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Leaders get it done at crunch time


Eric from Denver, CO

What was it exactly that allowed the Saints to move the ball so freely against our defense last week and how do we adjust?

This would seem to be the question of the week. I get the feeling that most of the people asking this question want my answer to be: The Packers should change from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and abandon all of their schemes for new schemes. I would remind those people that four of the top five defenses in the league, including the No. 1 overall defense (Houston), play the 3-4. Players, not plays.

Cole from Iron Mountain, MI

Do you find following college football gives people a greater appreciation for the NFL, or vice versa? I think I would appreciate draft day much more if I watched the kids play college.

I watch college football because I like it. I don't like it as much as I once did, but I still enjoy it. I grew to love college football when I was young because it was a travelogue. For a kid growing up in a northeast mill town, it was a chance to see the rest of the country. College football has always offered that kind of see-the-country flavor, as part of its regional concept. Conferences represented the lifestyles of their regions. The homogenization of those conferences is, in my opinion, costing college football a significant chunk of its flavor and appeal. When did Pennsylvania move to the Midwest? When did Texas move to the Southeast? West Virginia to the Southwest? College football and pro football always complemented each other because college football was the regional game I watched on Saturday and pro football was the national game I watched on Sunday. Now, I can't tell the difference.

Ray from Friendship, WI

Vic, I think that when the fans make noise so that the opposing team cannot hear the signal or audibles, it is unsportsmanlike conduct. What say you?

Once upon a time, it was. If the crowd raised its voices so that the opposing team's offense was obstructed at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback would back out from under center, turn to the referee and the referee would halt the action until the crowd got quiet. If the crowd persisted in raising its voices, the referee would make an announcement that the home team would be penalized if the crowd didn't allow for the ball to be snapped. At that point, the home team would begin gesturing to the crowd to quiet down. It became an unnecessary and oft-repeated problem that the league decided was impossible to fix, especially with the proliferation of domed stadiums, so the league decided it was up to the visiting team to figure a way to overcome the problem. They did; they perfected the silent count.

Connor from Johnston, IA

When do you think the Packers offense can start going downfield with success?

When it either brings those two safeties in the middle of the field closer to the line of scrimmage, or drags one of them up to the line of scrimmage, and makes the linebackers respect the threat of run instead of taking deep drops at the snap of the ball. There are a couple of ways to accomplish all of that. You can run the ball and make the defense commit more players to stopping the run, or you can throw underneath the coverage and show the patience to drive the ball long distances in many plays. No defense is going to sit in a soft zone all day and allow you to score and dominate time of possession. Eventually, they'll have to tighten and respect the whole field, not just the deep-third portion of it.

Nick from Houghton, MI

Saying players need to learn concepts, not plays, is essentially another way of saying don't learn what to do, learn why you should do it?

When a player understands the concept of the scheme, he can think his way through the scheme and make necessary adjustments, instead of having to stop the play when the player he's supposed to block isn't where he's supposed to be and ask, "Now what should I do?" Football is a game of constant adjustments. No play occurs exactly as it's drawn up. A stunt or twist by the defensive linemen requires an immediate adjustment by the offensive linemen, and that's when understanding concepts is necessary. You don't want your players to be robots, you want them to be intelligent athletes that can use their minds as well as their bodies.

Nick from Hollandale, WI

Why do the coaches have to make the game tougher than it really is? They think they're superior to everyone because they have this so-called scheme that is so awesome and is going to work. No. Get your playmakers on the field and play football. The coaches aren't any smarter than I am. Great example: The line coach finally got it through their heads just to block. Honestly, it's that simple; just play football. It takes the coaches a year to figure out how to use Randall Cobb, too? Come on! I'm not a working man, just a kid in high school, and they get paid millions of dollars to be predictable and boring. I know this doesn't sound very football related, but it just gets so bothersome when the offense can't figure out how to use its talent, and the defense can't figure out that rushing three guys continues to fail. The coaches think they're geniuses, but really they're not any smarter than you or me.

Nick, I think you should spend some time learning concepts. I'm trying to be kind.

Kevin from Janesville, WI

Can you explain what the reasons may have been for the non-reversal of the (catch) made by the Saints receiver that caused us to lose our last review?

I really can't. I was absolutely sure that call would be reversed. I've been covering football for 41 years. For most of my career, I knew what a catch was. I don't know now what a catch is. I think most referees would've reversed that call. Apparently they don't know what a catch is, either.

Cliff from Wolfville, Nova Scotia

I like watching football but I don't like watching wasted plays (kickoff touchbacks and victory formation plays). They are boring and don't contribute to the final score. If the NFL really wants to give their fans a quality experience, they should make every play count. Do away with kneel-downs and move the kickoff point back to where it was. Are you of like mind?

I don't mind kneel-downs. If a team has earned the right to kneel with the ball, or it wants to avoid risk, then go ahead and do it. Discretion is the better part of valor, right? I'm afraid I've got bad news for you, Cliff. I think punt returns are going to be the next target of the competition committee. The Josh Cribbs play last week was frightening. I think we might see repeal of the linemen-can't-leave rule, which would effectively turn punt returns into a battle of fair catches, again. I'll stop short of saying we're heading toward the day of games becoming scrimmages, but the grave danger that exists in the return game has to be addressed. I think the competition committee did a great job of addressing the kickoff-return danger; moving the kickoff line up was genius. Even when the returner decides to bring the ball out of the end zone, he's not capable of getting up to sprinter's speed before he hits the wall.

Dustin from Dell Rapids, SD

Vic, you said a couple of weeks ago that the Packers needed to be able to run the ball and complete short passes to neutralize the cover-two looks they're getting. Our offense did just that against the Saints. When defenses get dinked and dunked down the field, they become impatient and start jumping routes and overcommitting to the run, which is where the double moves and big plays come back.

Bingo! The intent of balance between run and pass, left and right, long and short is to make the defense respect the whole field. Great teams have the kind of balance that forces their opponents to respect the whole field. When you achieve that, you can then take what you want.

Zach from Cresco, IA

Do you think Aaron Rodgers would have preferred to play in San Francisco than in Green Bay?

Coming out of college? Yes. Now? No. I think Green Bay is home for him now.

Chris from Pfafftown, NC

Vic, Brees' 47 straight games with at least one TD pass is impressive. Can you imagine what Johnny Unitas would have done playing now? I heard they didn't throw as much back then. Also, they didn't play indoors on carpet with no wind or weather.

I would agree that it was more difficult for Unitas to establish that milestone than it has been for Brees. Unitas' highest number of pass attempts in a season was 436 in 1967, toward the end of his career. Brees has only attempted fewer than 436 passes twice in his career as a starter, both times when he was with the Chargers. He attempted 657 and 658 passes the past two years. The quarterback protections that exist in today's game certainly didn't exist for Unitas, either, but I am in awe of what Brees has done, especially for a guy who doesn't have prototype size or arm strength. He's a great quarterback who has put his name next to Unitas', and I think it's deserving.

Jon from Ames, IA

Do you blame fantasy football for our obsession with stats?

Fantasy football is the result of the fans' fascination for stats, not the cause of it.

Mike from New York, NY

Vic, if the other team's safeties play high against us, doesn't that leave a ton of room in between them and the linebackers for Rodgers to exploit?

Not if the linebackers are taking deep drops. I've seen this before. Terry Bradshaw was beating teams with the deep ball and intermediate-route throws to Swann and Stallworth. All of a sudden, the running game had become an afterthought. Then the Chargers went to a deep drop with their linebackers, which allowed their safeties to drop even deeper, and the result was five interceptions. That resulted in a return to the running game, and Bradshaw won his second consecutive Super Bowl MVP by beating the Rams in Super Bowl XIV with repeated bombs to Swann and Stallworth. Balance is critical.

Aaron from Janesville, WI

What do you think of Skip Bayless agreeing with Finley's agent saying Rodgers is a bad leader? Do you see any evidence that would hint at it being true?

This again? What greater example of leadership could we have than what Aaron Rodgers gave us this past Sunday? Down by six points and staring at 57 yards of green grass through a freshly scratched eye, Rodgers completed five of six passes in LEADING the Packers to the game-winning touchdown. Leaders get it done at crunch time. Rodgers did.

Tim from Normal, IL

Vic, your response about adversity was inspiring. It changed my entire outlook on life and day-to-day struggles. Did you just write what you felt at the moment or is this some creed you abide by?

It's in all of us. Adversity isn't limited to football players and those who write about football players. We overcome adversity when illness in our family makes our heart heavy, but we plow on and continue to fulfill our responsibilities. Adversity for Packers fans is that loss that really hurts, but they accept it with dignity and calmly wait for the next opportunity to cheer their team to victory. When you act in that manner, you get stronger. You establish an example for how to deal with defeat, and that's a good thing because there will always be another defeat. By the way, for those Packers fans who'll be heading to Indianapolis for this Sunday's game, you're invited to attend a "Packers Everywhere Pep Rally" on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. ET at Rock Bottom, a restaurant and brewery in downtown Indianapolis.

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