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It's not a must-win; it's a must-do


Keith from La Crosse, WI

Doesn't your comment about the zone-blocking scheme directly conflict with your assertion that it's always players, not plays? Are there any other exceptions to this general philosophy?

No, it doesn't conflict and here's why: X's and O's don't move, only players do. You can draw all the plays you want on a board, but they're just designs until the players execute them, and better players make plays work better and more often. Good schemes are better than bad schemes, and the zone-blocking scheme is a strategy that deepens the pool of running backs. Why? Because you don't have to have a Barry Sanders to make it work. The "woods" are full of one-cut runners. So why aren't all teams that run zone-blocking schemes successful? I mean, if it's the scheme, then it shouldn't matter who the blockers or runners are, right?

Jamie from London, Ontario

Do you think we will see an AFC representative other than Pittsburgh, New England or Indianapolis in the Super Bowl?

The Colts are rebuilding, the Steelers are in a mild reshaping, and the Patriots are still preseason favorites to win the AFC, but I think age is starting to creep up on them. I think we're going to see some changing of the guard in the AFC. I like Houston.

Don from Torrington, CT

The replacement refs didn't look as bad as I had feared last night in the Giants/Cowboys game. Thank goodness. Do you think the Packers should game-plan a little with the fake refs in mind? For example, run more picks with their receivers, or play more aggressively in the defensive secondary, since the replacement refs are less likely to make those calls than the real refs.

Game-plan to cheat? I don't like the way that sounds.

Brandon from Ellenwood, GA

Is it more difficult to replace the talent on the field or the talent on the coaching staff?

Any coach will tell you it's more difficult to replace talented players than it is to replaced talented coaches, but it's very difficult to find that one head coach who fits your franchise and can settle in as its long-term leader. I think finding that coach and finding a quarterback with whom the coach can partner are the most difficult pursuits of any franchise. They are the combined identity of the franchise. When you find those two guys, as the Packers have with Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, you're in for a long run of success. Until you find them, you're in a holding pattern.

Ryan from Merrill, WI

Haven't heard anything from you about the situation with the NFL officials. Are you allowed to talk about it? If not, how come? If so, what do you think so far, after the Wednesday night game?

I've expressed my opinion on the matter. My expectation for the replacement officials isn't what it would be for the regular officials. That's only logical, right? My position on the replacement officials is similar to Vince Lombardi's position on the weather for the Ice Bowl. It's cold, they're not going to cancel the game, you know what to do, go do it. Why whine and cry about it?

Bart from San Diego, CA

The Patriots and Packers seem to have many similarities in their style and philosophy. Is there a personnel connection to account for such a shared vision of modern NFL football?

I know of no such personnel connection. Good teams share a common vision. It's a vision for winning and the ones that win a lot tend to share a vision for building through the draft, protect their salary cap structure by resisting expensive fixes in free agency, maintaining continuity in their hierarchy. The Patriots and Packers have a similar offensive philosophy for spreading the field with receivers and favoring the passing game. On the personnel side, I think the Patriots have been more apt to use free agency to patch with older players, whereas the Packers will turn to the young players they've drafted and developed, but I also think that's a product of the Packers having drafted a little better than the Patriots over the past several years. When the Patriots first assembled the talent that sent them on their current run, they were hitting with just about every pick. I think they've drafted well the last few years, but they hit a period of misses that necessitated patching.

Dennis from New Richmond, WI

Vic, so give us the rest. Do teams have postgame spreads like in baseball, or is it junk food on the plane?

The players are given box lunches to take with them on the bus ride to the airport. Once they're on the plane, they get the full treatment. Trust me, they don't go hungry or undernourished. They are also not given junk food, especially on the flight to the game. I can remember one team I covered not allowing carbonated beverages to be served on the plane the day before the game. It was something about the body having difficulty distinguishing between oxygen and carbon dioxide, resulting in an excess of carbon dioxide being absorbed into the system, causing lethargy. Hey, that's the way it was explained to me. I just drank the apple juice. I've always detected a lot of interest in fans as to how teams travel. It's really not that interesting. I've covered football and baseball, and baseball is where it gets interesting. Football teams travel only 10 times a year. They have a contract with a carrier to provide a charter flight. The plane is almost always at the airport waiting for them. Baseball teams might have 30 road trips a year. There aren't as many players, coaches and traveling party members to accommodate, so they fly commercial more often. That's where it gets interesting, as far as extra innings and missing flights. There's a kind of every-man-for-himself feeling in baseball travel.

John from Neenah, WI

Any chance the Packers start using the screen pass a whole lot more? I feel like they've drifted away a bit from using that play over recent years.

I'm befuddled by the plethora of questions I receive about why the Packers don't use the screen pass more often. First of all, the Packers screen as well as any team I've covered, and nobody screens in the red zone as they do. That's supposed to be a no-no, but the Packers do it over and over. There are unwritten rules about the screen pass. You don't screen against teams with a strong corps of linebackers. So, how often a team uses the screen is largely determined by the opponent's defense. What is it about the screen pass Packers fans love so much? I'm obviously missing something.

Nate from Tracy, MN

Vic, I know you have said in the past that Coach McCarthy is a football purist. It seems like when he is talking to the media it's all business all the time. Is this part of him being a football purist or does he not like talking to media, or is it because he knows the media will blow everything he says up?

Most coaches are guarded in their press conference commentaries. Why? Because they know they're speaking to an army of reporters that can instantly tweet the slightest faux pas. Make one mistake, and that mistake will go viral before the coach can retrace his steps. It's really unfortunate that it's come to this because it's cost us the banter between coach and media that I've enjoyed for most of my career. I think of some of the things Chuck Noll said and I laugh and I wonder what the fallout would've been had he made those comments today. For example, he was once asked what he was going to do about a running back's fumbling. Chuck replied by making a chopping motion with his right hand on his left wrist, as he said, "What are they doing in Iran?" That comment was made 30 years ago. The room exploded with laughter. I can't remember any kind of flap about it. What if he had said it today? I can see the headline now: Noll wants to cut off running back's hands. It's really a shame it's come to this. Coach McCarthy is one of the most engaging football personalities I have ever known. I could talk football with him all day, but when he's in a press conference setting, he has to become a different person. It's the way the game is today.

Jerry from Des Moines, IA

Vic, looked at the pictures from the Green and Gold out promotion with Bart Starr, Jordy and Jarrett. Does the tradition of the Packers and having past greats like Bart be involved with the team really mean anything to the current players? Or is it just about doing your job?

It begins and ends with players focusing on doing their jobs. If they do that well enough, they'll be around long enough to enjoy the feeling that goes with being a member of a franchise with the glorious history of the Green Bay Packers.

Bill from Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

How come the topic is never discussed? You indicate Raji is critical to stopping the run, and I want to see why, yet, there's nothing discussed. You do it all the time. Why?

Why do I do it all the time? Because it's been discussed previously and I'm trusting that you're a loyal reader and you've read the explanation and I won't have to fill the column with rehash. Be that as it may, here's the rehash: B.J. Raji is critical to stopping the run because he's the nose tackle. He's the guy the offense is going to focus on moving, and he must refuse to be moved because if he's moved, the line of scrimmage will also be moved. A nose tackle has to do the job of two defensive tackles. He'll be double-teamed all day on Sunday. Stopping the run begins with Raji holding the point of attack.

Trisha from Waupun, WI

Vic, do you think this game is a must-win game? I do. We need to pop the wannabe tough guy in the face. This will tell us if the Pack is back, or still thinking about what could have been.

Those are tough words for a tough game, which is fine with me, but I don't think this is a must-win game because that would mean that should the Packers lose, they might as well forfeit the rest of the season, and that's ridiculous. If it's a must-win game, then the Giants' fate has already been sealed. If it's a must-win game, then the 49ers won't win the NFC West if they lose on Sunday. Yeah, sure. Here's what I think it is: It's a chance to make a statement about having the wherewithal to win a big game against a muscle team. You never want to be tagged a finesse team. It's OK to have a finesse passing game, but you need to have a defense that can stand toe to toe with a physical opponent and win the battle of the hitting. That's what's on the line on Sunday. The Packers need to match the 49ers blow for blow on Sunday. It's not a must-win, it's a must-do.

Blaine from Madison, WI

General consensus puts the Packers as the No. 1 team in the NFC North this year, even with all the talk about it being one of the most competitive divisions. Of the other three teams, who do you think will take the No. 2 spot?

I think that's a dangerous attitude. It not only sets you up for disappointment, it invites it. I think you should prepare yourself to enjoy a fiercely competitive season that will end with one team claiming the NFC North title. The quality of the competition is what makes winning the division title so rewarding. I expect this will be a much more competitive race than it was last year.

Paul from Kenosha, WI

Vic, as a followup to your explanation of team travel logistics, can you remember any failures in the equipment delivery which left a team without gear at game time? What happens then?

No, I can't. The equipment travels with the team and the equipment people travel on the truck with the equipment to the stadium. I can't remember an equipment truck ever getting lost for two days or being hijacked. What I can remember is the visiting team showing up with the wrong jerseys, which forced the home team to wear a jersey other than the one it had selected back in the spring, and that resulted in the visiting team being fined.

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