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Inbox: He knows what it takes in this league

The NFL waits for no one

Washington Commanders QB Taylor Heinicke

Bill from Clive, IA

Mike's 35th birthday, huh? I'm picturing a scene here from "Back to the Future"...

Except the corner diner in Hill Valley is a Chi-Chi's. A mental flux capacitor knows no bounds.

JD from Madison, WI

Good morning info givers. So the Pack face another non-QB1 with Heinicke. If I remember right didn't he perform well in the Football Team's quest for a playoff spot a year or two ago? Honestly, we have not played well against backups QBs this season. So how do you see the D changing up things to defend against another backup QB?

Two seasons ago, Heinicke played pretty darn well in giving Washington a chance to upset Tampa Bay in the wild-card round. The WFT was down just two points entering the fourth quarter, and then down by five with just under five minutes left, eventually losing by eight. It's not about backup QBs specifically. In this case, the Packers have to be prepared for Heinicke's scrambling ability. Last year in the matchup at Lambeau Field, he was the game's leading rusher with 95 yards.

Russ from Henrico, VA

A couple thoughts from deep in Commander Land: This may be the best front seven we've seen so far. The backup QB can play and he has some weapons, but the Commanders have had worse protection than we have. The best OL Sunday will likely decide the game.

That collection on the defensive front of Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Daron Payne is awfully good even without the best of the bunch (Chase Young). Terry McLaurin is dangerous, as his 16.7 per-catch average would attest, and he had 122 yards, including a 40-yard TD, against the Packers last year. Green Bay is very familiar with what it's up against this week.

Doug from Lake Mills, IA

Tampa Bay and Green Bay have eerily similar stats and both have GOAT QBs who are struggling and share similar stats. Bucs coach Todd Bowles' words after Bucs last loss maybe need to be heard by Pack? "Every year and every week you got to go out there and earn your pay, earn your keep. You got to get your hands dirty and go to work like everybody else. Nobody's going to give us anything or feel sorry (for us). The time for talking is over. You either got to put up or shut up." Agree with him for Pack?

That's the same message I've heard Matt LaFleur deliver countless times, just with different words. "You have to bring your best every week or you'll get your butt kicked." "Every team has to deal with adversity, so nobody cares." "If you don't stay focused on what's right in front of you, that's how you get beat." Bowles isn't saying anything the Packers haven't heard from their own leader.

Steve from Salem, OR

When Matt answered, "I don't know what that means" I got the impression he was trying to make a joke about Aaron's presser the day before. He said later it was tongue-in-cheek when asked. Personally, I thought it was funny and like seeing him give back. I know you have always liked to find hidden meaning in Aaron's pressers, what do you think of Matt's not-so-hidden message? Also, what do think about Matt talking X's and O's in such detail during the pressers?

I always learn a lot about football when coaches dive into the details about their process and how they see the game. It's educational. I don't know if LaFleur was joking or just wanted to avoid discussing any specific adjustments on the horizon, but the constant desire of some to depict the head coach and QB as at odds or not reading from the same page is tiring.

Robert from Burke, VA

Morning Mike and Wes. OK, I was one of the negative comments on Monday. I apologize. Now, having taken a few breaths...on to the Commanders. I'll be there, and at the pep rally. Heinicke is actually pretty darned good but as was noted in yesterday's II, the D only really gave up three bad plays to a really good Jets team playing lights out. I'm concerned, but not worried, and certainly not panicked. GPG!

Heinicke won seven games as a starter for Washington last year, so he knows what it takes in this league. I disagree with Wes somewhat on "only" three bad plays given up, though. Those were the three most impactful plays, yes, but the Jets also had a stretch of four straight runs gaining 12, 12, 25 and 8 yards with half a quarter to go in a two-score game when everyone knew they were going to run the ball. That shouldn't happen.

Loughlin from Indiana, PA

What is the latest news on Christian Watson and Sammy Watkins? Could either of them be back for Sunday, or is it too early to tell?

Watkins is eligible to practice today, so we'll see if he's out there. After four weeks out, one week of practice won't necessarily mean he's ready to play, though. Watson has not been placed on IR, so that would indicate they expect him back soon, but I have no idea yet if this week is on the table for him.

Rob from Lennox, SD

II if this makes sense and I believe it does… "Watkins adds a vertical deep threat the offense needs…" then couldn't the same be said for Christian Watson when he is on the field? Why has there been no consistent effort to try to incorporate No. 9 into the vertical game?

He's missed 2½ of the first six games after missing most of training camp. He needs to be available regularly to become a bigger part of any game plan.

Mike from Austin, TX

G'morning, Mike. Thanks for the WYMM on Adrian Amos. I noticed during the game that he may have been one (the only?) bright spot. My question is if you have a pretty good idea after a game is over what you might be writing up for WYMM? Do you make notes about specific plays where you tell yourself "I've got to watch that film and break it down"? Or is it just what you pick up on film-study day? Thanks for making all of us better game watchers.

I'll make a mental note or two during the game, but otherwise I usually just want to watch a particular player or situation (third downs, goal line, etc.) more closely. It's funny, I sat down Monday focusing on Jaire Alexander but eventually pivoted to Adrian Amos simply because more caught my eye, despite how well Alexander played. And then Larry did a Rock Report on Jaire anyway.

Jack from Smyrna, TN

Do you know if the Packer OL is running different blocking schemes this season with Luke in charge of the OL with Adam now in charge of the entire offense? The struggles could certainly be partly a result of so many moving parts as players return from injury and work themselves into the flow, but beyond just communication the physical handling of stunts, twists, and other trades appear to be a struggle for this team right now. I can't seem to pinpoint what the differences are from years past.

The Packers haven't altered the scheme up front in any significant way. The difference is players just aren't playing well. Jon Runyan's been as steady as she goes in his young career but admitted to having his worst game. If Elgton Jenkins has been penalized three times in a game before, I missed it. Obviously Royce Newman was in the process of being replaced until Jake Hanson got hurt. David Bakhtiari is staying at left tackle and Josh Myers is staying at center. That's all I know. From there it's up to the coaches to sort out the best route moving forward. If that unit gets back to its traditionally high and reliable level of play, the rest can follow.

Hannes from Glendale, WI

Have we simply forgotten what it looks like when the offensive line doesn't play well? Last Sunday felt very different from any of the other losses in recent years. Typically, we were lamenting abandoning the run too early but in that game it wouldn't have mattered whether they call run, pass or Spider 2 Y Banana.

That's pretty much what I said in this column Monday morning and in my follow-up story Monday evening.

Jeremy from West Allis, WI

With full respect to the Giants and Jets, I can't shake the feeling that traveling to Europe for a "home" game was exhausting and upset the rhythm of the season. I'm glad fans abroad could see their team in person. However, I think it throws off competitive balance, hurting the Packers more due to number of time zones traveled. It's not an excuse. It's cause and effect. How much do you think the international game impacted the Packers? I say the finally recuperated Packers beat the Commanders.

I think the London trip triggering the first back-to-back regular-season losses under LaFleur is not just a coincidence. But whatever impact it had is an excuse. If the team didn't handle it well, that's on the team and nobody else.

Jason from Austin, TX

Besides winning the game, here's what I'm hoping to see on Sunday this week: no turnovers and no more than one three-and-out on offense, and for the defense to get one interception. The offense doesn't need to score every drive, but I'd like to see some movement and shifting the field position. Also being positive in the turnover battle would be a nice improvement. Let's start with the basics and go from there. Anything I'm missing?

Proving the special-teams breakdowns last week were an anomaly for 2022 and not a reversion to the past.

Steve from Middletown, KY

Good morning. Our team has been so close to getting to the SB the last couple of years, then add the high draft picks, our expectation is to be even better this year. Sure, the loss of 17 was a big blow, but we still won when he was out. Obviously, the talent is there. So, I trust what the players are saying, that they are close to putting it all together. Is the $64K question, why is it taking so long?

The NFL waits for no one. I think the larger question is how they went from a team seemingly close to putting it all together, to one that suddenly looks so far away from it. I think the lesson is improvement doesn't happen by simply preparing for the next game. It takes place through intentional self-reflection and dedicated internal focus, which can be easy to neglect in the fast-paced weekly whirlwind of this league. Maybe it took a performance like that to realize "putting it all together" wasn't going to just magically happen by playing more games.

Matt from Waunakee, WI

Hi Mike, it will be interesting to see how ML handles the first real adversity he's faced as a head coach. In your opinion what does he need to do to correct the course?

If I knew that, I don't think I'd be sitting at a computer for a living. But a successful coach whose entire tenure I covered used to say the crux of the job – whether head coach, coordinator, assistant, etc. – was to teach and demand. So a starting point for the entire staff to get the desired response is to teach better and demand more. Leadership, and empowering the locker room leaders, always matters, too. The X's and O's are way down the list at times like these.

Eric from Durham, NC

How is 12's thumb doing? Although he hit some perfect throws on Sunday, more often than not it seemed like he was off and that fumble looked like the ball just slipped out of his hand. If it's not any better by Sunday do we give Love a try? I'm not sure those select otherworldly throws make up for a general lack of accuracy when the offense is predicated on establishing a rhythm.

Aaron Rodgers certainly downplayed the impact of his thumb injury on Sunday's performance. He's in a no-win situation there as far as what he says publicly. LaFleur suggested he was really fighting through it but stopped himself so as not to create an excuse. On Monday, he said Rodgers reported the thumb was better than the previous Monday, the day after the injury.

Adam from Wisconsin Rapids, WI

The Pack was plus-13 in turnover margin last year with 18 interceptions. Through six games this year, the defense has generated four turnovers and only one interception. The personnel on defense is largely the same, so what happened?

That might be the biggest mystery to me, but last Sunday I saw a defense that appeared to be attacking much more than reacting. If the group can find a way to continue doing that without giving up the momentum-turning explosive plays, the turnover worm ought to turn.

Jeff from Ogden, UT

Wes shows up wearing a "Kiss Me. I Panicked" T-Shirt and I'm out. I can take the ups and downs of Packer football this season, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Don't we all.

Jake from Sheridan, WY

Deep thoughts by Jake, not Jack. Fans want results instead of saying we need to evaluate and reflect. AR12 says "simplify." That means play fast and hard, less thinking. In order to bloom, it starts with planting the seed up front on both sides of the ball by dominating the line of scrimmage. Stop the run and be able to run the ball. Force other teams to pass and have the opportunity on offense to run play-action. Stability up front will allow the flower to open and playmakers to bloom/shine.

Happy Wednesday.

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