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Inbox: You cannot deny the impact

Field position gets more important as the temperature drops

LB Za'Darius Smith
LB Za'Darius Smith

Wes from South St Paul, MN

There are opponents coming up that have really good run games – Washington and Minnesota. This Sunday will tell a big story as to whether the Packers can get the run defense on track without collapsing on the pass defense. The only way to get a bye in the playoffs is to run the table and get some help as well.

I would never advise to sell out against the run at all costs but both Matt LaFleur and Bill Callahan said Wednesday morning it's not like what Washington plans to do is a secret. It's there to run and chew bubble gum…and it's all out of bubble gum. Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice are going to earn their paychecks Sunday, and the Packers have to be ready for it.

Shawdoe from Nottingham. MD

Can we keep A.P. under 30 yards this Sunday?

Peterson has had an interesting year. He's been held under 40 yards and four yards per carry in six of his 11 games this year. In those other five, however, he's rushed for 482 yards on only 88 carries (5.5 ypc). You better be ready for the best A.P. on Sunday.

Ashton from Bluffdale, UT

On the Allen Lazard play where he clocked in at 20 miles per hour, he had 4,800 Newtons of force pushing him forward. Do you think Lazard's success is sustainable (especially against a team with a good secondary)? I really hope so, Lazard seems like a cool guy!

I see no reason why not. He has the trust of Aaron Rodgers and the guy just keeps getting better. It's not a breakout year in the traditional statistical sense but Lazard can play. That's the point I tried to make with Tuesday's II.

Greg from The Villages, FL

Given Mr. Lazard's size and speed, and the revolving door on special teams, why would he not be given the additional opportunity as a return specialist?

Lazard is more than capable. He brought back 21 punts for 213 yards as occasional returner at Iowa State but that's not his role right now. Also, most NFL returners tend to be running backs, receivers and defensive backs in that 5-10 range with a lower center of gravity. Lazard loves special teams but that's mostly spent in coverage.

Tom from Vista, CA

I'm glad we have Lazard. What criteria qualifies a player as an exclusive-rights free agent?

A player with fewer than three accrued seasons.

Cameron from Wayland, MI

How important is it to have a better return game?

Critical. Field position gets more and more important as the temperature drops. That's why JK Scott's turnaround against the Giants was noteworthy. The Packers need to get more production from their return teams. Green Bay shuffled the deck again and hopes Tyler Ervin can be that spark.

Bill from Wilmington, DE

Wes, was that a good time to cut Tremon Smith? I thought he had the longest return of the year against the Giants?

The waiver wire doesn't wait on you. If there's a player a team covets, general managers must submit their claim. Once claimed, a corresponding move must be made. Unfortunately, it was Smith's time. His strong suit was kickoff returns, so that return in New York should come as no surprise. However, what gives Ervin an edge is his experience as a punt returner.

Cody from Ozark, MO

First-time poster, longtime reader...With our issues on returns, would it ever be possible for someone like Jamaal Williams to return kicks? A good power back like him seems like he could do some serious damage between breaking tackles and power running. Always enjoy reading y'all's comments!

Williams returned four kickoffs in 2018 for 95 yards with a long of 30, but I'd say he's too important to risk putting back there, especially after what happened with Johnathan Franklin in 2013. He's also not a punt returner. The Packers seem to be looking for someone who can do both.

Al from Green Bay, WI

Which defensive stalwart has had a better year to this point – Khalil Mack or Za'Darius Smith?

I gotta go with Smith right now. I know big surprise, but aside from the forced fumbles, every key stat favors Za'Darius whether it's officially (43 tackles, 10 sacks) or via Pro Football Focus (70 pressures, 18 quarterback hits). You cannot deny the impact. He deserves to be a serious candidate for All-Pro, let alone the Pro Bowl.

Steven from Silver Spring, MD

Jace Sternberger has been used almost exclusively as a blocker which is notable since his profile was a lighter, pass-catching TE. Tape shows him blocking effectively in space and in-line. If we aren't getting open targets downfield using WRs in spread sets, why not go with deception and use three TEs in a jumbo and get one of those TEs matched on an ILB or box SS?

That's a part of the offense. You're seeing more two- and three-tight-end sets this year, and the Packers are building a base with Sternberger right now. Honestly, I'm more excited about his potential based on how well he's performed in protection than if he'd caught 30 passes to this point.

Mike from Madison, WI

With Washington coming to town, how do you see the Packers covering up the speedy Terry McLaurin? Do you think Jaire Alexander will shadow him?

When McLaurin is wide, it's entirely possible Alexander will be the one lining up across from him Sunday. In the slot, it probably will be Tramon Williams. Regardless, whoever covers McLaurin is in for a big test. He's explosive and savvy. While Washington is emphasizing its running game, McLaurin can burn you deep if you sleep on the pass.

Karen from Kaukauna, WI

What are your thoughts regarding the benefits of having a first-round bye in the playoffs? After how unprepared the Pack was when they came back from their most recent "week off," I'm wondering if not getting that bye in the playoffs might actually be to their advantage.

I've always maintained it's more beneficial to rest than to get worn down in a wild-card game. Plus, the last six Super Bowl champions have had first-round byes, so make of that what you will.

Patsi from Riverside, CA

Props to Aaron Rodgers for another four-TD game in New York on Sunday. He started the season in 11th place all-time on the NFL passing touchdowns career leaders list, and now is within four touchdowns of moving into sole position of sixth place by potentially passing Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. The three quarterbacks just ahead of him are all part of that remarkable 2004 QB draft class. Here's to another great day against the Redskins at Lambeau this weekend.

I actually asked Rodgers about this last month for the game program story I wrote on him. His reply: "I'm a historian at heart so I understand how important these names were to the development and the popularity of our sport. I'm thankful for their role in that and proud to just be another person who's hopefully helped with the development of our game and helped with the development of our franchise." Rodgers is at 360 right now, with Manning (362) and Roethlisberer (363) in his sights.

Bill from Bloomfield Hills, MI

I'm trying to remember what the big topics were during training camp and preseason. Do you remember any of them?

Will Rodgers play in the preseason? Will he get along with Matt LaFleur? If those two things don't happen, this team is doomed; doomed I tell you! Oh, the horror! That was fun.

Roger from Gillette, WY

How long do you think it will take until Matt LaFleur won't have to admit he made mistakes with his game plan/play-calling? Couple years being a new head coach? Thanks.

I've found there are two types of people in this world. Those who point to themselves and admit blame, and those who look to pass it onto others, rightly or wrongly. LaFleur is very much the former, which in my opinion, is the constructive option and the true sign of a leader. He's not going to throw his coaches or players under the bus. If you want more from others, you better ask more of yourself. LaFleur gets it.

Sandy from Green Bay, WI

I realize Insiders are not encouraged to attempt math, but 600 shovelers, 6½ inches of snow, how long does it take to clear the seating area at Lambeau Field?

I shoveled once as a social experiment. Well, actually I mostly carried salt up and down stairs. Anyway, we cleared it in 1½ hours. I took the money and bought some wings.

Burt from Hudson, WI

Thinking about Mason Crosby, including his extraordinary kicking performances in GB, I think we all need to give Mike McCarthy some well-deserved love for sticking by Mason, when he struggled a few seasons back.

I think it says a lot about Ted Thompson and McCarthy how they stood by Crosby. It's so easy to overreact, especially with specialists. More often than not, those reactionary decisions don't make a team better. The Packers saw Crosby through to the other side of the slump and it made the Packers better for years to come. And now, he's the franchise's all-time leading scorer.

Phillip from Corona, CA

From Wednesday II, "Wes, it is never clumsy when spoken from the heart. I think Brittany and family would approve..." I'm a 65-year-old man and I had tears in my eyes when Wes spoke. I agree with Mike's comment and think it is great the relationships you both develop with the players and their families. I like this side of the II, I think it adds a lot to our lives as well. Wish you and your families the best.

I think that's why this one hurt so much. With those types of stories, you're asking for permission to peel back the layers of a person's life – the good and the bad – and tell the story true. Meeting Brittany in-person afterward was a life-changing experience for me, seeing both her strength and vulnerability. I think part of my reaction is also getting older and being more affected by deaths in my own family and social circles, and the hole it leaves in your heart when those people leave your life. Carpe diem, folks.

Daniel from Atlanta, GA

The top of the NFC is really impressive this year. We could realistically see a No. 6 seed that's 12-4. I'm slightly surprised that's even mathematically possible.

You never know what's going to happen year to year, and in 2019, that's the landscape of the conference.

Steve from Cedar Falls, IA

Congratulations to Josh Sitton to retire as a Packer. Not sure if this will come into play, but is he going to sign a one-day contract? If he does during the season, does that trigger a roster move of some sort?

It's ceremonial. He's not actually signing anything.

Brad from Milwaukie, OR

Playoffs! Playoffs! Did you say playoffs? Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We still have a 6% chance of missing the playoffs. Don't jinx this by talking playoffs. Let's just go out and hope the Packers can go 1-0 each week for the next seven games.

You gotta keep stacking. Washington gets the Packers to 10 wins, which then gets them closer to 11…and so on.

Rich from Grand Rapids, MI

To follow-up on Larissa's question and Mike's response, it also seemed that nobody was fired up in the least by anything Russell Wilson was saying. He even had to back off of one end-zone celebration because he was not invited to join. The whole "mic'd up" thing on MNF seems contrived anyway, but if you go back and watch how his teammates react to him, Wilson looks closer to an annoyance than an inspiration. Maybe Richard Sherman was right after all...

I'm not going to venture down that road of speculation, but I will say I'm not a fan of mic'd up at all. Just play the game.

Dana from Eau Claire, WI

Very surprised many seem to be looking at the Bears game as a "gimme." Yes, Mitchell Trubisky is not a top-flight QB but they have offensive weapons and a great defense. That is the game that could be our downfall.

The Packers have to stay alert to all of it. And an argument can be made no team in the NFC has more to play for over the next month than the Bears.

Kevin from Shorewood, WI

Bold prediction: McCarthy comes to Lambeau Week 1 next year as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers.

I hope Mike McCarthy is coaching in the NFL next year and Ron Rivera, too, for that matter. The rest will get sorted out next month.

Ryan from Sheboygan Falls, WI

Will the Packers win at home two times in two weeks?

I could tell you but then you wouldn't watch the games.