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Inbox: The big-picture implications are obvious

This is just one of those years

Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford

John from Jupiter, FL

Morning Mike. Missed the blog for the first time as I was driving back north for the holidays. Sounds like it was a little salty. Numbers holding or still climbing?

Ha, salty is a good word, one of Larry's classics. I quickly grew tired of folks perseverating (to steal a new fave of Wes's) on the officials, and some took objection to what was not meant as a personal attack. I think we did set a new record, though. I want to say the live number was pushing 4-5K as that game stayed tight down the stretch. I was blown away.

Jack from Indianapolis, IN

I think the Pack's best bet is to use short rhythm throws and a healthy dose of Quadzilla against a formidable Rams defense. What have teams done well this year to slow down Stafford and Co. on offense?

The Rams were absolutely rolling on offense until losing those two games before their bye, in which they scored a total of only 26 points. This is just an extrapolation from the numbers, but it seems what the Titans and 49ers did well was pressure Stafford while giving Cupp the short stuff, but tackling him right away and keeping him out of the end zone. Stafford has been sacked just 14 times all year, but seven came in those last two games. Four of his eight INTs, too. Cupp had 22 catches for 217 yards in the two losses, but no TDs, and the 9.9 average per reception pales in comparison to his full-season number of 13.4.

Jerry from Luck, WI

This week is why the Packers drafted AJ Dillon. Can the human "battering ram" become the Ram batterer? Also, I am unashamedly praying for snow on Sunday.

That would be fun. This will be a huge test for Dillon and the ground game. The Rams rank fifth in the league defensively in yards per carry (just 4.0). The Packers have to produce with the run, and stick with it, to keep that formidable pass rush honest.

Miranda from Rochester, NY

Good morning. Just curious, worst-case scenario, how well do you think Big Dog would hold up as an actual O-lineman? It would almost certainly never happen, but would he hold his own blocking for 60 plays?

I wouldn't put it past him to get the Packers through in a real pinch, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Mark from Westminster, CO

Mike, we've made noises when the bye week was too early, now it's very late this year and the noises still exist. At this point in the season, do you think the players will be looking toward to this much-needed break in a manner that it will dull the focus on just trying to beat the Rams?

I asked LaFleur a version of this question Monday and he indicated because it's the Rams coming in – another top team in the NFC – the big-picture implications are obvious and the players won't have a problem summoning the energy and focus required.

Matt from Green Bay, WI

Sorry to harp on the referees but there is one issue that keeps coming up that is more serious. If the hit by Kingsley Keke on Cousins was helmet-to-helmet and was flagged, why wasn't the hit over the middle on Davante Adams flagged? This is not a rule-breaking issue where things even out, it is a safety issue. Much bigger.

Absolutely. Which is why my face continues to turn bluer over the fact that the league won't make the safety rules reviewable. Did you see the helmet hits that went unflagged in the Sunday night game between the Steelers and Chargers? It was ridiculous. There will be no level of consistency with those calls, none, until they shift the safety rules to the purview of replay.

Jake from Decatur, GA

Regarding officiating, our legal system uses the "common law" for a reason. The NFL can "emphasize" and make minute changes to the rulebook all it wants, but courts figured out a long time ago (like, literally a thousand years) that vague "emphases" and minute changes make things more difficult, not less. If the NFL actually wants to get this stuff right, the solution is staring them in the face: a common-law rulebook. The question for me is, does the NFL actually want to get this stuff right?

I think that's a valid question. Joe from Hardwood, MI, chimed in to point out that controversy sells, and he's right. Vic said years ago the rulebook was already getting too complicated, and the reason I've harped on turning all the safety rules over to replay for years is that would allow the officials to focus on the "common" rules of the game, to borrow your thought. The less they have to focus on, the more they should be able to get right, and replay can handle the more complicated stuff. That's where I'd start anyway.

Brian from Twain Harte, CA

I am wondering that if Mason Crosby makes the easier 32-yard FG but misses the harder 54-yard FG, would we still be having a conversation about his mojo?

Yes, because while a 54-yarder is by no means a gimme, it was indoors.

Aaron from Rhinelander, WI

With so much focus on defense, I wanted to bring up something with offense and slow starts. I saw a stat that the Packers have scored zero in the first quarter in seven of 11 games. They have also ended the first quarter in a deficit to the opposite team in seven of 11 games. It seems rhythm is rarely there at the beginning. Do you think this has been a reflection of the difficulty of cycling through so many starters? Maybe kicking woes? Can only win so many if you're constantly fighting from behind.

The regular lineup shuffling certainly doesn't help in that regard. I think the larger challenge going forward, as far as trying to start games faster, turns to the QB. It would seem very difficult to improve in that area if Aaron Rodgers can't practice.

Braedon from Endicott, NY

Great WYMM, Mike. I didn't realize how little I knew about pass protection, but I certainly learned a thing (or 12) from it.

It's always fun to go through the film of a game against the Vikings just to watch everything Zimmer does defensively with Kendricks, Barr and Smith. It's a tough task to face them twice a season, but it must be even harder as an unfamiliar opponent to prepare for all that in one week.

Matthias from San Antonio, TX

Elgton Jenkins wears No. 74 which reminds me of probably the most versatile offensive lineman of all time...it sure fits Jenkins to a T. Can you tell me who I'm speaking of?

Clay's uncle, right? Bruce Matthews?

Estillac from Belem, Brazil

Hello Mike, first of all, I'd like to say that I really enjoy reading your Game Recap articles. The five takeaways summarize the game in such a great way that it helps us to calm down after all the emotions of the game, no matter if it was a win or a loss. About the Rams, what an important game before the bye week! What will be the biggest challenges for the Packers to get a win?

Glad you like the new format for the Game Recap this year. We decided to try something new, and while I'm still getting used to it, I'm growing more and more to like it. As for the biggest challenge this week, I'd say it's blocking that LA defensive front when yet another change must be made on the offensive line. The Rams like to scheme to get Aaron Donald one-on-ones, and he wasn't healthy in the playoff game last year. Plus they have Leonard Floyd and Von Miller on the edges.

Nate from Hartford, WI

Officiating aside, Cousins did what Cousins does best in big games – he gave the Packers five solid opportunities to get a takeaway, but got away with all of them. That's a losing recipe for the defense no matter who the opponent is.

Those who read me regularly know how I feel about defense in this league. No matter the overall statistics or how a particular game is going, it comes down to making key plays at key times, especially late in games. The difference between winning and losing is the ball was caught in Arizona, it was not in Minnesota. We all know if Kyler Murray had been given one more play, the Packers probably lose, and if Aaron Rodgers had been given the ball one more time, the Packers almost certainly win.

Bill from Fairhope, AL

It's time to consider the Packers' approach to strength and conditioning. Anecdotal evidence only, we seem to have more significant injuries than other teams (number of players and type of injuries). Bad luck or not making our own good luck?

The Packers were one of the healthiest teams in the league throughout 2019, and stayed relatively healthy in 2020 as well until David Bakhtiari went down. This is just one of those years, and as I noted on Monday, part of me believes the super-late placement of the bye week is a factor.

John from Charlottesville, VA

With the new IR rules the Pack is fortunate to be able to put guys on and return them later this year. If the old rules were in place do you believe Jaire Alexander and Za'Darius Smith would have been put on IR? There is hope they can return but we are lucky they have that option.

If we go back to the days when IR meant season's over, or when only one player could be designated to return, I suspect those would have been very difficult decisions. Roster spots are precious and the longer they were occupied by players who can't play, the fewer players who were available to practice (especially before practice squads expanded), which could be a detriment to the quality of work and young players' development. But those tough calls aren't necessary anymore, which is good for the game.

Bob from Rome, NY

Just a quick note about Don Hutson's stats from yesterday – that was an 11-game season. I know there is no math in II but the contract he would have received if those numbers were projected even over a 17-game season would not have fit under today's cap! Thank you.

It's a holiday week, so I'm doing the math anyways. Hutson's 1942 season over 17 games would equate to 114 catches for 1,872 yards and 26 TDs.

Phil from Madison, WI

I'd like to throw a baseball candidate into the discussion of great seasons. As a 12-year-old growing up in Philadelphia, I listened every night on the radio as Steve Carlton won 27 games on a team that only won 59. Forty-one starts, 30 complete games, a 1.97 ERA, 310 strikeouts, and a 15-game winning streak that only ended with a 1-0 complete game loss in extra innings.

When I first answered the question with the Gretzky and Wilt examples, I was trying to think of a baseball one I could (somewhat) relate to, aside from going back to Babe Ruth in 1927 or whatever. Lefty's 1972 season is it. Forty-one starts is mind-boggling, and for perspective on how the game has changed, he threw 346 1/3 innings that year while Milwaukee's Corbin Burnes just won the Cy Young pitching less than half that much (167 innings).

Tony from Grapevine, TX

At least we don't have to hear it for another year...Is that set in stone? Is there any way that we end up having to go back to Minnesota and play them in the playoffs this year?

Only if the Vikings win the division. If the Packers win the North, any playoff rematch would be in Green Bay.

Isaac from Huntsville, AL

I had to read it twice. You "didn't think he had what it took to be a featured back in the NFL"? What? Was it his 4.4 speed? Was it his great vision? Was it his incredible balance? Was it his effortless ability to break tackles? Was it his explosiveness? I don't get that assessment. On film, he had every ability you would want in a back, and he has prototypical size. Didn't think he had what it took?

This made me laugh, because let's just say Wes and I strongly disagreed regarding Jonathan Taylor. But I'm not picking on my colleague, because the tables have been turned regarding our amateur pre-draft evaluations plenty of times, too.

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

What's your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?

Prior to dessert, it's green bean casserole, baby. Always. Happy day-before Thanksgiving.


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