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Inbox: They simply have to

Evolution through a season is always the story

RB Aaron Jones
RB Aaron Jones

Eric from Stevens Point, WI

Gents, I know they don't hand out crowns until the end of the year, but this week kind of feels like one of those turning points that you look back on after a successful season. Do you feel it or is it just a Week 5 key matchup?

It's a big game for two teams trying to avoid a losing streak after a hot start. A turning point? Too early for that I think, even later in retrospect, but maybe. What I do know is the difference between 4-1 and 3-2 will feel significant for both teams.

Dave from Edina, MN

Looking forward to a good game this weekend. What matchup intrigues you most?

It's not a matchup as much as an imperative for Green Bay. With all the focus on Zeke and the run defense, the Packers have to find a way to run the ball in this game themselves. They simply have to.

Kyle from St. Paul, MN

The Cowboys have a few players on defense who can disrupt things. Who is the player to neutralize if GB wants to run the ball efficiently? And, what's the status on Bulaga?

Bulaga has practiced the last two days, so that's a great sign. Linebacker Jaylon Smith is the defender who makes this Dallas defense go, in my opinion, and fellow linebacker Leighton Vander Esch isn't far behind. The Packers' linemen have to be swift off their combo blocks up front to get to the needed blocks on the second level.

Statham from Pineview, GA

I think it's safe to say that our offense is completely different without Adams on the field, as seen in the two red-zone trips against the Eagles. Adams gets well-deserved extra attention every snap he plays, more times than not leaving other receivers with huge opportunities. What does the Packers' offense have to do in order to win without Adams on the field Sunday, if he cannot go?

I'm harping on running the ball because if you can run the ball, you can run play-action, and play-action is an equal-opportunity way to throw the ball, meaning it doesn't require Pro Bowl receivers to be effective.

Caleb from Knoxville, TN

With Williams wounded, would you say the fullback position is Vitale important this week?

Please see yourself out.

Dale from Wilton, WI

Would the NFL consider a roster exemption for concussion protocol players, similar to the MLB? If a player is in the protocol, they don't count against the 53. Bring up a practice squad player for a week or two? I know there are independent doctors clearing them, but it would put less stress on getting players back with his replacement able to play without cutting or IR'ing someone else. Truly let their heads heal.

I'm always wary of changing injury rules because of the possibility of abuse, but I think the league should absolutely consider this. With independent doctors involved in the protocol, it would be very difficult for teams to abuse such a system. It's a worthwhile idea.

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

Aaron Rodgers: "First and foremost I have confidence in myself." There is a leader. Telling his team that he expects his play to raise the level of play of those around him. No excuses, just high-level execution.

The truly elite players never shy away from responsibility, which includes elevating the play of others.

Steven from Silver Spring, MD

Trading players, and especially in-season trading of players, is rare in the NFL but seems to be getting more traction recently including the trade window now going eight weeks into the season. With the inordinate number of teams that are winless and having new coaches, is there potential to have a robust trade market this year?

I think it's a distinct possibility. It'll all depend on how struggling teams view the rest of their season and if cap savings for the future becomes a priority.

Jason from Austin, TX

When will hurdling be banned from the NFL? How many injuries need to happen before the safety commission steps in? It's one thing if the defender is on the ground. If the player tries jumping over a player that's standing up, there's a high chance of injury for the jumper or the defender (insert Nick Collins reference). The Lions' rookie TE got injured when he tried to jump over the defender, who promptly threw him to the ground.

I don't have a response. I just thought I'd give you the floor.

Zak from Huntington Beach, CA

Is it commonplace for quarterbacks to use audibles that don't actually change the play originally called in the huddle, purely as a means to confuse or distract the defense? Decoy calls? How often does this happen?

All the time. Every week, quarterbacks have dummy calls and real calls. If every call or signal meant a change, the defense would just change along with it to mess up the plans.

Courtney from Butte, MT

A close loss like that feels horrible particularly because we could not cash in twice at the end. How easy is it for the players, mainly rookies, to move on? How good is Coach LaFleur in this regard?

Much better than fans, trust me. They have to be. There's a saying in football that you can't let one missed opportunity beat you twice. If you don't live by that, you don't last.

Julie from UP, Michigan

No one wants a slow game, but calls involving safety have to be consistent to work. Also, the behavior has to be penalized even when not directly affecting the play. Could a safety referee with access to replay watch the game specifically for safety violations?

Years ago, before I was doing this column, I brought up the idea of safety officials in a live chat. I suspected eventually the idea wouldn't sound as crazy as it did at first. In fact, it makes an astonishing amount of sense.

Tim from Upland, CA

With talk about the NFL considering a 17-game schedule, why isn't anyone asking the important question? How will we refer to the various parts of the season? Right now, we've got a very easy reference built into the schedule, referred to as either the first, second, third or fourth quarters (poles as you two have recently been referencing). Seventeen games would leave us with the first 4.25 of the season. There wouldn't even really be a "halfway point." For these reasons alone, a 17-game schedule cannot happen.

Maybe we'd still refer to the usual four-game quarters of the season, and then "Game 17" becomes an entity all its own. It might catch on.

Drew from Rogers City, MI

Congrats to Larry Fitzgerald on moving into second all-time in receptions. He is a class act and a model younger players should strive to emulate on and off the field.

My favorite part in the highlight of the milestone reception was seeing him spot the ball and line up for the next hurry-up snap with his team down 27-10 and less than 90 seconds to go. The game was out of reach and yet he still had no regard for his personal accomplishment. A pro's pro.

Kyle from Osceola, WI

Between the Adamses, the Browns, the Smiths and the Williamses, does Green Bay have the fewest number of last names on a 53-man roster in the history of football?

Hmmm…46 surnames now on the 53. It is odd, but I'm not sure even Elias could research that one.

Todd form Honea Path, SC

I think the refs are responding the way they are 'cause they're almost being replaced by the replay review. In a way it's saying your decision holds no water and they're reacting with "the hell it doesn't." I'll take a loss to the Cowboys with zero injuries vs. a win with more/further injuring already injured players so they can be 100 percent come December.

To your latter point, I think that's what the Packers have to weigh with key players like Adams and King. There are still 11 regular-season games to play after Dallas and five more before the bye week. As for the officials, their dedication should be to getting the calls right. That's their job, whether they're calling it live or on replay. I realize your take encompasses the human nature aspect, but if there's any priority aside from getting the calls right, they shouldn't be officials.

Mick from Madison, WI

If a player doesn't perform well in any professional sport, they are usually benched, for a lack of better phrases, e.g., Eli Manning. I think it's fair to ask, if a referee isn't performing their job well, they should be benched too. When it comes to officiating a game, are ALL the officials of all the games lumped together? In other words, if a line judge or back judge is calling penalties wrong, are they disciplined or only the referee? These games can cost a team big money down the road.

All officials have their performances and calls graded individually. It's how they earn postseason assignments.

Brayden from La Crosse, WI

Good morning fellow Packers fans! Getting ready for this amazing game on Sunday should be a good one. I just wanted to say I feel like the most underrated player on our defense is a player a lot of people haven't even heard of. Tyler Lancaster I believe is one of the most important players on our defense, but he does not get enough credit.

If there were a game for a grunt-work, run-plugging defensive lineman to get noticed, this is it.

Jake from Athens, GA

Turf toe seems like one of those problems that is way worse than it sounds. A few years ago, I remember Julio Jones was locked down for most of the season because he tried to play through it. Rodgers seems to think it's possible Adams will be back this week. If so, he would have to have his snaps limited, wouldn't he?

I would think so.

Al from Green Bay, WI

Green Bay has had tremendous success against Dallas in recent years (seven wins in their last eight meetings, I believe). But at the moment, the scoreboard says 0-0. Can past success engender confidence, or is it completely irrelevant?

Wes and I discussed this with regard to AT&T Stadium on yesterday's "Unscripted." I won't overplay it, but I think there's something to it for veteran players. Wes went into an analogy on the show that you'll have to listen to or watch in order to appreciate. I can't do it justice in print.

Chris from Kirksville, MO

I often hear that defenses want to contain the run to eliminate the effectiveness of play-action. But I also hear that offenses want to run the ball to keep defenses "honest," since play-action is most effective when the defense is honest. That being said, is a good run defense more about how the run is contained rather than how well it is contained? Would you rather have a defense that averages four yards a carry, or an honest defense that holds rushes to one yard, but is vulnerable to play-action?

Anybody can scheme to take something away. The question is how sound are your defensive principles in the effort to take that thing away? If you aren't sound, and you're leaving yourself too vulnerable elsewhere, you'll be exposed.

Bill from Raleigh, NC

Hi Mike, should we just assume the Dodgers are going to play the Astros-Yankees winner in the World Series? Who do you think has the best chance to be a surprise?

I'm not counting out the Twins, nor the Braves. But the season feels like it's been headed for a Dodgers-Astros rematch for a while now.

Jeremiah from South Bend, IN

My favorite part of Tuesday's II was Spoff's response to Dan from Rothschild. I literally laughed out loud. Great, so great. The most interesting part, in my opinion, was the insight on the new run game needing to adapt to adjustments with the opponents' defensive fronts. How different is the blocking scheme employed by ML from MM's scheme? Are the differences predominantly on the O-line or is part of the slow start due to the backs adapting as well?

I think it's some of both. Linsley described it not as wholesale change, but little things being different, like aiming points, visual keys, timing on combo blocks, etc. For the backs, we keep hearing from coaches they have to "press the hole" farther before looking for the cutback lane. I think legitimately selling play-action fakes is another element to it all, not just going through the motions. LaFleur continues to reference "details," and I think these are some of the things he's talking about.

Rick from Alexandria, VA

Wes is Radar O'Reilly, right?

I'll have to find out if he's ever seen an episode.

Jim from San Antonio, TX

I was at AT&T Stadium in 2013 for the Flynn comeback against the Cowboys. Through a friend's acquaintance who was a business acquaintance of Jerry Jones, we were able to get field passes to watch the teams warm up. After the game, we were supposed to go meet Jerry in his suite, but for some reason he wasn't in the mood following the Packers comeback. Instead, we went to a lounge in the bowels of the stadium, and had some free drinks on Jerry's dime. Not a bad day at all.

I don't have a topper for that story, but Bill does.

Bill from Menominee, MI

I brought my girlfriend to our family cabin to watch the Packers-Cowboys Flynn comeback game. I was so excited after the game, I decided to take the engagement ring out of my "safe keeping until the right time" hiding spot and proposed that night. Happily married four years with a 2½-year-old boy that shouts GO PACKERS when he sees the G emblem. I will never forget that game at that spot at that time.

I don't think I've ever been as stunned by a single play – Hail Marys included – as I was by Sam Shields' fourth-quarter interception in that game, in part because it happened so fast. The Packers sold out up front to stop the run, Matthews whiffed on a sack of Romo, and if Shields doesn't stop the slant pass, it's a 65-yard TD and the entire comeback is for naught. With nothing but a massive swath of green turf between Miles Austin and the end zone, Shields not only stopped it, he picked it.

Fletcher from Tawas City, MI

Guys, some people watch for the thrill, some watch for bragging rights, but some, like myself, are rather more interested in watching how the team evolves. I want to see if they grow from adversity or get overconfident with success. How do they handle going up against perennial power houses and do they bring their "A" game against teams they should obliterate? Where do you guys reside on the fan perspective spectrum?

From a reporter's perspective, evolution through a season is the story. It's always the story, because the season is so long, the league is so competitive, and all the opponents are evolving in one way or another as well.

Richard from Madison, WI

"I'm still coming to terms with AP style approving the use of the % symbol over spelling out percent." You know why the AP style guide said that, don't you? It was because their original teletype machines — TELETYPES! — didn't have a % striker. And I think teletypes died before 8-track tapes were even invented, but the tradition hung around like a zombie, much like Roman numerals for Super Bowls.

Richard is glad it's Friday. Happy Friday, everyone.


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