did not attempt to handle any kickoffs? He may not make it out to the 25 every time but he puts a lot of pressure on the opponent, and once in a while he breaks a good one.

Nixon did late, while Tampa Bay didn't take any kickoffs out at all. We'll see if that's a topic that gets broached with Rich Bisaccia on Thursday.

Scott from Palos Park, IL

I was nice to see Bo Melton get a catch but was Samori Toure actually passed up on the depth chart or is he nursing an injury that opened the door for Melton to be on the field on Sunday?

I don't know this for a fact, but I have a feeling that move had more to do with Melton's special teams.

Mark from Ocala, FL

Yikes! Someone let the air out of the balloon. The expectations have surely fizzled. Lots of self-evaluation, as well as coaches' evaluation based on the yearly goals and their expectations. If the season ended yesterday, what might be the expected draft position of a team ready to build for the 2024 season?

If I didn't care about playoff positioning in Week 14, then surely I don't give the slightest darn about where the Packers are projected to pick in the 2024 NFL Draft in Week 16.

Dana from Monument, CO

Did two of the usual four postgame stories get cut after the game vs. the Bucs? I only found Five Takeaways and Game Notes. Probably wasn't fun to write about this one.

This is on me, Dana. Sunday was my son's birthday. I only had a couple hours with him in the morning before I had to head to Lambeau. So, I asked my boss if I could file my Game Notes (which is sponsored content) and get home before my son went to bed. He was kind enough to allow me to do that. It also didn't seem fair for Spoff to have do more with me bouncing early, so we just went with one piece of postgame content each. As a parent, you miss out on a lot during an NFL season. Mike could write a book on that. This was one memory I didn't want to lose. As always, thank you for reading.

Craig from Brookfield, WI

Time for some Christmas cheer! No one expected this team to be in the mix to win it all. For all the talk of a Love "era," this year was really about finding out whether he has the talent to be a good NFL QB. That answer is yes, with more experience. The WR room may not yet have a true WR1, but there's a lot to like – across the board. The rookies showed up. Next year they won't have that brutal first-year calendar. Lots of dead money is coming off the books. The long-term arrow is indeed up!

I feel good about the long-term outlook for an offense that's played without Jones for six games and David Bakhtiari for all but one. If this season has taught me anything, it's that the Packers can build around Jordan Love. Of all possible scenarios at the beginning of the year – outside of a Super Bowl, obviously – that's probably the one Green Bay had highest on its list of desired outcomes for the 2023 campaign.

Ken from Boynton Beach, FL

Carolina, Minnesota, and Chicago – win these three, we end with a winning record and possible wild-card berth. It is doable. Then we can play the likes of SF and Philadelphia teams. UGH... GO PACK GO. I think Love is doing wonderfully and hope the Pack sign him for a long-term deal. What say you? Merry Christmas Insiders!

Destiny no longer resides in the Packers' hands and maybe that's for the better. This team has played better when it's the B-side this season and now it sits in that boat once again. All that matters now is beating Carolina.

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