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Inbox: That performance showed the goal is attainable

The value of a stout pass-protecting running back is unquantifiable

QB Jordan Love
QB Jordan Love

Brendan from Warren, MI

Football is a four-quarter game, and you have to play to the final whistle. Still, I can't recall watching the (seemingly) better team lose in back-to-back playoff games like I have the past two weekends at Levi Stadium.

I lifted Aaron Nagler's popular catchphrase and tweeted "Lotta ballgame left" after San Francisco scored on the first series of the second half. The 49ers are the final boss, and you have to play a near-flawless game to outlast them for 60 minutes. Given how deep it is in all three phases, San Francisco can claw itself back into almost any game. What surprised me wasn't that the 49ers came back…it's how fast they did. Mentally, that game was over heading into the fourth quarter.

Mark from Bettendorf, IA

Dan Campbell's decision to go for it with a 14-point lead was a "Tin Cup" moment. Is there typically a Romeo that can try to talk sense into a coach on every team in that situation?

Romeo, too, tried his best, but ultimately, it's up to the competitor. Maybe Campbell was staying true to his aggressive principles, but the danger of living by the sword is death by the same vehicle. Personally, I would've taken the points in both instances – the first to stop the bleeding and the second to tie the game.

Al from Green Bay, WI

In some recent Packers losses, Coach LaFleur often reflected that he regretted some of the decisions or play calls he made. Self-reflection. I wondered what Dan Campbell would say about his questionable "go for it" decisions from the championship game. Here is the quote I picked out: "I just felt really good about converting. It's easy – hindsight, I get it," Campbell said. "But I don't regret those decisions. I understand the scrutiny I'll get, but it just didn't work out." Thoughts?

It's what I'd expect any good leader to say. You can take issue with Campbell's decision, but we also must acknowledge these coaches are playing high-stakes poker in front of a worldwide audience. The outside public can question Campbell, but I think it's important he doesn't – not immediately anyway. Because if Campbell doesn't believe, how can he expect his team to follow?

Thomas from Cedar Rapids, IA

The NFC North is going to be a gauntlet next year. I believe there will be four playoff-caliber teams and would not be surprised to see three of them playing in Week 19. Yes, even the Bears may be playoff-caliber. They have a favorable schedule, a boatload of high picks and finished the 2023 season a hot team. Assuming Kirk Cousins returns, the Vikes will again have a high-octane offense. The Lions will be even more determined, and the Pack's arrow is pointing straight up. Fun stuff.

It's vintage black-and-blue division, baby. I prophesy no pushovers in the NFC North in 2024. Whether it's Justin Fields or Caleb Williams under center for Chicago, the Bears also will be no easy out with that defense.

James from (currently) Clearwater, FL

I, along with most other Packer fans, was distressed that our team couldn't close the door on the 49ers. I was hoping for a similar outcome as the game in San Francisco in (Jan.) '96 when we went out and took it to them before losing to Dallas the next week. But I am really looking forward to what they can accomplish next year, especially with five picks in the top 100! GPG!

I know it hurts. Since the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, this is the seventh time they've lost in the playoffs to the NFC's eventual representative in the Super Bowl (San Francisco three times; Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Seattle, and the New York Giants). Still, this loss to the 49ers felt different from all the others. Maybe that's me taking solace in how close the youngest team in football came to upending a 49ers team with Super Bowl expectations, but I see light on the horizon in Green Bay. Of course, one season doesn't predestine the next, but I think we can all agree the Packers have found their quarterback and already surrounded him with an array of young talent.

Doug from Neenah, WI

Good morning, Wes. Which team scored the most points against the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs so far this season?

That would be the Packers. Green Bay had more dominant victories this year, but that's still its game of the year in my book. Jordan Love outdueled Patrick Mahomes that evening, and the Packers took it to one of the best defenses in football for 60 minutes. That performance showed the goal is attainable.

Jason from Cary, IL

Does the loss to San Fran feel a little worse now after that Lions game? I was content all week but now suffer from the what ifs. Couple plays away from winning that game and think Packers would have made it to the Super Bowl and won it!

I don't play that game. If the Packers hold off the 49ers, they still needed to go back into Detroit and beat a game Lions team again. There is no transitive property in this sport. Just because A beat B and B beat C doesn't mean A beats C.

Daniel from Lakeland, FL

Wes, you commented to Craig from Brookfield, WI, about the difficulty of becoming an NFL tight end. What are the requirements of that position that make the transition from college to NFL particularly difficult?

The proliferation of spread offenses in college football and the lack of in-line tight ends. That sentence sounds like a Ph.D. dissertation.

Dennis from Parrish, FL

Was the fumble by Zay Flowers done by the football gods as punishment for taunting?

No, I think it was done by L'Jarius Sneed as a punishment for taunting.

Jason from Austin, TX

If anyone deserves credit for the Chiefs' win, it's their defense. The phrase defense wins championships rings true for both teams that won. As amazing as their offense is, the Chiefs didn't score a single point in the second half. The defense stepped up every time and held Baltimore to only seven points in the second half, which didn't occur until the very end of the game. If Baltimore ended up winning that game, the narrative would be on the offense failing to score. Instead, it's GOAT talk.

It is incredible what Mahomes did with that offense this year, but I agree with your assessment of Kansas City's defense. It's the best unit the Chiefs have had during the Mahomes era. In all seriousness, Sneed's forced fumble was a prime example of the way KC plays. Not only are the Chiefs talented but they're also heady. Teams can go far in this league with grit, discipline, and intelligence.

Wayne from Stevens Point, WI

How valuable is Aaron Jones to the Packers? I watched the Ravens lose. I watched their running backs misdiagnose the defensive rush. I watched their running backs fail to execute blocks. And I watched Lamar Jackson fail to have time to pass. Aaron Jones crushes blitzers. So, my question after this is: How valuable is Aaron Jones? And why? 50% rushing, 20% receiving, and 30% blocking? This is not math, this is arithmetic.

Most NFL scouts knew how talented Jones was coming out of UTEP, but the question was whether he was stout enough in pass pro to stay on the field. The answer was a resounding yes. Jones is an absolute pest and proves you don't need to be 6-foot-2, 240 pounds to hold up against a blitzing linebacker, either. He isn't going to pancake many linebackers but he more than holds up his end of the bargain. I don't know what the exact breakdown is on what you want in a running back, but the value of a stout pass-protecting running back is unquantifiable.

Paul from Ledgeview, WI

Wes thanks for the article on Kristian Welch. He was completely under my radar. That is a "Jeopardy!" question I would been unable to answer. He must have been special (no pun intended) to get signed to the 53 and stay there.

Welch is a good dude and I very much enjoyed reviewing the season with him. As interesting as Welch's Wisconsin roots are, his journey in 2023 fascinates me. I can't imagine the highs of having a child, the lows of being cut three months later, and then all of a sudden ending up with your childhood team.

Joe from Hampshire, IL

Wes, are the Packers allowed to interview current staff on the Niners and Chiefs during a certain window prior to Super Bowl? Tangentially with the success of Gute's personnel dept, who are some experienced Packer staff that may get inquiries from other teams who have hired new GMs this cycle?

I'm surprised we haven't heard more names of Packers personnel executives, especially after Green Bay's last two drafts. Jon-Eric Sullivan, John Wojciechowski, Milt Hendrickson, and Richmond Williams all deserve a look in my opinion. I believe you can interview assistant coaches on San Francisco's and Kansas City's respective staff this week. You just can't make an official hire until after the Super Bowl.

Josh from Seattle, WA

I remember my original salary cap 101 lessons coming from the Ask Vic days. What we have accomplished this last year with $62 million in dead money is incredible! The front office just performed one of the best transitions, from a window opening with a veteran QB to a new foundation of a house, I have ever seen. Can you remember any transitions that have similarities to what our front office did last year?

I can't think of an apples-to-apples comparison. The closest in recent memory would be Seattle trading Russell Wilson to Denver. Geno Smith wasn't necessarily viewed as the heir apparent like Jordan Love, but the trade worked out well for the Seahawks.

Mike from Eau Claire, WI

Not a question but just a statement. Although I have always bled green and gold, I would like to mention that the Lions have nothing to hang their head over. They had a great season and made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game. Turnovers are the death knell of any team that makes it that far.

Winning the turnover margin is always critical, but this postseason has shown just how important it truly is. According to my research, which could be wrong, playoff teams are undefeated when its quarterback doesn't turn over the football.

Rich from Grand Rapids, MI

When you get a chance, can you remind us of all the important league dates that are upcoming and what they mean, both generally and for the 2024 Packers specifically? Thanks for being a great resource and a fantastic read.

Both the Senior Bowl and Pro Bowl are this weekend. We'll have to see if any Packers alternates get the call to Orlando. Otherwise, the next events on our schedule are the NFL Scouting Combine at the end of February, the start of free agency in mid-March and the NFL Annual Meetings in Orlando at the end of March. The NFL keeps on moving on.

Eric from Oshkosh, WI

I would like to propose a rule change (or variation) to one of the most frustrating calls in football, roughing the QB. My proposal: Every time a defensive player gets a flag for roughing the QB, the referees have to include the violation. It's either a late hit, a low hit, a blow to the head, or a body-weight tackle. If the ref can't say what the player did wrong, then he can't throw the flag. Can you make this happen?

I think we've reached the point the NFL needs to rethink 15-yard penalties for player-safety fouls. Yes, I understand the need for a severe deterrent, but there also is a huge difference between a subjective penalty like roughing the quarterback and something that is flagrant and intentional. You can emphasize player safety and still use common sense.

Jack from Chicago, IL

Mike, I like your reverse-touchback solution, but I don't think it's quite harsh enough still. Today it's a turnover but in your scenario it's three shots to the end zone and at minimum a FG as the punishment. I think spotting the ball on the 20 is fair, but no reset of downs. If you fumble through the end zone on second-and-goal, it's third-and-goal from the 20.

I'd be down with that.

Eric from Oshkosh, WI

I like the fumble out of the end zone rule the way it is. Regardless, regarding the reverse touchback idea ("put the ball on the 20, offense keeps possession, first-and-goal from there") you may need to rethink that one, or at least some aspects of it. Imagine being down by four and on a fourth down the player being tackled short of the goal line just throws (fumbles) the ball out of the end zone. You'll get a fresh set of downs from the 20-yard line! Too gimmicky, and too many loopholes.

Ninety-five percent of rule changes aren't enacted because there is no better alternative, but Mike's idea isn't too farfetched. I agree, though, you may need it to be a loss of down for reasons outlined.

Scott from Sauk City, WI

Spoff, I am all-in on the reverse touchback rule. It's brilliant, really! Also, I think it makes for an excellent Outsider Inbox question this summer. What outside-the-box rule change should we convince Mark Murphy to submit to the competition committee? (Outside of laser goalposts, obviously.)

What you mean by obviously? Because it's so obvious the NFL should've already instituted them? Murphy no longer serves on the competition committee, but I'd be happy to jot your suggestion down as an OI question.

Dan from Minneapolis, MN

Which is preferable: Kansas City winning its fourth Super Bowl, tying Green Bay's record, and setting up a run for third straight NFL title run next year, or San Francisco winning its sixth Super Bowl and advancing their lead over Green Bay?

I'm pulling for Kelsey Tehan to win a Super Bowl ring. I couldn't care less about anything else. Have a great Tuesday.

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