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Inbox: That's fundamental football

The NFC East is going to be fascinating down the stretch

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LB Quay Walker

Andrew from Burke, VA

There was some news that got lost in the holiday shuffle last week. What are your thoughts on the Friday night football game happening next year the day after Thanksgiving? Will this become an interesting tradition, or another ratings struggle against college football?

You'll have to remind me of the last time the NFL had a ratings struggle against college football. I might've been a teenager?

George from Edinburg, VA

Mike, thanks for the outstanding WYMM on Nixon's returns. You made me study the plays so much more thoroughly, and several other blocks popped up. I got a laugh in the last clip when Dallin Leavitt kept running backwards looking for someone to block and, perhaps, redirected Nixon.

I always chuckle when watching big plays on offense or special teams where a blocker actually can't find anyone to block. It looks so funny on film.

Arlen from Nelson, WI

It would be nice if Aaron Rodgers weren't propped up like a target for the Bears to finish the maiming...wouldn't it?

There's a convergence or serendipity to the NFL that I'm going to write about in my Saturday "One Last Look" as it applies to this game. One week after the Packers gave up 363 rushing yards, including 157 to a QB, they have to face the league's No. 1 rushing offense and top rushing QB. One year after Rodgers declared he "owns" the Soldier Field fans and their franchise, he's returning to that scene at far less than full strength health-wise. That's this league. You can't make it up.

Doug from Lafayette, OH

Good morning, Insiders. Was there a specific moment when you realized this was going to be a different season for the Packers, or was it something more gradual?

There wasn't a moment that smacked me in the face or anything, but when the Packers lost both the Washington and Detroit games in the fashion they did, I resigned myself to the fact the uphill climb would be steeper than one typically created by an average season's bumps in the road.

Mike from Madison, WI

Mike, was Sammy Watkins signed to a one-year prove-it deal, or was it for two years? I was intrigued to see how well he was going to fit in. It appears as though this was a wasted signing. I would have thought a seasoned veteran would have been able to contribute more. Any reason why he hasn't? Has the coverage been that tight? I can't believe the passing offense is so very sophisticated, he has not been able to pick it up.

Dick from Sarasota, FL, had a similar inquiry. Watkins was signed to a one-year deal for not much above vet minimum pay and it hasn't worked out the way anyone hoped. He was not on the injury report last week, saw just four snaps in Philly, and his playing time may vanish now if Doubs is back. Injuries and mental mistakes/miscommunications are the bulk of the why, as far as I know. Cap-strapped, it was worth the attempt to boost a position of need by bringing in a motivated veteran at a bargain price, but it hasn't panned out. So it goes.

Mike from Niles, IL

Might you and some fans be making a bit too much over that late first half TO and missed tackle on third-and-14? Sure, the pass was a backbreaker, but they were definitely going to pass to the end zone, be it fourth-and-1, or fourth-and-6.

Wait, what? First, there's no guarantee they're going for it on fourth-and-6 and risking giving the Packers the ball near midfield with time left in the half. Second, they ran Hurts on fourth-and-1 to pick up the first down and the TD pass came three snaps later, with less than 20 seconds on the clock. The series of events made the missed tackle and timeout usage obvious factors. I would argue that sequence combined with the Packers going three-and-out coming out of halftime lost the game.

The Green Bay Packers held practice at Clarke Hinkle Field on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.

Julian from Gastonia, NC

Just speculation on my part and Insiders would certainly have a better feel. The Packers' defense is widely considered to be underachieving this year. Part of this issue could be that they aren't playing with confidence because they are not buying into the game plans and schemes. Now whether defensive players have legitimate concerns or not is certainly beyond my understanding. However, intuitive thinking would suggest that if this is the case, defensive play will not likely improve.

Several times I've used the word "disconnect" in describing the mystery that is this defense. You (and others) have posited this particular theory behind the disconnect, which may be true or false, or somewhere in between. Other theories may also apply to one extent or another. What I do believe is if this had a simple explanation, it would've been addressed by now, and the NFL's fast-paced, game-to-game rat race doesn't lend itself to quick fixes for complex problems.

Randy from Clarksville, TN

Hey guys. The Packers' defense has been taken advantage of many times this year because the DBs are playing too far off the receivers at the snap. Could you help me understand why adjustments have not been made in game to correct this situation. Sure has cost us a lot on third down this year.

Another common question being asked, and for good reason. I wish I had an answer for you. I truly do.

Roger from McGrath, AK

Mike points to poor angles leading to poor tackling on defense. We've also seen De'Vondre Campbell excel during games when the entire defense seems to be tackling better. It's accepted that one player can lift the play of others. Could it be that Campbell's absence changes other players' play, at least partly, by changing the angles taken by other tacklers? Hopefully, when he comes back we'll see the whole defense improve.

There may be some truth to that, but asking one guy to shore it all up isn't realistic. One point about defense/tackling I neglected to mention Wednesday was a key element LaFleur emphasized regarding leverage and knowing where the help is. When defenders in space leverage to the help, a missed tackle doesn't necessarily rupture into a big gain. Leveraging the wrong way allows a ball carrier to make one man miss and find open field. That's fundamental football and when you lose track of that, you get gashed.

Erix from Erie, PA

Mike, you answered a question about coach Barry saying you like to keep it about the players. I have been asking for weeks about Rodgers' play and haven't been answered. His performance this season has been up and down because he cannot stay on the practice field to prepare everyone properly. Now he wants to play on Sunday even though he is hurt and has been hurt. Jordan Love came in and played well because he practices with the team when Aaron can't. At 4-8 why not go with the guy who practices?

You're exaggerating the amount of practice time Rodgers has missed. He's sat out mostly just Wednesdays, which are jog-through-speed reps in a short workout to introduce the game plan. He has practiced almost every Thursday (the longest practice; only one in pads) and Friday, which are both full-speed, so on balance he's getting more first-team reps than Love most weeks I believe. That said, honestly, I think we all missed the key decision point on the thumb injury because it wasn't revealed publicly to be broken until five weeks hence. Fractures require eight weeks to heal. Pretty standard medical practice. After London, I believe the call was to either sit two months or play through it. Not much in between. I think Rodgers' comment before the Jets game it would improve week to week was wishful thinking that belied the nature of fractures, however small, because I had a minor one in my leg I played through in my sophomore college baseball season, and it basically never felt better until I hit the eight-week mark. Just 278 yards and 10 points against the Jets in the first thumb game perhaps created another decision point, I don't know. I admire Rodgers for gutting it out and putting it on the line for his teammates, and I won't knock him for that. With the obvious benefit of hindsight, these decisions are never simple or easy for the organization, and there's no way to know if anything might've turned out differently. They, and we, have to live with their choice, and either way, I don't think quarterback play is the primary reason for 4-8.

Mark from Amarillo, TX

Out of curiosity, I looked at the Vikings' and Packers' win-loss record in one-possession games over the last two seasons. Vikings were 6-8 in one-score games last year and 8-0 this season. Packers were 6-3 last year, and so far 3-3 this year. I think it proves that a single clutch play, or failure to make said play in crunch time, determines the outcome of many games and thus the success or failure each season. Do you think the coaching/coordinator changes made the difference?

In Minnesota's case, I think the regime change injected a whole new level of energy into the franchise, and energy can breed confidence at crunch time once the worm turns. The Vikings play confidently with the game on the line. That's been the story of their season. The Packers had plenty of that kind of confidence in winning 13 games, many of them close, each of the last three seasons. One big difference this year is the Packers are often rallying from behind late just to make it a one-score game. That's not going to breed the same type of confidence as always being able to answer your opponent and play from ahead on occasion.

Marty from New Orleans, LA

Mike said "...we'll find out in the offseason where leadership feels most of the blame and accountability should lie." Bigger picture look: What if the blame lies with leadership?

If you're suggesting a GM-head coach combo that won 41 games including playoffs over three years and twice came within one win of the Super Bowl should be up for do-or-die evaluation after one rough season, … I can't help you.

Aaron from Phoenix, AZ

About teams below .500 making the playoffs, the NFL system provides more excitement and chaos in a one-and-done format. Rewarding division winners over non-division winners with a better record is consistent with the beauty of that chaos and hence the drama that ensues. In my opinion, simply ranking teams in each conference by record to determine playoff participants and seedings would render the playoffs (outside the awesome one-and-done system) closer to MLB or the NBA, boring.

With the current scheduling formula, every team plays 14 of its 17 games against the same opponents its division rivals will, so you have to award a division winner a playoff spot. You just have to. To do otherwise would create the possibility the scheduling formula could be responsible for ousting an entire division from the postseason. That would be ludicrous.

Steve from Alexandria, VA

While we're on the subject of Hurts and Fields, what does your gut tell you about the career longevity about QBs like them, Josh Allen and others who rely heavily (though certainly not exclusively) on their legs to make things happen? I'm trying to think of QBs who made it 15 years or so – Tarkenton and Staubach were scramblers more than runners; Steve Young comes to mind ...

There's inherent risk with no formula to calculate exactly how risky it is. Steve Young started 143 regular-season games. RGIII started 101 fewer.

Tom from Douglassville, PA

Since it's not going to be Aaron, who do you think takes the league MVP this year?

I'd project Tua, Mahomes and Hurts as the three leading candidates right now, but everybody has 5-6 games left. That's a lotta football.

Brock from West Lafayette, IN

Good morning! I was looking at each team's remaining games and saw several teams who have yet to play each other in their own division, with some of them playing each other twice in a three-week span. Besides the NFC North, which division's remaining games are you most excited to watch? For me, it would be the NFC East. I think that Eagles-Cowboys matchup on Christmas Eve could be a fun, and important, game. And two Giants-Commanders games could have huge playoff implications.

The NFC East is going to be fascinating down the stretch. Commanders at Giants, Eagles at Giants, Giants at Commanders, Eagles at Cowboys, Giants at Eagles, and Cowboys at Commanders all have yet to be played in the division. Outside the division, games that remain include Eagles-Titans, Giants-Vikings, Commanders-49ers and Cowboys-Titans. Mercy.

Robert from Chandler, AZ

The Packers' final five games feature our three divisional foes, plus a surprisingly dynamic Dolphins team and a frustrated Rams team. What can we hope to see out of the green-and-gold that would bode well for 2023?

The offense and defense playing well, at the same time, for more than just a quarter or so, and young players smoothing out the ups and downs in their game. A level of consistent, reliable play is the mark of longtime pros who can stick in this league.

Scott from Issaquah, WA

I do stats for a living, and the Packers' problem isn't math, it's losing. According to FiveThirtyEight's NFL model, if the Packers win out, they have a 45% chance of making the playoffs. Not great news, but it's not like they're only mathematically alive in some unrealistic way. If they can start winning, they can almost certainly go into Week 18 with playoff hopes. Any normal fan would recognize winning out is impossible, but this fan was at the Dallas playoff game after "run the table."

"The Packers' problem isn't math, it's losing." That may be my favorite Inbox line of the entire season. I'm gonna hang onto that one for a while if you don't mind.

Jon from Soldiers Grove, WI

Is there ever a "duh" in indubitably?

Only if you say it r-e-a-l-l-y slowly. Happy Friday.

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