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Inbox: He's coming along on the defensive line

The timing of utilization is important

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DL T.J. Slaton

Ed from Minneapolis, MN

Hey Mike, would you describe it as you're Felix Unger to Wes's Oscar Madison? What was Oscar's profession?

We're both sportswriters, so the dichotomy doesn't quite fit, and for the record, Felix wouldn't approve of my desk, either.

Nathan from Philadelphia, PA

Loved the retrospective on significant TD milestones in Rodgers' career. Twenty years ago, there were only two guys with more than 300 career TD passes; now there are 12 (with Russell Wilson probably joining the club next year). Who do you think will be the all-time leader 20 years from now?

I'm going to guess Patrick Mahomes. He's 26 years old and already has 144 TD passes. Assuming he gets to 150 by the end of this season, his fourth as a starter, that puts him on pace to have 600, maybe more, in another dozen years when he's 38.

Patrick from Burlington, IL

Do you know what wins games? NOT analytics, but points. At what point will common sense overrule the fad of analytics?

Maybe when teams lose more games like the Chargers just did. I know I'm pretty conservative when it comes to those decisions in general, so I probably lean too far the other way, but I can accept going for it almost anytime on fourth-and-1 (except deep in your own territory). Fourth-and-2 or longer I'll always be inclined to take the points before the fourth quarter or in a close game. Two field goals is almost as good as a touchdown. It can be easy to forget that.

James from Ottawa, Ontario

Hey II, not a question, just a comment: I (like most) have been incredibly disappointed about the news coming out of Jacksonville for most of the season – and especially over the last week or so. Treating players and employees in that fashion has no place in the league. As an NFL fan, I hope the Jags can now right the ship and the culture over the next four weeks and come back stronger for the wear next year.

They have a potential generational talent at quarterback. It would be a shame for them to waste it due to poor leadership and organizational mismanagement. It's another lesson the hotshot college coach who succeeds in the NFL is the exception, not the rule. Urban Meyer, Bobby Petrino, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Greg Schiano were massive failures. Bill O'Brien and Chip Kelly did OK. Kliff Kingsbury is doing well. The jury is still out on Matt Rhule. Jim Harbaugh had a lot of success but he was a (fairly recent) NFL QB. I say it all the time in this column, it's not the same game on or off the field at this level. It's just not.

Brian from Odenton, MD

Larry #no cake McCarren's face was a showstopper. I recommend a new game plan next year.

I believe Wes got the message.

Derek from Norton, KS

This week's game will showcase two teams that are dealing with a litany of injuries. What do you view as the most important aspect to remaining competitive when faced with injuries?

First, it's a culture that allows for no excuses, which means the expectations and standard of play don't change. Accountability remains on everyone, no matter who's in or out. Second, it's also about the coaching staff adjusting plans accordingly to play to players' strengths. You don't ask Yosh Nijman to be David Bakhtiari, but you put a plan in place to get the best level of play possible out of Nijman, and move forward from there.

Larissa from Minnetonka, MN

Last MVP to win the Super Bowl was Warner and I think the last COY to do it was Belichick in '03. Therefore, while it pains me to say it, I say embrace the jinx: Please shower Arians/Brady/Kingsbury/Murray/McVay and anyone else in the NFC with personal accolades so that we can achieve greater collective glory. I'm sure both ML and AR would agree.

Whatever works.

Eric from Green Bay, WI

People were asking what the benefit is of having the No. 1 seed. To me the benefit is in the divisional round opponent. If results hold, we will not have to play TB or Arizona/LA in the second round assuming they beat their first-round opponents. We'll get the NFC East winner assuming chalk wins. I think avoiding TB for as long as possible will maximize our chances of reaching the Super Bowl. First-round byes are nice but a better second-round matchup is the true value of the bye IMO.

To me, hands down, the benefit of the bye is only having to win two games to reach the Super Bowl while everyone else would have to win three. I know that didn't work out as planned last year, but I'd still take my chances anytime having to win one fewer game.

Don from Cedar Rapids, IA

Regarding playing Rodgers in remaining games: Even if the Packers can't get a first-round bye, wouldn't they want to get the highest possible seed in case higher-seeded teams lose during the playoffs? Home-field advantage could still come into play.

Sure, and even if higher-seeded teams don't lose and the seeds hold as expected, the No. 2 hosts the No. 3 in the divisional round. That's not nothing.

Bill from Bloomfield Hills, MI

Just worry about the next game I know, but why is it that of our remaining games, the Browns seem to be getting no mention. There really isn't much daylight between them and the Ravens, and both have risen to the occasion this year. It's like the Ravens are an away game playoff team, the Vikings beat us first game, the Lions have given us fits a few times … and then nothing. Before the Ravens game, do you see them that much tougher than the Browns?

To me it's as simple as this week being a road game. The Packers have lost nine regular-season games under LaFleur, and seven of those nine have been on the road.

Todd from Brighton, MI

Given the impact of COVID on other NFL teams, and the potential to negatively impact a crucial game, including playoffs, why aren't the Packers (and other teams) pivoting back to the measures put in place last year to limit the risk? This seems like it would be a competitive advantage to limit the risk of missing key players at key times. And, of course, essential reporters.

Protocol changes, with many of last year's stipulations but other changes regarding return-to-play rules, went into place yesterday.

Ryan from Somerset, WI

Soooo, I didn't see Alexander on the injury report? Is it safe to say we'll see him play on Sunday?!

Not necessarily. He hasn't yet been activated from IR to the 53, so he's not required to be on the injury report.

Eric from Washington, DC

It's safe to say we've seen contributions from the 2021 draft class, rounds 1-4, but can you give an overview of how our rounds 5-7 are doing?

T.J. Slaton has made the strongest impression so far, and he's coming along on the defensive line. Preston Smith pointed out his emergence after Sunday night's game, and he's almost certain to play a bigger role in Baltimore if Kenny Clark is out. Kylin Hill unfortunately sustained a season-ending knee injury, Cole Van Lanen is on the practice squad, and Isaiah McDuffie has gone back and forth between being active/inactive on game day.

Jeanne from Lake Tomahawk, WI

How do they get all the dirt and scuffs on the helmets clean every week? Do the players have more than one helmet?

The equipment staff employs a lot of tricks of the trade to buff the scuffs.

Steven from Silver Spring, MD

For each of the last two years we have faced off against a team who proved to have a defensive front seven we could not break through. This year we have faced off against and moved the ball effectively against each of the current contenders outside of DAL/TB yet we have done it with arguably the least visible OL groupings we have ever had. Is it just the quick releases and taking the underneath throws, or is there more to what we have changed this year?

It's the change-ups and adjustments, but it's also the evolution of an offense (and many of its key players) now in a third season. The more you work within a scheme, creating tweaks and variations based on past successes and failures, and tailor them to the strengths of the players, the more answers you find for new challenges.

Jeff from Lake Forest, CA

Hey Mike, I have a question about how the stats work for the punt return TD. Does the 97 yards go against the net, meaning, was that a negative yardage punt in terms of net yardage? Or does that only count from the line of scrimmage? How does that work?

Yes, it goes as a negative. The punt the Bears ran back all the way was from the 50-yard line (LOS), so it counts as a minus-50 net. From the last game, Corey Bojorquez was credited with an average net of 10 on his four punts (23, 45, 22, minus-50).

Rich from Grand Rapids, MI

It is not uncommon to see teams with a long list of injuries struggle on special teams – that can happen when you have to keep adding to the bottom of the roster. But this year's squad is a little puzzling since BG has done such a great job of building a deep roster of players who have stepped up in other phases of the game (O and D). Now we get Baltimore, which is traditionally has strong ST – it will be interesting to see how the players and coaches respond.

Indeed. The response is what matters now.

Paul from Ellensburg, WA

Hey fellas, aside from the injury risk isn't there potential for the veterans who are adding special-teams duties to be too worn out to be effective on defense and offense? Is it worth jeopardizing those phases to solve special teams?

That's the fine line the coaching staff will have to walk, and the timing of utilization is important. For example, it would be easier for Rasul Douglas to play jammer on the punt-return team than gunner on the punt team, because playing jammer would come at the end of a defensive series and then he's getting a breather, whereas at gunner, he'd be running 60 yards downfield right before having to play corner for a fresh set of downs.

Fredrick from Bluffton, SC

Instead of trying to catch the onside kick, could you knock it out of bounds? Do you know if that's against the rules?

To my knowledge, it is illegal to intentionally bat a loose ball. Donald from Fayetteville, NC, then reminded me it's only illegal to bat the ball toward your opponent's goal line or in either end zone, so if you bat it the right direction, you can get an onside kick out of bounds legally.

Jeffrey from Taylors, SC

It seems like voluntarily stepping out as a gunner is a no-no and touching the ball first after stepping out during a pass is also a no-no, why is stepping out of bounds and catching the ball on a kickoff a yes-yes?

Because the penalty is for a kickoff going out of bounds, and establishing yourself out of bounds first before touching the ball creates that penalty for the opponent. The others create penalties on yourselves.

Tina from Rotonda West, FL

What are the major differences between this team and last? Besides injuries!

I think Davante Adams said it best on Wednesday. The biggest differences are De'Vondre Campbell in the middle of the defense and valuable depth in the secondary, personified by Rasul Douglas and his impact.

Andrew from Simi Valley, CA

Has there ever been a pick-six in three consecutive games?

Not in this franchise's history. The only other player to do it in two straight is in Canton, Herb Adderley (1965). And only two others aside from him had three in a single season. One of those is in Canton, Charles Woodson ('09), and the other was on his way, Nick Collins ('08).

Paul from Lindenwold, NJ

For the longest time while watching the NBA I would always think, "No lead is safe, every team makes a run at some point in the game." Last week is continuing to prove that in today's NFL, the same may be true. Do you think that's more the result of late-game defensive mindsets, the offensively slanted rules of the game, or something else?

Productive offensive football is so predicated on rhythm, and with rhythm comes confidence, and once a team finds those, they're hard to disrupt. I think that's how teams both build big leads and rebound from big deficits. It's also why one key play on defense at the right time can play such a huge factor in a game.

Doug from Neenah, WI

Good morning, Mike. Wes encourages poetry in the Inbox but your viewpoint seems more like Axel Foley's opinion about bananas in the tailpipe. But because the Ravens are Sunday's opponent and with a tip of the cap to Edgar Allan Poe, shouldn't this week's poem begin, "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary"?

I don't know if it has to go that far, but if I don't see the word "nevermore" somewhere in there I'll be sorely disappointed.

Adam from Scroggins, TX

Hi Mike. I was just wondering if there is a little-known player, or shall I say a player not getting a ton of attention, on our roster who you think may be that "Playoff Hero" that teams seem to have every year. I'm hoping for a deep playoff run this year, and every player who steps up counts!

Ask me the week of Jan. 10. Just beat the Ravens.

Mike from Cascade, ID

Hi II, all I want for Christmas is for Rodgers to toss a TD pass to Marcedes Lewis. A pass short of the goal line and watch Big Dog pancake two or three DBs and spike the ball in the end zone. The reaction on the Packers' sideline would be something to behold! For me, it's that or a bag of coal.

I bet Lewis could spike that, too. Happy Friday.

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