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Inbox: That's a player trying to carve out his place in this league

There’s no reason to think they won’t do it

WR Dontayvion Wicks
WR Dontayvion Wicks

Chas from Modena, WI

What or who will be the biggest problem to defend against in Sunday's game against the Panthers?

Chuba Hubbard, Bryce Young's scrambling, and Adam Thielen on third downs are the first items that come to mind.

Al from Green Bay, WI

Three games to go, and hope is still alive. What we've learned 14 games in: 1) The Packers have their QB. That's huge. 2) Receiving corps (including TEs) are young, but dynamic. They will become a strength of this team. 3) The 2023 draft class has exceeded expectations. Many questions will linger into the offseason, but the future is bright. What else have we learned from your view?

The interior defensive line possesses a better long-term outlook than it's had in a while, and I think the Packers found two specialists in the kicking game that have a chance to be mainstays.

Kelly from Antigo, WI

Hi guys, I love how this young receiver room looks overall, but I really like Dontayvion Wicks. He just has the look. I think he truly has star potential. Great hands, great with the ball after the catch and looks to be a very solid route runner at a young age. Do you see the same?

As I said on "Unscripted," I love the way he bounced back from two rough plays vs. the Vikings and Rams and is now out there fighting for every catch and every last yard. He can play for my team any day. That's a player trying to carve out his place in this league. Along with his other young teammates in similar roles, based on the noted progress there's no reason to think they won't do it.

Mutt from Blaine, MN

Good Morning II. ML talked a lot about communication issues on defense. Curious if you are able to expand on where those issues occurred? Was it getting the call in to the green dot, from the green dot to the rest of the team, pre-snap adjustment miscommunication, during the play issue, or all the above?

It sure sounded like all of the above to me.

Rich from De Pere, WI

There were multiple plays where the safeties were 35 yards from the line of scrimmage and 15 yards behind the inside linebackers, creating a huge open gap. Pretty sure we have the technology on the bench for coaches to call players together and show them that and fix it immediately. Is that not true, and why do you think we did not make that adjustment?

I have no idea, but you bring up the reason I find it difficult to know who's actually responsible for breakdowns, and why I don't spend time in this column or elsewhere – despite the pleadings of frustrated detractors – pointing fingers and calling out individuals except for the failures I can see with my own eyes. Take the opening third down of the game – third-and-4 from the Green Bay 31, 12-yard completion to Godwin. The Bucs have three pass catchers to that side, and all of Green Bay's defenders over there drop back 4-5 yards (or more) beyond the first-down marker at the snap, allowing the easy first down plus some yards after catch. If the players are playing that coverage call exactly as it's taught, then it's obviously the wrong call for the situation. Fault determined. If they aren't playing it properly, then the question becomes whether they're practicing it that way and not being corrected, which falls on the coaches, or whether it's executed correctly in practice but not in the game, which falls on the players. Or if they have the latitude to adjust how they play a coverage based on field position and yards to go, but don't do so, why not? Are they supposed to be reminded of the built-in checks when the call comes in, or is someone on the field charged with relaying such adjustments in real time? Which is it? What's the crux of the breakdown? I sure as (heck) don't know, nobody is going to tell us, and I'm not going to guess just so I can maybe sound smart and pacify those who want a definitive culprit. I realize, yes, ultimately it's on the coaches to produce results, which means making the right calls, teaching them properly, and getting the execution they demand. I'm not denying that's where the buck stops, as it rightly should, and those decisions will come in due time. But I just wanted to attempt to explain the complexity of it all, which is why the default answer from the principals involved is usually "communication" and I most often say "there's plenty of blame to go around." Not satisfying, I know, but complexity rarely is. Apologies for the soliloquy.

Jonathan from Nashville, TN

Baker Mayfield was the first visiting player to have a perfect passer rating. There had to have been others who have been close. I know it's a challenging thing to achieve, but it's far from unheard of (maybe we just got used to seeing that special number with Aaron). Do you know who else might have come close?

I couldn't find any official list specifically related to the passer rating stat at Lambeau. As far as maximum ratings go, Aaron Rodgers is the only other player to reach it at Lambeau, vs. the Raiders in 2019 (he had two other home games at 150-plus – Carolina in '14, Seattle in '16). The Packers also allowed only one other in their history, to Chicago's Vince Evans in 1980 at Soldier Field. Just for fun I went back through my 18 seasons of records since I've been here, and these were the top five from opposing QBs at Lambeau I'd previously witnessed: Nick Foles 149.3 (Philly, '13), Tony Romo 143.6 (Dallas, '14 playoffs), Kirk Cousins 138.1 (Minnesota, '20), Matthew Stafford 132.4 (Detroit, '17), and Brett Favre 128.6 (Minnesota, '09). For the record, if Dez Bryant had caught it, and that's Romo's last pass of the game, his rating would've been 155.2.

Dustin from Kansas City, MO

If I had a nickel for every time Matt LaFleur has lamented giving up on the running game after a loss … well, I'd have a couple more dollars than I do now. Regardless though, why does that seem to be such a recurring theme with him in his tenure here? Maybe he needs to put a sticky note in his pocket before each game that says, "Keep running the ball. No matter what."

If I had a nickel for every Inbox submission that mentioned this recurring theme … look, I can appreciate the fan frustration bordering on exasperation with this. I don't have an answer for you. I don't know what there is to say when the head coach continues to call himself out on something. But I posted this just to make everyone aware I've seen it.

Dave from Waterford, OH

The Packers don't have, and haven't had for a while, a defensive identity. That, to me, is the main problem with our defense. Our defense has been consistent; consistently inconsistent. Why? Because, they don't have anything to hang their hat(s) on when things aren't going well. They're really not physical, they don't have an aggressive attacking style, they don't concentrate on stopping the run, and they don't have a physical safety (enforcer). So, you don't know what you're gettin' week to week.

Your concluding comment is the most maddening aspect, no doubt. It's why when the 2021 season ended with the Packers a solid ninth in yards allowed, tied for 13th in points allowed, plus a dynamite defensive effort in the playoffs to finish Barry's first season, I struggled with a rough stretch late in the year in which the opponents scored 34, 28, 30 and 30 points over four straight games. It felt like it took too long to pull out of that, and I was hoping to see things smooth out somewhat in '22. They didn't, and still haven't. The wild swings in the level of play have only continued. As for your other thoughts, I'm not going to question the physicality of NFL players, but I do think a unit's style in this case is a fair critique.

JD from Madison, WI

Expectations and perspective. Prior to Thanksgiving, the Pack sat at 4-6 and I thought if we can win two of the next four that would be good. The order of those wins and losses definitely played havoc on my expectations. It's nearing the end of the season, we have shot at meaningful football in December. I'm good with that perspective. What say you?

Expectations naturally shifted. No denying that, and nothing wrong with it. Mine did, too. But for me, the reason the latest games were so disheartening is whether via walk-off field goal or two-touchdown defeat, the Packers realistically didn't give themselves a chance to win either one. The Giants game was a total team letdown. Major miscues in all three phases, and the only chance to win was handed to them via a piece of good fortune akin to winning the lottery. The Bucs game went so wrong in one phase it practically forced the other two to play flawlessly, which isn't really much of a chance either. Any kind of backsliding this time of year with opportunity abundant is always harder to stomach.

Paul from Northglenn, CO

I know it's difficult to allow complete revelations of personal feelings relative to who butters the bread in the Spofford household. You're an astute guy, what is your read on how the players and locker room are holding up to the adversity of the last couple weeks when they were on the verge of turning the corner for good and are now on the precipice of continuing regression? Seems to me players want to put a positive stamp to the unwritten end of the season?

I think they absolutely do. These guys all got where they are by blocking out any big-picture distractions and attacking what's right in front of them. That's what I believe this team will do. Continuing regression? Trust me, that's not even a thought. After some uplifting wins, they lost a couple of games. Aren't their first defeats, won't be their last. Athletes at this level don't like losing to anybody or anything, least of all adversity.

Josh from Newhall, CA

I can understand looking forward to draft positioning in the midst of a disappointing season with an established team, but this year is different. I think a strong finish for such a young team, will potentially have a much bigger impact on next season's outlook than picking five spots earlier in the draft. I think back to how the finish to '06 boosted the team to a great '07. Still plenty of reason to get excited for these last three games, even if that doesn't include playoff berth.

Couldn't agree more.

Jeff from Redondo Beach, CA

Mike, what are your thoughts on the rotating captains each week? I think the continuity of consistent captains voted on by the players is better served for the team as a whole. Then maybe adding an extra one or two players per game that ML deems worthy based on their previous game's performance? Your thoughts please, thank you. GPG!

Rotating captains worked just fine for years under McCarthy, who then had the team select playoff captains when the time came. So I don't see why that would matter a whole lot. The players on this team know who the leaders are, whether officially designated or not.

Matt from Green Bay, WI

What's your take on the supposed frustration from some defensive players? It's the first time in a long time there's been grumbling leaking out of the locker room.

I'm only aware of grumbling from one player, and I'm not going to comment on it when it's not at all clear to whom specifically it's directed.

Jim from Midlothian, VA

If the last three games are important for player/talent evaluation, how do the coaches balance complementary team play vs. players' strong motivations to prove they are keepers? Players' motivations would rightfully seem to put individual players before the team.

That's an age-old issue at the pro level, and where a team's culture matters most. The coaches' role is really about fostering the culture, and after that it's up to the players. In my experience, the right players know how to find the right balance.

Scott from Iron Mountain, MI

I just have a comment. I am actually enjoying this season. Maybe it is because I went into it with no grand ideas. It is enjoyable to watch the young players develop and show real promise. I have watched plenty of teams over the years build a competitive team (example, Detroit Lions). I strongly believe the Packers are doing things the right way and we will enjoy the benefits in the future. Let's finish strong and enjoy the process. Merry Christmas to you and your families.

Happy Wednesday.

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