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Inbox: You gotta believe

The Atlanta game was one moment in a season of triumph for Robert Tonyan

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QB Aaron Rodgers

Willy from Isny im Allgäu, Germany

Hi Wes, your response to Thomas from Oconomowoc, WI, regarding his nervousness had something of Gandalf the White about it. Thanks for the reassuring and wise words.

I'm good for one of those every once in a green moon.

Michael from Burnsville, MN

The last time we played the Bucs, we didn't take care of the ball. Aside from that, what do you think the most important focus needs to be this week?

The present. Making the corrections from the Rams game and building on what the Packers are doing well right now. Because it's not about Week 6. It never has been. It's about the NFC Championship Game and being the better team on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.

Dan from Portland, OR

Not so much a question as an idea for beating the Bucs...Run the ball hard and often. Use it as a battering ram against Suh and the rest of their front seven. If that's their strength, I say attack it and break them. Just my two cents. You can tell Coach LaFleur I'm available for consults. Go Pack!

It's a new opponent but I feel the Packers need to rinse and repeat what they did well against the Rams – come out and impose their will from the opening whistle. Green Bay ran north-and-south against the Rams and it changed the complexion of the game. Now, Tampa boasts the best run defense in the league so you can't be certain those same running lanes will present themselves, but the Packers need to put their foot on the gas early and move the ball downfield.

Nick from Greenfield, WI

Is there a certain WR that Jaire Alexander will be assigned to in this coming matchup? It's tough when Evans, Godwin, and Brown (to an extent) could be No. 1's on most teams. Does it depend on early performance or targets?

You guys ask this every week. No. Alexander plays on the left side of the defense. Mike Pettine may choose to match him against somebody occasionally, but if there's a set pattern, I've yet to find it.

Summer from Williamsburg, VA

Last week there was a lot of focus put on the Ramsey-Davante Adams matchup. Which matchup are you most looking forward to seeing in the championship games this weekend?

The three-dimensional chess match between Rodgers and LaFleur, and Todd Bowles and the Bucs' inside linebackers.

Ben from Pensacola, FL

This was partly pointed out in Wednesday's II, but to put it in another way of something we already said, ML's belief in his guys is just so genuine. I'm sure he holds them accountable behind closed doors, but his faith in them is evident by different opportunities he keeps giving. Some other teams' head coaches have not displayed that same faith at times (except maybe Andy Reid and Sean McDermott).

You gotta believe, in your locker room, in your players and in your coaches. And it's not saying you believe in them – it's showing you believe in them. I think LaFleur has done that since the day he was hired. Who doesn't like a good "Atta boy" every now and then? I sure do. When that doesn't happen, people get sour. They don't feel appreciated. In any walk of life, every good employee wants to believe in something. But first, you need to show you believe in them. That's why LaFleur is an exceptional leader.

Margeaux from Tallahassee, FL

Back in the days of "Jimmy the Greek" I was always amazed about how often his predictions were wrong. Henceforth to this day I pay no attention to that drivel. I am so thankful that you guys avoid game result predictions. When did you both realize such nonsense was not for you?

When I realized it's not about what Aaron Rodgers says or does. All that matters to them is that he's Aaron Rodgers…and saying anything about Aaron Rodgers drives clicks. There is no art to what they do and no syndication for their work. When I'm dead and buried, I want a leave a legacy of stories that told you who players were and what they stood for. This job shouldn't be about the reporter or pundit. It should be about the subject: the athlete. This industry needs to get back to being observers, not barnacles.

Steve from Alexandria, VA

What percentage of plays did the Bucs blitz in the first meeting? How does that compare to what other opponents did, and what (if anything) does that tell us?

All credit goes to Pro Football Focus for these numbers. He was 6-of-17 (35.3%) for 63 yards with two interceptions (7.4 passer rating) against the blitz in Tampa. In the other 15 regular-season games, Rodgers was 100-of-149 (67.1%) for 1,226 yards, 17 touchdowns and two INTs (124.7 passer rating) against the blitz.

Daniel from Northridge, CA

There was an interesting breakdown detailing what Tampa did to us to disrupt Rodgers and Co. so much the first time. In the first quarter, they simply played zone and we were able to respond to it. After that, Todd Bowles just had persistent pressure, constantly rushing five or more guys. Somehow, if that is the key to stopping our offense, I think ML will find a way around it.

Historically, Rodgers has diced up teams that spam blitzes. If that's the direction Bowles chooses to go, I'd expect LaFleur and Rodgers to make the necessary adjustments.

Bill from Bloomfield Hills, MI

Davante Adams' numbers can go up and down with a defense focusing on him, but we see the uptick with the other WRs. That said, Robert Tonyan's numbers feel pretty consistent all season. Do you notice that too or am I mistaken? It's been a while since we have seen our RBs having big passing games with downfield routes. Would that be part of a game plan with TB given their LB roster?

Tonyan was been such a steady, consistent performer for the Packers all season. The Atlanta game put him on the map but that was only one small moment in a season of triumph for Tonyan. Consistency is how he wound up being the team's second-leading receiver. Yes, the running backs will be a big part of this thing – running, catching, motioning, the whole deal. LaFleur needs to find ways to put the ball in their hands.

Chun from El Monte, CA

Hoping Kingsley Keke plays this weekend, he has been a pleasant surprise all season long. He has been a disruptor and the best way to beat Brady or any great QB is to pressure them out of their comfort zone.

It was good to see Keke back at practice Wednesday. He's an important piece on the defensive line with how he can play in base and affect the quarterback as a three-technique in the dime defense. Having Keke available makes Kenny Clark even more dangerous.

Steve from Toronto, Canada

It looks like AJ Dillon was out on the practice field Wednesday. Guessing all signs are pointing up?

We shall see, but that's definitely a good sign for Dillon. When Jamaal Williams injured his thigh a few weeks ago, he didn't practice at all before missing the Chicago game. You guys have seen how dynamic this offense can be when all three of those running backs are healthy and producing.

Christopher from Frederick, MD

If I had to pick one player on offense to keep an eye on, it would be Corey Linsley. If the Packers can run between the tackles, Linsley's ability to block one of those MLBs will be crucial.

It's not easy to block a linebacker or safety in space, but Linsley makes it look so effortless. He's been one of the Packers' five or 10 best players for the past five years now. I'm glad he's starting to get the credit he so richly deserved.

Tom from St Johns, MI

Just a comment on temperature from a Wisconsinite. When the temperature is in the 20s in January, we view this as a heat wave. When we go to Florida in January and the pool is in the high 60s, low 70s, we go swimming (temperature of most WI lakes). Weather makes a difference! "Go Pack Go"

It didn't surprise me to hear Bruce Arians say he doesn't consider 28 degrees cold. He coached in Cleveland and Pittsburgh for 10 years, after all. But Sunday afternoon will tell the true story. I've lived here for 33 years. I promise January weather in Green Bay hits different.

Bob from Oshkosh, WI

Hi guys, just wondering, it's mighty cold today, much colder than what is predicted for Sunday. Does the team practice in this just to toughen up or is the practice inside an unheated Hutson Center?

The team practices in it all right. That's why when Davante Adams was asked, "How are you?" after sitting down for his post-practice Zoom call, all Adams said was: "Cold." That's one more thing the Bucs can't replicate with their practices down in Florida.

Avida from Vienna, VA

All of these years Aaron Rodgers has waited to have a NFC Championship at Lambeau. Is it sad, ironic, unfortunate (I'll allow Mike and Wes to find the word that encapsulates it) that he finally gets his wish and it happens in a pandemic when the stadium will only have partial attendance. We've been deprived of a sold-out Lambeau going crazy with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

Fair enough, but I'm just thankful we can safely have any fans at all. And I think the team is, too. Because last Saturday night was fun time. That was the first time I've felt like I've been at a real football game all season.

Karl from Fort Collins, CO

Guys to watch: Offense – Equanimeous St. Brown, not for volume of yards, but for key catches; Defense – Preston Smith, not for sacks, but for affecting the passing game.

Smith didn't have a sack last weekend but his two pass deflections at the line of scrimmage were huge. The Packers could use another big game out of Rashan Gary, as well. It would be great for the 23-year-old rusher to build even more confidence en route to a potential Super Bowl run.

Nick from Henrico, VA

Hod Rod, I'm calling it now: Jaire Alexander on a key corner blitz gets a game-changing sack on Brady. Alexander the Great is so lock solid that Brady isn't even going to look to his side of the field, and that is going to lead to a blindside sack. Brady might retire right afterwards, so he better hope Ja Money waits until the fourth quarter to drop it on him. Joe Buck will turn into a WWE announcer and compare it to a train wreck or a car crash. It's going to be fantastic. Tell me I'm wrong.

Oh…oh my (I also don't think Brady is retiring anytime soon).

Logan from Eads, CO

Often when we dominate the time of possession, I start hearing mid-game how it'll leave the defense at a disadvantage later in the game as their time on the field begins to "add up." My question is why do we not hear about the impact this can have on offensive players, particularly the O-linemen? We have big boys too!

I think O-linemen actually like it. Because more plays mean more run calls…and nothing makes an offensive lineman happier than a productive ground game. Put it this way, would you rather be on the balls of your feet, pressing forward, or backpedaling on your heels for 60 minutes?

Steve from Land O' Lakes, FL

I hope AR is focused on beating the TB defense and not beating Brady. Is that how you think he will approach the game?

I promise you Steve the only thing Aaron Rodgers is concerned with is beating the Buccaneers and advancing to the Super Bowl. I've never been more confident of anything in my life.

Dan from Morehead City, NC

The storylines going into this game seem eerily similar to last year's NFC Championship Game. Like last year, I believe the game will hinge on the play of our defensive front. If they contain the run and pressure the pass, we should win. I felt the same last year. Our team is a different, and better team than last year's, and at home. The defensive front has been trending in the right direction and should be up to the challenge. Would you agree this is more important than turnovers and ST?

Protect the ball and play your game. That's it. Clear as crystal. I'm tired of talking about last year's title game.

Matt from Waunakee, WI

When fans look at their team, they tend to see the weaknesses. When they look at the opposition, they see strengths.

Yeah, it's great. Sarcasm font.

Brayden from Fayetteville, NC

Dear II, what free agents would you project get re-signed and which would you currently project walk?

We're four days from the biggest game the Packers have played in four years…and this is what you want to know.

Eric from Stramproy, Netherlands

Good morning, Wes. Philip Rivers' retirement: thoughts?

Great quarterback, one of my all-time favorite quarterbacks. I loved him at NC State and appreciated how he embraced the challenge of being the Chargers QB. He was a gunslinger and a master trash-talker, albeit G-rated. Rivers made the game entertaining and fun. I'll miss him.

Dennis from Beavercreek, OH

So Rivers has retired, which I expected. Do you think he will be voted into the HOF? Many believe Eli Manning will be voted in. The stats between the two are very similar except Manning has two SB wins. Does Rivers have enough?

He's a Pro Football Hall of Famer in my book. I'm not a voter, though, and am not here to debate it. We have more pressing matters at hand.

Nathan from Philadelphia, PA

With the combine being curtailed this year, how important is the Senior Bowl this week for scouting?

Not much changes with the Senior Bowl, but pro days will take on added importance.

Justin from Wausau, WI

You guys are the pros, but shouldn't it be "all the perch ARE in the livewell"?

You've never been fishing with me, Justin. I promise you perch is singular. All one of them.

Ben from Menomonee Falls, WI

To respond to Ryan from Watertown's comment on irony, and Mike's answer: "A coincidence is when two unlikely activities share similarities. ... Coincidence is often confused with situational irony. Situational irony is when the end of a situation is VERY different than what you would expect. For example: Your hairdresser has really, really bad hair." You're welcome. Go Pack Go!

And if you ask my good friend Pete Dougherty, there's no such thing as true irony.

Estillac from Belém, Brazil

Good morning, Wes! Mike replied to Greg from Downers Grove, IL, on Jan. 15, considering that he'd got the Inbox's first "Queen's Gambit" reference posted, but that honor belongs to you! Check your reply to Ferdinand from Woodbury, MN, on Dec. 1.

Oh, I'm very aware.

Andy from Verona, WI

Are you making space for Dean's II Hall of Fame bust next to Lori from Brookfield's?

He's making a strong run at 2021 Insider Inbox Fan of the Year…or whatever it is we call that major award.

Jerry from Mendota Heights, MN

Hope to celebrate my 68th birthday on the 24th with a win over the Bucs. Both sons coming to join us, one from Denver and the other from NYC. Lots of traveling for the four of us to attend the game, but all are excited to go. Isn't it great being a Packers fan?

Anytime you're still cheering for your NFL team on Jan. 21, that's a good thing. There are 28 other fanbases with no skin in the game this weekend. Cherish that Sunday afternoon matters. I hope you and the family have a great time.

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