Inbox: Stars must play like stars

That’s how you win

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WR Davante Adams & QB Aaron Rodgers

Sue from Three Lakes, WI

I'm so nervous! This week is crawling along.

We're almost there now.

Noble from Washburn, WI

Do I have any reason not to expect these Packers to come out firing on all cylinders? Do I have any reason to expect that they would be anything but composed and laser focused? Something's in the air, and I feel like we might see one of the most complete games we've seen all season followed by two more.

Works for me.

Abel from Hermosillo, Mexico

Other than the obvious (Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams) which Packer do you think is playing his best football of his career?

That's a long list, but if we qualify this by focusing on veterans who have been in the league at least five years, it's still pretty long, and a big reason the Packers are where they are. I'd say Rasul Douglas, Patrick, De'Vondre Campbell, Dean Lowry, Billy Turner (before he got hurt) and maybe even Preston Smith have all had their best seasons to date.

Michael from Chamberlain, SD

How is AR's toe?

He has practiced on consecutive days each of the last two weeks, so I think the answer is: healed.

Jeff from Vandenberg SFB, CA

I, too, was nervous about the 49ers coming here but then I realized the final four teams in the NFC playoffs are the last three NFC champions and the two-time runner-up. Nobody should feel too great about their matchup this week. Bring on the Niners!

These four teams have now combined for 14 postseason wins since 2018, and in '18 the Rams were the only one of the four in the mix. That makes you really think about something like the Bengals' 31-year drought.

Andy from Wisconsin Rapids, WI

Hi Mike, with all of our big names finally getting back on the field, which cliche is correct: The best players play? Nothing can replace live reps? Players not plays? Depends on the situation? Or is it just a good problem to have?

All of the above.

George from North Mankato, MN

Would you rather have the ball with two minutes to play trailing by four or have the defense on the field with two minutes to go protecting a four-point lead? Ball is at the 20 and teams each have two timeouts in this scenario.

What's the actual score? If it's 20-16, I'll take my chances with the defense. If it's 34-30, give me the offense.

Randy from Raymond, IA

A lot has been discussed about the importance of trying to limit Deebo Samuel and rightly so, he is definitely a major threat. But let's not forget about trying to stop arguably the best TE in football, George Kittle. How do you contain both?

That's the million-dollar, pick-your-poison question, right? You can't take them both away on every play, so it comes down to tackling. Samuel and Kittle are going to make their plays, but defenders have to limit the size of those plays by making tackles.

Thomas from Evansville, IN

Who are you keeping your eye on to step up against the 49ers? I'm eyeing AJ Dillon on offense and Rasul Douglas on D.

Robert from Verona, WI

While I enjoy reading questions/answers speculating about which players could be the difference-maker in the game this weekend, I really just enjoy waiting for the "beautiful mystery" to reveal itself. It could be that Davante Adams once again proves he is the best wide receiver in the game, Dean Lowry plays the best game of his career, or Ty Summers comes up with a game-changing play on special teams. No matter who it is, I'll get equal enjoyment from their success as long as it leads to a win!

As much as we talk about players emerging or stepping up, we can't forget that stars must perform like stars to win these games. Come late Saturday night, we still have to be talking about players like Rodgers and Adams being among the best on the field for the Packers to advance.

Mike from Baraboo, WI

Do you think Rasul Douglas will put the Packers fans in a frenzy with a playoff pick-six?

With the season he's had, I wouldn't put anything past that dude.

Mike from New York, NY

Congrats to Davante for receiving the Tom Mulhern Stand-Up Guy Award. I imagine Tom would have been proud of the guy Davante is. Tom was the father of my close friend. He was a really great guy and was a real family man. A generally great example of a man to emulate. It warms my heart that the sportswriter community honors Tom every year. Did either of you guys know him?

I did. Very early in my newspaper career Tom was at the Appleton Post-Crescent and we would cross paths at big high school games and in the press box at Lambeau. I always enjoyed chatting with him about the latest goings on with our jobs/beats. As a sports reporter, he was the most "normal guy" you'd ever meet, and I mean that in the most complimentary and respectful way possible. This industry can get crazy, and Tom was a great guy just doing what he loved, professionally and passionately. If there's a type of role model in this business that should never go out of style, it was Tom. As Wes said, all the credit goes to Jason for keeping him a part of our little sports media world here every year.

Eric from Stramproy, Netherlands

Good morning II. Do you prefer a Saturday night game to a Sunday night game? I'm fine with it. Burning the midnight oil in the middle of the weekend is quite a nice change of rhythm and still lotta Sunday left.

I can't speak to the circadian rhythms overseas, but I'm hoping things play out the same way as last year – write about a win Saturday night, watch at home Sunday to find out the next opponent, update our site the moment we know, and then turn my attention to the "postgame" Inbox column for Monday.

Stephen from Chicago, IL

Someone showed Butler's numbers next to John Lynch and Butler clearly had the better career (more INTs, sacks, fumble recoveries and 2x the first-team All-Pro nods) in 33 fewer games. Butler seems like he should be a lock by comparison, but do you think he suffers from HOF voters' Packers fatigue where they view Butler as "only" a top 30 player in Packers history, while someone like Lynch is a top five player in Bucs history?

Perhaps. Those contexts can enter the equation and it's not necessarily wrong. But it was 43 fewer games, for the record, and all that aside I've decided to look at it this way – if Lynch is a Hall of Famer, then Butler is, too. Him getting in last year only helps Butler's case.

Jacob from Superior, WI

What's the key to stopping the 49ers' run game this Saturday?

Gap discipline and tackling. Fill the gaps you're supposed to, trust your teammates to fill theirs, and then if you have to make the tackle, don't miss it.

Robert from Escanaba, MI

I've enjoyed your discussions on the pros and cons of analytics in football. It occurs to me that most of the statistics underlying current analytic analysis are probably based on football played before analytics dominated. It seems reasonable to assume that as more data is added from the modern analytic games, the failures of analytics will get incorporated. For example, perhaps less emphasis on extreme go-for-it-on-fourth-down decisions.

I'm not holding my breath.

John from West Salem, WI

Mike, Wes touched on it on "Unscripted," but I was wondering how you see the Rams-Bucs matchup? I think the Rams D matches up pretty well with the Bucs O but how does the Rams O match up with that Bucs D?

Akers' return changes LA's run game. He's a faster back with fresh legs, and that could make a difference against Tampa Bay. But the Rams' pass protection struggled against the 49ers two weeks ago and if that unit has another rough day, it'll make things really tough on Stafford.

Eddie from Onalaska, WI

I want to give a disgruntled "Thanks a lot" to Josh from Adams, WI, for raising the bar in the "Make Mike Spofford Laugh!" contest. Now, everyone else has to work much harder just to get a mere tee-hee or hee-haw from the Man. *SIGH*

Commendable effort.

Adam from Great Meadows, NJ

Somebody asked about a magic number of points for Green Bay to score in order to win. Here's some interesting tidbits. In Aaron Rodgers' playoff career, he has never failed to score 20-plus points. Therefore, Rodgers is a perfect 6-0 when the D allows less than 20. Rodgers is 10-1 when the D allows 25 or less. He's 10-3 when the D allows 28 or less. However, he's 1-6 when the defense allows 30-plus. The only win was 2016 in DAL. Keep SF under 28 points and there's a really, really good chance GB wins.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, seeing the Packers put up 37 points against the Vikings on an 11-degree night told me this offense is ready to play in the postseason at home.

Brandon from Pleasant Prairie, WI

If you're ML, since last week, have you come up with some new plays that aren't on tape? Or, is it too late and you're just focused on perfecting the stuff you have ahead of Saturday and not trying to reinvent the wheel?

You're always trying to take the concepts that have made your players successful and add tweaks or variations the defense may not see coming. You're not adding new sections to the playbook, or even new pages, but the margins on some pages start to get a little crowded with notes, if that makes sense.

Jake from New Orleans, LA

What do you perceive as our biggest weakness heading into the game Saturday?

I think it's the Packers' inconsistency on defense. This defense was playing as well as anybody's in the league starting in October and going through mid-November. Since then, the performance level has gone up and down, which every team deals with in an offense-oriented league. I don't think the Packers' defense needs to dominate for Green Bay to make a run, but the unit needs to level out closer to its highs than its lows starting Saturday.

Ben from Chicago, IL

I've never quite understood teams scripting the first set of offensive plays. Does that just help players know what to expect? Is there any flexibility for down-and-distance? If it is so successful, why not script more plays – the first 25 plays vs. just the first 12 or so?

The "opening script" is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the game. It's not literally a script of plays that's called from top to bottom. It's the initial thought (or thoughts) in various situations. So it might include a handful of snaps of normal down-and-distance, the first couple of third-down calls, a couple in the red zone, one for short-yardage and/or goal-line, maybe one for when behind the chains after lost yardage. Then other calls available later (play-actions, misdirections, checks at the line) are built off of those calls made early in the game in each of those spots. The "scripted" plays are the ones you're almost certain to call when that situation arises. The rest of the game, the play-caller is reacting to flow, feel, and information gleaned from the scripted calls.

Jessi from Sterling, KS

Could Aaron have done a better video of "The Journey"? Not possible in my book. It actually gave me butterflies and I keep rewatching it. It's a good thing they know how to manage the pressure better than the fans! Do you think watching what happened to Arizona makes the remaining teams slow down and realize how much more important it is to handle the pressure and play every down like it's the last?

It's all about finding that balance, right? Every play, every series is important, but losing your head like Kyler Murray did in the end zone and throwing an underhanded pick-six is not the right mental frame of mind for any game, let alone a playoff game. Postseason experience matters, and this Packers team has plenty of it.

Eric from Mequon, WI

KC, BUF, TN, CIN on one side. GB, TB, SF, LA on the other. Each game is a matchup between the best the NFL has to offer. Favorites don't matter because there are no posers in this bunch. Each one could win it all against even some of the best in NFL history. This year's Elite Eight are NO JOKE! If you can't get jacked up for this year's playoffs, you don't love football.

I'm expecting a much better weekend of football than the last one.

Chris from Toronto, Canada

Why all this emotional hijinx re: playoff opponents? The Packers are now healthier than at any time over the past year. Stars are returning in droves. The bench is strong, deep and now experienced. Both defense and offense are in good form and we have home-field advantage. GB is the team to beat! All that's left to do is play. Play well as a team, and win the one-on-ones. Go Pack Go!

Ah yes, the one-on-ones. They're everywhere: in the trenches, along the boundary, in the open field. Make the block, get off the block. Break the tackle, make the tackle. If you don't like the word "fundamentals," then call them the foundations of the game. That's how you win.

Gordon from Newport Beach, CA

Is it time for the Packers to "do what they do" well?

Indubitably.

Matt from Chicago, IL

Playoff game. Healthy team. At home. In frigid weather. No excuses.

Happy Friday.

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