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Inbox: They make opponents defend the entire field

It’s the best approach

Running backs Aaron Jones & AJ Dillon
Running backs Aaron Jones & AJ Dillon

Dale from Aurora, CO

I knew it, I knew it. I knew you were keeping David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander and Za'Darius Smith status from us on purpose. You Meanies!

We promise not to be so cruel in 2022.

Halbert from Loveland, CO

Good morning Spoff and II. Hearty and well-earned congratulations to LeRoy Butler for again being a finalist for the HOF! Do you have any clue as to who will be presenting Mr. Butler's career for discussion, before the voting panel?

That would be a former colleague of both mine and Wes's from the Press-Gazette, Pete Dougherty, who will do a thorough and exemplary job as he always does. Trust me, Pete's presentations are not the reason Butler has fallen short the last two years. That said, I wholeheartedly believe this is his year. The best of the first-time eligibles is Devin Hester, and the rest of the finalist class in my view is headed by, in whatever order, Butler, Tony Boselli, Zach Thomas and Richard Seymour. This is Butler's best chance and it should happen.

Rachel from Appleton, WI

Are you still doing a Path to the Playoffs this week? Or will it change to Road to the Super Bowl since we clinched a playoff spot? Here's hoping it drops as soon as I submit my question.

Path to the Playoffs is going up momentarily. It will change to Road to the Super Bowl once the Packers' playoff positioning is solidified.

Brian from Menominee, MI

I've seen Mount Rushmores built with players, specific positions, coaches, etc., but John Madden's passing had me thinking about an all-time NFL impact Mount Rushmore that would include anyone that has ever been involved in football. In your opinion is he an obvious choice, and who else would make the cut?

Madden would have to be on there. Phil from Marietta, GA, submitted a quartet of Madden, George Halas, Pete Rozelle and then Jim Brown, to include one player. I don't have a whole lot of qualms with that group. Given how the game has evolved, I might substitute Johnny Unitas as the father of the modern passing game for the one player.

Walt from Skandia, MI

John Madden will always be remembered by the things he taught us. "One knee equals two feet." I loved that guy. He and Pat are back together.

I had this wild thought that popped into my head, so bear with me. Another Maddenism I remember, when describing a receiver running alongside a DB, was "if he's even, he's leavin'," meaning if the cover guy has given up his cushion, the receiver is taking off on a go route. Then Wes's column yesterday brought up the back-shoulder throw, which became the counter to DBs just turning their head to run with the receiver who's "leavin'." It made me wonder if a Maddenism in any way contributed to an offensive innovation. Maybe I'm extrapolating a bit much, but I thought I'd share anyway.

Nick from Springfield, MO

Player of the month 10 times. That amounts to two full seasons, right? Truly greatness we might not see again in our lifetimes as Packer fans. Another offseason of uncertainty is coming but let's all remember to soak up these last (hopefully) five games remaining for exactly what they are: Watching a master of his craft perform at the highest of levels. Can't wait.

Me neither.

Ryan from London, UK

As Wes listed off a bunch of company names to list stadia in the NFL it struck me yet again the beauty of playing at Lambeau Field not Random Food Brand Field. Is there some rule in place to ensure this never happens? As the Bears move in the future, I assume that will be another name lost to the sponsorship team. Happy New Year.

There's no rule, but as I've pointed out in the past, it was a bold decision by Bob Harlan to not sell the naming rights at the time the organization was asking for $160 million in taxpayer dollars via the 2000 Brown Co. referendum. There was pressure to sell the naming rights to ease the taxpayer burden, but Harlan stuck to his guns not to change the name and the referendum passed in a close vote (53%-47%).

Ella from Cusseta, GA

So if the NFL strenuously objects to the tablet throwing, I guess Brady will take some time to reconsider.

Nicely done.

Al from Green Bay, WI

It's a copycat league. The Ravens were able to minimize the Davante Adams impact with double (sometimes triple) coverage all game. With Adam Thielen on IR, can you see Joe Barry implementing a similar approach to covering Justin Jefferson on Sunday evening? The guy is scary good.

He is, but I don't see the Packers doing what the Ravens did, which was pretty extreme. I do see them shading a safety to Jefferson's side most of the game, but the freedom to do that will mostly come down to being able to contain Cook up front without extra help.

Dave from Germantown, TN

Which CB, Rasul Douglas or Eric Stokes, covers Jefferson, or do they just cover him when he lines up on their side of the field?

I'm guessing the Packers will play sides, but I've been wrong before.

Nick from Boston, MA

I was looking at Packers players stats today and noticed that Aaron Jones is already over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and AJ Dillon should pass that mark shortly. Having two backs over 1,000 yards from scrimmage is very impressive and speaks to the weapons on this offense besides 12 and 17. What are your thoughts on this and when was the last time the Packers had this in a season?

It fits what I've said all along, that this offense is at its best when the running backs are being utilized to their fullest. They make opponents defend the entire field. Eddie Lacy and James Starks were both over 900 yards from scrimmage in 2015, but according to my research (which could be wrong), you have to go all the way back to 1980 to find two Packers running backs over 1,000 – Eddie Lee Ivery with 1,312 (831 rushing, 481 receiving) and rookie Gerry Ellis with 1,041 (545 plus 496).

Steven from Sauk Rapids, MN

You called Bakh a Hall of Fame left tackle. What goes into making a lineman a Hall of Famer? I know he's arguably the best left tackle in the game, but what truly sets him apart?

It's being among the best at all aspects of the position – in this case, run blocking and pass protection. Aaron Rodgers said it best on Wednesday. Hall of Famers are guys who rank among the top three at their position for an extended period of time. The AP All-Pro selections include one left tackle on the first team and one on the second team. Bakhtiari earned All-Pro recognition five straight years (2016-20). The injury this year prevented him from matching Forrest Gregg's run of six straight All-Pro selections from 1962-67.

David from Cable, WI

My 2 cents on next year. I think both sides will be interested in continuing together. But the question will be the salary cap. It makes no sense to bring Rodgers back if you have to gut the team. Russ Ball will have his biggest challenge ever.

A worthy conversation for another day.

Eric from Kenosha, WI

That is some impressive company Wes wrote Davante Adams will be in with just 70 more receiving yards. I have read in several places that the Packers are missing their top two defensive players, and I would like to make a request. In this forum, could we give Kenny Clark the love he deserves and say they are missing two of their three top players? Thanks.

I'll just stick with "two of their top defenders" if that's satisfactory. Regarding Adams, that list he’s on the verge of joining through eight seasons blew me away, and it's even more impressive when you consider his first two years were afterthoughts – playing behind a pair of 1,200-yard, double-digit TD guys as a rookie in '14 and then being hurt much of '15. In terms of the best of the best, I've always considered Larry Fitzgerald the closest this generation of receivers has to Jerry Rice, and to think Adams in some respects is heading into Fitzgerald territory really hits me.

Keegan from Atlanta, GA

Howdy Do. When was the last game in which the Packers didn't punt?

Week 16 last season vs. Tennessee.

Sherman from Jacksonville, FL

One recurring theme in the NFL is for a coach – or player – to start off shooting the lights out, but then to regress after a while because other teams have figured out how to counter. Are we struggling on defense because other teams have figured out Joe Barry? Or is it more a matter of everyday fundamentals?

The latter. Barry wasn't doing anything revolutionary when the defense was playing really well. It was functioning as a unit, not trying to force things to happen but playing sound football that challenged opponents. Last week's boom-or-bust outcome was not what this defense was built on.

Richard from Canton, GA

If your coordinators aren't in demand for head coaching slots, and your position coaches for coordinator slots you don't have the best people. Next person up applies to coaching just as much to playing (though the injury risk is less). If Hackett leaves, who internally is ready for a OC promotion?

Your initial statement is an overgeneralized and inaccurate assumption. But to answer your question, I'd surmise Luke Getsy and Adam Stenavich would be the top internal candidates, given they are currently the passing and running game coordinators, respectively.

James from Appleton, WI

Playing cribbage in college, it took a couple of times being left in the stinkhole to realize that the point I needed was lost much earlier in the game and that if I wanted to be good at playing I had to concentrate from the start. Coach Gray helped Rasul Douglas realize the game starts before kickoff with film study. The best part is, when the light bulb flashes, you think, "Wait, there was a light?" and now the light shines on everything you do. You know?

The pegging is the most underrated part of winning at cribbage.

Caleb from Knoxville, TN

How have the Vikings evolved as a team since last we played? Where are they better? Worse?

As I discussed with Wes on "Unscripted," they seem to be very much the same – a team that plays a ton of close games, winning some and losing some in various fashions. That's been the story of their season, and you never know if they're going to have what it takes at crunch time or not.

Jeffrey from Taylors, SC

The Browns were so effective pulling linemen and getting good gains. With the new rules on no going below the waist, how does a DB defend against a pulling lineman?

It's a tough deal. Either take on the block so the lineman doesn't have the opportunity to block anybody else, or try to go around him and at a minimum push the ball-carrier toward where the most help resides.

PJ from Sussex, WI

Looking forward to seeing how Coach Barry decides to integrate Jaire back into the lineup when he is cleared to play. Interested in hearing your thoughts on how Coach Barry might utilize Jaire, Douglas and Stokes and keep them all on the field.

Well, LaFleur indicated it's still a waiting game for Alexander to return to game action. But I do think he's the best suited of the three to play the slot, which would allow Douglas and Stokes to stay outside and just continue doing their thing. Hopefully we'll get to find out.

Jeff from Waukesha, WI

Who will hold for Mason Crosby if Corey Bojorquez can't play?

I don't know, and hopefully we won't get to find out.

Rich from Hayward, WI

If I may continue Spoff's use of Yiddish this week, I don't understand all the kvetching (complaining) about this year's Packers. They've won their division. They're 12-3. They are a blast to watch. Take a lesson from the master – no, not the Dali. Aaron Rodgers says he's staying present and truly enjoying this year and the team. Try it.

It's the best approach, honestly. Look, I understand all the angst. When your team has reached the NFC title game four times over the last seven years and not gotten over the hump, the mentality of some is to focus incessantly on a championship, and to prove capable of winning one every single week. I get it, no matter how unrealistic and frankly meaningless that is when it's all going to come down to playing your best game when you've gotta have it. Regardless, this fan base all wants the same thing, as it should. There's no arguing that.

Dan from Concord, NC

Just a little perspective: Matt LaFleur has had an amazing run in his first three years – 13-3, 13-3, and now 12-3. Yet his win percentage is barely above what John Madden's was for 10 years. TEN YEARS! Unfortunately, Madden lost six AFC championship games, something LaFleur is also on track for. Let's hope that string breaks this year, and he doesn't have to wait until his eighth season! Winning is hard in this league!

That it is. When I looked closer at it, Madden's run was even more amazing than I realized. The Raiders reached the AFL/AFC final seven times in a span of nine seasons, and one of the two years they didn't was the loss to the Steelers on the Immaculate Reception in the divisional round. What also struck me, in a parallel to the Packers, is those six losses in seven cracks were to five different teams (Chiefs, Colts, Steelers twice, Dolphins, Broncos). Green Bay's four on-the-cusp defeats in seven years have been to four different teams. There are those that flash and those that sustain. I'm all for the latter prevailing in Madden's honor this time.

Jim from Hudsonville, MI

Can Nathan Poole suit up for the Cardinals this week?

Good one. Happy New Year's Eve, everybody.