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Inbox: These games test a team's mettle

You can’t go to the NFC party until you take care of business in the North first

QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers

Jim from Spring, TX

Hi Mike /Wes, I've detected a pattern that looks good for the Pack. Beat the Ravens by 1, beat the Browns by 2 … So beat the Vikes by 3 Detroit by 4 and playoffs be beating teams by touchdowns. Yeah. I know just beat the Vikes.

The Packers have downed the first four entrees of this six-course meal to close the regular season, but they gotta stay hungry.

Bill from Olathe, KS

I see where the temperature for the Vikings game looks to be very cold, maybe in the single digits by game time. Against the Vikings, what part of the game is going to be most affected by that and how will the Vikings handle it?

Bitter cold affects every phase – from how a ball is caught, carried or kicked to the energy level of players in the fourth quarter. These games test a team's mettle. Cousins has spent the past four years in Minnesota, but he has experience playing in the cold from his days at Washington and Michigan State. Still, the cold indubitably favors the Packers. I look for them to harness that advantage Sunday.

Nate from Hartford, WI

Not to get into chortling territory or anything, but Mr. Cousins owns the fourth-worst primetime record among NFL quarterbacks all-time. Any reason to think a zero-degree Lambeau will be any different on Sunday night?

There are two ways to look at the Cousins-in-primetime stat. Call me a pessimist but I always wonder if that means he's due. LaFleur knows Cousins as well as a head coach can know an opposing quarterback at this level. The Packers will be ready for the best version of Captain Kirk.

DT from Bozeman, MT

George Siefert took over from Bill Walsh days after Walsh retired and the 49ers won their third Super Bowl. Seifert won a record 38 games his first three seasons as head coach. Matt LeFleur took over for a team that failed to make the playoffs and fired the previous head coach. Not that it matters to him, but does it seem that ML's accomplishment is being overlooked despite the steeper hill he and the Packers organization had to climb?

With all these contenders that have stumbled the past few weeks, there is no longer any doubt in my mind – Matt LaFleur is the 2021 NFL Coach of the Year. I don't know whether he'll get the award or not, but it doesn't make it any less true. The statistics speak for themselves, but the Packers have overcome so much adversity this year to get to 12-3. There was a summer of questions, a fall of injuries, and now a winter with COVID question marks. LaFleur has his guys playing above all of it.

John from Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

Does either ML or any of the other coaches conduct one-on-one discussions with the players after games? I imagine there's review of the game tape, but it seems that individual focus could benefit the entire team.

I'm sure if something needs to be addressed on an individual level, but the team tends to do its talking through the veteran leadership council. But yeah, maintaining that line of communication with the locker room is a big part of LaFleur's brilliance as a head coach.

Michael from Morrison, IL

Mike/Wes, while there are some items the Packers can improve upon internally, can we, as a fanbase, just acknowledge both Baltimore and Cleveland are some of the best rushing units in the NFL? Very few have been able to slow either team down on the ground, so I'm pretty thankful Green Bay emerged with victories in both contests.

Generally speaking, you're spot on in your analysis. But the Packers also are going to face some tough running backs on their way to a prospective Super Bowl. Heck, it could happen as soon as this Sunday if Dalvin Cook is cleared. You won but you also must learn.

Bill from Raleigh, NC

Hi Wes, I'm part of Mike's and your loyal followers, but I have to take issue with your Saturday II response when you said the keys to beating the Browns were, "Get off to a fast start and contain Nick Chubb." While I agree with the latter and failing to do so almost cost us a win, the 2021 Packers rarely get off to a fast start. We are No. 26 in the league in 1Q points, and we've been shut out in 1Q more times (nine) than we've scored (six)! Shouldn't we accept our way of winning 12 games isn't fast?

I thought about that while writing my response but also wondered how much the lack of first-quarter points (relative to the second quarter) also correlated to how often the Packers have lost the opening coin toss this season. To your point, maybe the Packers are slow starters but scoring on the opening drive is a big reason Green Bay had success under LaFleur early on.

Alfred from Kingston, Ontario

I would like to heap some praise on the O-line for the Packers. They have been excellent. A battling, hungry bunch of backups showing their teamwork and spirit. I know the 2010 group had some injuries, but can you tell me if there was another time a Packers' O-line used five guys as backups on their offensive line for this long?

It's a broken record at this point but the job Adam Stenavich has done with that offensive line this season is truly amazing. The Packers have lost several starters but they've also found some. I think everyone is in agreement Yosh Nijman is a starting-caliber player. Seven starts do not a make a season, but they do make quite the statement. The same can be said for Jon Runyan and Lucas Patrick.

David from Sheridan, WY

I really hope Aaron Jones wins the Walter Payton Man of the Year. Do you think he has a good chance?

I have no idea, but Jones absolutely deserves it. If you haven't had a chance to see Tom Rinaldi's piece on the Jones family yet, be sure to do so and have a box of tissues on standby. It was masterfully done. Beyond all the adversity the family has faced this year, however, Jones and his brother Alvin Jr. also have done so much good in the Green Bay community with the A&A All The Way Foundation.

Richard from Livermore, CA

Against Baltimore, Mason Crosby kicked extra points from the left hash mark. Sunday, he kicked them from the right hash mark. A kick from an angle has less margin of error than a straight-on kick, so why not kick from straight-on, but switching from one side to the other is even more baffling. What gives?

Kicking inside Lambeau Field is a different animal, especially depending on the wind. I don't know Crosby's reasons but I assure you there's a method to the madness.

Shannon from Ovilla, TX

It looks like we got out of the Cleveland game without any significant injuries for a change. Monday's news of four going on the COVID list makes me think the bye is more important this year because it's one less chance of missing important players for a playoff game. Do you think the NFL may tweak its policy in the playoffs, or is it going to be whichever team sustains the best will win?

It's hard to say what the NFL will do. To be honest, I didn't expect the league to drop testing altogether like it did. The biggest change with major postseason ramifications is vaccinated players being allowed to return with one negative test. That could be the difference between a key player having to sit out and seeing major minutes.

Josh from Seattle, WA

Does beating Minnesota knock the Vikings out of playoff contention?

It would put their season on the brink. It's entirely possible an eight-win team makes the playoffs but San Francisco and Philly already are there and have one more conference win than the Vikings.

TK from Grafton, WI

No debating the top three, but is Lynn Dickey the fourth-best all-time Packers QB?

I love Lynn Dickey as much as the next guy, though probably not as much as my boss, but Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Bart Starr, Arnie Herber and Cecil Isbell are the best quarterbacks in team history (in no particular order).

Henry from Onalaska, WI

Insiders, I want to thank you for waking me up. I was going to ask you what is the best strategy? Do we put on the gas or rest players as we go against two dangerous rivals, one desperately trying to make the playoffs and had beaten the Packers, and the other in what essentially will be their Super Bowl game for the year? Then, it hit me after reading you guys all year, the only strategy is, just beat Minnesota.

Timidity doesn't win championships – and you can't go to the NFC party until you take care of business in the North first.

Tom from Dade City, FL

In the game against the Browns, there were a couple times that the defense didn't look set when the play started, in particular the secondary. They were pointing at each other but no one seemed to know where to go. After the plays were over there was consternation back there and more pointing. When the play is called down are there some that aren't practiced or is it just brain fog? It seems to happen a few times a game, usually with predictable results.

I'm sure it'll be something Joe Barry gets asked Thursday. From my vantage point, it seemed like the Packers ran more packages against the Browns than they do on a typical gameday, including a shift to dime in the second half with the Browns operating mainly in a two-minute offense. There definitely were some communication issues to clean up, but my biggest takeaway continues to be how this defense performs in crunch time. It isn't always pretty but this unit knows how to win.

Larry from Golden, CO

Insiders, Rasul Douglas is a compelling and much-discussed story this year. Perhaps I have missed it, but it would be great to hear his inside of the story. Coach Gray of course has been important, but I wonder what was his mindset as a player during this year? Why, for some reason, did an experienced guy fall down to a practice squad, get overlooked, and seemingly has one foot on the street? What caused him to fall so far and what mental change caused such a reversal of fortune?

One of the issues I think most pro sports leagues have is groupthink as it relates to player personnel. Like if Player X doesn't make it with Team Y, then it becomes increasingly more likely he'll fall through the cracks. That's why I feel it's so important for a young player to fall into the right situation after leaving his original team. Because if he doesn't make it at stop No. 2, then NFL teams start wondering what's wrong there. I think that's what happened with Douglas. He got let go after camp in 2019 and bounced around from Carolina to Vegas to Houston before finally landing on Arizona's p-squad. Douglas is a perfect example of why GMs have to keep digging. There's gold down there but you have to find it.

Tom from Burlington, WI

Good morning II, do you see the Packers elevating Jaire Alexander even if they don't believe he will play the next two games?

LaFleur was not interested in strolling down injury road on Monday (and for good reason), but I expect Alexander to be activated Wednesday. I mean, shoot, the Packers only have like 47 guys on the active roster right now with all these folks going on reserve/COVID-19. Alexander hasn't practiced in pads yet but he hasn't had any known setbacks. It's just a question of when Jaire will be ready to play again.

Anthony from Sturgeon Bay, WI

Assuming special teams can claim credit for one missed extra point and a failed two-point conversion, is it fair to finally give them the credit for winning a game?

It was a quality start for the Packers' special teams, to use a baseball analogy (you're welcome, Spoff). And that's all I'm looking for right now. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. They don't need a miracle. Everyone just needs to do their part.

Matt from Chicago, IL

Special teams played well on Saturday. If they play well this week, that's two in a row. They then play well against the Lions, that's called a winning streak. It has happened before.

I chortled.

Barry from Hayward, WI

Given the strengths and weaknesses you've seen in the Packers this season, what team do they least want to face in the playoffs?

All of them, according to many in the fanbase.

Steve from Middletown, KY

Good morning II. I agree, just win baby! On Sunday, Burrow put 525 on the Ravens. Pro Bowler Joe Mixon had a very good day, but they mainly moved the ball at will through the air down the stretch. I know ML wants a balanced attack each week, but don't you think that you just have to keep doing what was working during the game? Yes, we are pretty good at doing both, but the Browns expected the run and that's what happened. Can that also get into the players' heads? To take their foot off the gas?

I thought the Packers had a good game plan against Cleveland, especially in the first half. It's always going to be an inexact science trying to balance running the ball with keeping it in Rodgers' hands, but LaFleur has proven to have a good feel for it. As far as the Bengals are concerned, the Packers win over Cincinnati has aged well...and even that loss to Kansas City without Rodgers.

Dan from Lignite, ND

Was the Dallas game just the perfect storm for WFT? COVID/injuries, short week on the road against a good football team and all?

That and the Cowboys are really talented. Dallas has been a sleeping giant for some time now and Mike McCarthy knows how to set the alarm. He doesn't get nearly enough credit for the job he's done developing that culture. The Cowboys are confident, and with Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs solidifying that defense, they're going to be a tough out.

Paul from De Pere, WI

Unfortunately, it is inconsistent with what we Packers fans wish to be consistent. But the only consistency from week to week in the NFL (even among its best teams) is inconsistency. Is that consistent with your analysis?

More or less.

Israel from West Allis, WI

On the first day of Christmas, our Packers gave to us:

5 big-time sacks

4 takeaways

3 TD drives

2 Franchise records

and an all-important Green Bay victory.

Merry fourth day of Christmas!

What are you looking for from GB on the eighth day of Christmas? I'd take an all-important GB victory and four quarters played in all phases; fill out the rest of the numbers anyway you like.

The Packers must do what they didn't do in the first game in Minnesota – capitalize on mistakes. The Packers did that against Cleveland and won the game. They failed to do that against the Vikings last month and lost. …And a partridge in a pear tree.

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

Rodgers appears to be soaking in the moment a little more this year and having a great time. While others are using that as fodder that he will or won't be wearing a green-and-gold No. 12 next year, I'm going to steal a page of the playbook and enjoy this beautiful mystery unfolding.

My advice to Packers fans as we transition into a New Year – Worry less about what book hits the shelves next summer and finish the one you're reading first. It's pretty darn good.