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Inbox: The entire class is on the rise

Aaron Jones’ TD was the type of play that can launch a team on a deep postseason run

LB Rashan Gary

Kevin from Carmel, IN

First of all, I'm not taking anything away from Patrick Mahomes because he is a great player and a joy to watch, but there is no doubt in my mind who the MVP is. Secondly, looking back the last 25-30 years is there a worse defensive team on fourth-and-long than the Packers? It really is unbelievable.

Not too shabby for a guy who supposedly didn't have enough weapons, right? And for those voters who were saying that was indeed the case, then there should be no question whatsoever who the MVP is, right? But Aaron Rodgers is in a zone right now. Defensively, there are things to clean up on third and fourth down but Green Bay keeps taking steps forward each week.

Mike from McFarland, WI

If I remember correctly, there is a fun story behind why this is the first 100s ball Rodgers will get to keep. I think ball 100 the player who caught it threw it in the stands, and balls 200 and 300 went to players catching their first NFL TD, so Aaron let them keep it.

Correct…and thanks to James Jones some lucky fan in Atlanta took home a memorable souvenir back in 2011.

Brian from Roanoke, VA

Good morning II, longtime reader and first-time writer. Really appreciate the work y'all put into the website for us fans. I read that Davante Adams caught TD pass 200 and 400 for AR. Curious as to who caught 100 and 300. Thanks again and GPG!

Ty Montgomery caught No. 300 in 2017.

Eric from Neenah, WI

What has the key been to the resurgence of Rodgers' deep-ball accuracy? This year, compared to years past, it seems like every deep ball is within the catching radius of the receiver.

Rodgers has one of the best deep balls in the game. That hasn't changed but I think the success this season mostly is just the time the offensive line has bought Rodgers for big plays to develop on schedule and comfort in Matt LaFleur's scheme. Regardless of who gets the credit, the explosiveness is back in the Packers' offense.

Tom from Iron River, WI

Does Aaron Jones get the respect around the league that he deserves? Every week he seems to have one extraordinary run like the 77-yard TD Sunday.

I think Jones gets the proper amount of respect, especially in the fantasy football era. The only thing missing is a Pro Bowl nod. Jones has some stiff competition with Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott and Ronald Jones, but his numbers hold up among the best backs in the game. He has the eighth-most rushing yards right now on the 14th-most carries.

Sal from Hailey, ID

This game, and Jones' 77-yard run, really drove home the "it takes all 11" mentality. I get that fans are tempering their enthusiasm for the win because of the Eagles' obvious struggles, but seeing the teamwork the offense used to get Jones downfield should excite everyone. With this locked in, what are the next steps the offense needs to take to get us all the way to February?

That was the point I tried to drive home with my sidebar after the game. Jones made the first two guys miss on his own but he needed the offensive line to open that gap and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard and Robert Tonyan to give him a path to the end zone. And the team celebration afterwards was on point. It was perfect team football and the type of galvanizing sequence that can launch a club on a deep postseason run.

Jeff from Eveleth, MN

I get nervous every time I see the Packers running the empty backfield formation. I hate seeing Rodgers back there with no help. Seems they have been running that a lot lately. What are your thoughts? I think it is pretty risky.

The offense has "earned" that package because the line has played well enough to give the coaches confidence to call it. There is risk involved – see the opening series of Sunday's game – but also reward. It stretches the defense out and forces more one-on-ones, making Adams dangerous. It's also a great changeup to the bunch formations.

Blake from Longwood, FL

The last time the Packers drafted two defensive players in the first round their names were Clay Mathews and B.J. Raji. In Year 2 of their careers the Packers won the Super Bowl. Are Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage making that type of an impact?

They're different players being asked to do different things, but most of the 2019 draft class is making an impact on this year's team. You want to see your young players get better throughout the course of the year and that group is hitting the target. I write that "Player on the Rise" story on first- and second-year players who are ascending and that entire class is on the rise at the moment.

Andy from Sterling, IL

If you want to see how the front office knows what's it's doing, listen to ML's after-game press conference. Speed ahead to the last question. We're blessed to have the decision-makers we have, top to bottom. And if you wonder what it looks like on the other side, just read sports from that big city on Lake Michigan.

The years pass, the roster changes but some things remain very much the same. The Packers' ability to identify talented players and develop them has paid dividends. Green Bay had to plug some holes in free agency two years ago to make up for not having anyone left from the 2015 draft class, but otherwise it's been a familiar model – draft, develop and re-sign. That's how you stay in the hunt every year.

Ray from Phoenix, AZ

Did Jon Runyan get hurt? I did not see him in there much.

No, Runyan is fine. The Packers chose to slide Billy Turner to right guard because he had experience against Fletcher Cox, who often lines up on that side of the ball. LaFleur said afterwards they really couldn't have made a bad decision there with both Runyan and Rick Wagner available.

Jake from Athens, GA

After the game, I watched David Bakhtiari's touchdown run at least 20 times on YouTube. Sure, the big man technically didn't "block" anyone, but at least three DBs would've been a lot closer to making a play on Jones if they hadn't gone out of their way to give Bakhtiari a very wide berth. I think they could tell he was looking for someone to squish.

The combination of Aaron Jones running at near-full speed and Bakhtiari's 6-foot-4, 310-pound body was going to make it difficult for any Eagles defender to catch up.

Doug from Neenah, WI

Gentlemen: Rodgers, Adams and Jones are great players having tremendous seasons. But let's not forget about the offensive line making everything go. Rodgers doesn't have time for those deep balls unless the O-line does their job. When you consider the injuries and shuffling of positions, their versatile performance is even more amazing. Who deserves the credit for hiring Marshfield's Adam Stenavich as coach?

That was LaFleur's hire. Their relationship goes back all the way to Houston in the late-2000s when LaFleur was a quality control coach and Stenavich was a reserve offensive lineman. Stenavich then went on to work for Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco before joining the Packers' staff. LaFleur had a vision for what he wanted the O-line to be in Green Bay and Stenavich has helped turned that plan into production.

Bill from Bloomfield Hills, MI

Just a comment, it's nice when Adams easily gets over 1,000 for the season and it gets largely ignored by announcers and in II because he's just that good.

There was no drama this year with Adams and that 1,000-yard mark. He continues to leave no doubt with his performances. When it's all said and done, I don't see how Adams finishes the year without being the Packers' first AP All-Pro receiver since Sterling Sharpe (1993).

Mike from Madison, WI

Good morning Mike/Wes. I thought my old eyes were deceiving me. On one of the last kneel-down plays, did I see Bakhtiari and Lucas Patrick swap positions? Is that normally what happens on a kneel-down?

Those old eyes did not deceive you. I didn't pick up on that at first but you were spot-on. Bakhtiari did indeed move to guard and Lucas Patrick shifted to tackle. That's gotta be Bakhtiari's first snaps at guard in an NFL game, no?

Katherine from Milwaukee, WI

Is Jaire Alexander the best CB in the NFL?

The fact Alexander is 23 years old and you're asking that question tells you everything you need to know.

Tom from Two Rivers, WI

My favorite play from the Philly game? I loved that pass to Big Dog. After he caught it and turned upfield, I was waiting for the thick plume of black diesel exhaust to come out of his helmet. It was just like watching a fully loaded gravel truck accelerate from a stop sign!

I mean, Packers fan or not, how could you not love that play? The 36-yard catch was Marcedes Lewis' longest as a member of the Packers.

Ryan from Colfax, WI

The Eagles game was the first time this season I remember kickoffs being targeted to the goal line instead of Mason Crosby shooting for a touchback. Is that a response to the Eagles' return game, the Packers' coverage game, both or neither?

I think it's more a product of the temperature dipping. It was near freezing when the game kicked off Sunday.

Patrick from Ashland, WI

Do you think the refs are swallowing their whistles on minor facemasks that don't twist the head? Fifteen yards is huge. I always liked the 5-15 rule on these but I know it made the judgment calls tougher on the officials.

Officials usually are looking for the helmet to violently jerk to the side before throwing a flag on a facemask. That's why I couldn't believe Jones didn't get that call against the Colts last month. It does get harder to spot, especially for the side judges, when that violent motion doesn't happen.

Chris from Eau Claire, WI

I know he's a football player on the field, but can we stop chastising Scott for not doing his job? Like with the Bears fans all missing the same kick attempts, with no rushers in their face, after the double doink, I'm guessing at least 90% of the II readers would look more foolish trying to take down one of these top-flight athletes than Scott looked.

The return was on everyone. The punt was in the middle of the field and the gunner got washed inside of Jalen Raegor, allowing him a free trip up the sideline. If you're asking a punter to make an open-field tackle, something went wrong a long, long time ago. Those breakdowns need to get corrected. Two TD returns in a season are two too many.

Mike from Fort Wayne, IN

Wes, thanks for doing this. I see lots of comments about Scott learning how to tackle. There is a lot to unwrap there, but maybe he could take some pointers from Mason Crosby who has made several big tackles during his career. Mason is not only a great kicker, but pound for pound as tough as they come.

You're not wrong. That's an underrated aspect of Crosby's game.

Richard from Greenwich, NY

Hi guys, if GB and NO finish with the best identical records in the NFC, does GB get the No. 1 seed because of the win over the Saints, or is another factor used? BTW, really appreciate the live game blog for those of us who don't get all the broadcasts, like the Eagles game.

If the Packers and Saints finish tied with the best record (and without any other teams matching that mark), then Green Bay gets the No. 1 seed based on the head-to-head matchup. If let's say the Rams or Seahawks squeak in to make it a three-way tie, then the team with the best record against the NFC gets the top seed. That's where New Orleans has the advantage at the moment.

Robert from Harris, MN

Watching the Viking game, then the Packer game and keeping an eye on the Detroit-Chicago game, has there been a week with so many missed extra points? Or is it just a problem in the North?

I don't know what the deal was with Dan Bailey missing inside U.S. Bank but Crosby and Jake Elliott both missed extra points aimed at the south end-zone uprights Sunday. There's been something funky going on at that side of the field this year.

Stephen from Menomonee Falls, WI

If a defender shoves the ball carrier out of bounds, does that player get credit for a tackle?

Yes, and before you ask, same with a sack.

Charles from Omaha, NE

I think the networks have done a decent job trying to de-emphasize the empty stadiums, and despite the lack of fans in the stands giving or denying teams an advantage, I am happy with the product. Have you heard any chatter how the league is going to handle the Super Bowl? The halftime show, which I think attracts a decent amount of non-football fans, has always depended on a crowd of spectators and performers.

I have not heard, or read, any rumblings yet about the Super Bowl. Tampa Bay hosted 15,950 fans for its Week 12 matchup with Kansas City at Raymond James, which can house 65,890. Barring something unforeseen, I would think that's what we're looking at for Super Bowl LV. It would be a unique – and hopefully once-in-a-lifetime – experience for fans allowed to attend.

Evan from Durango, CO

Mike should probably think twice about stealing lunches if Wes is channeling his inner Patrick Bateman.

You like Huey Lewis and the News?

Steve from Pittsboro, NC

Hi Wes, if a team went 0-0-16, would it be considered a break-even season?

What's our record, Larry? 0-0-16. 0-0-16? How did we ever tie 16? It's a miracle.

Tom from San Juan Capistrano, CA

Mike, the reason you can't remember your daughter's piano lesson is because our brains are incredibly efficient hard drives. When Davante makes a spectacular end-zone catch in '16 your brain automatically knows to file it where it can be retrieved for a future question or column. When your wife tells you the time of the piano lesson your brain knows that your wife will remember the time. It decides not to use up valuable "disk" space for something you don't really need to remember.

All I have to add is I'm thankful my wife is the external hard drive in our relationship, storing all the pertinent information so I can sports.

Dennis from Beavercreek, OH

I thought I would never put this in my letter to Santa but after being on this earth for this long, nothing ever surprises me. Santa all I want for Christmas is a Vikings win on Christmas Day.

Or even better, the Eagles could give you an early Christmas present this Sunday.

Carol from Manitowoc, WI

More of statement than question. This week Pfizer will be approved with Moderna the following week. Healthcare workers will be first in line to receive the vaccination. Wouldn't it be nice to get vaccinated workers in the stadium to show support of everything that they have done?

We owe our healthcare and frontline workers a debt of gratitude we can never fully repay. But I promise, as long as there is air in my lungs, I'm going to spend the rest of my life thanking them for their heroism during this pandemic and what they do on a daily basis to care for us. It would be nice to see them recognized at a Packers game when it's safe for all parties involved to do so.

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

"12" to "17" is poetry in motion. Dean is poetry in pen. May neither cease.

Longfellow couldn't have said it better.