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Make them earn it the hard way

Packers' defense needs impact from its young reserves to continue


Scott from Lincoln City, OR

Mike, the Steelers' defense is even better than the Ravens', ranked second overall in points per game allowed and fourth overall in yards per game allowed. Not turning the ball over is a given, but what else needs to be done to get a win in Pittsburgh?

You have to be able to find a way to run the ball on offense to keep Pittsburgh's defense honest. Getting one-dimensional with a young QB against a defense like this would not be ideal. Defensively, don't get gashed by Bell and Brown. Those guys can score from anywhere. Make them earn it the hard way. All easier said than done.

Nathan from Baltimore, MD

The commentators on SNF seem to believe the Steelers play down to their competition, with narrow wins over teams like the Browns and Colts and a loss to the Mike Glennon-led Bears. If you were Mike Tomlin, how would you prepare your team to avoid a trap-game mentality against the Packers?

I'd show my team the mistakes it made against the Browns, Bears, etc., and then show the level of execution it took to beat teams like the Vikings, Chiefs and Lions. As the coach of a team on a five-game winning streak, this is the type of game you focus on yourself, not the other guys.

Jeff from Green Bay, WI

So who will fill the enormous shoes of Kenny Clark and how? No one else on the roster is officially a NT, so a scheme change would seem inevitable after a really good stretch of run defense in the last three games using more base 3-4 defense.

Quinton Dial will play more in base, and Montravius Adams and Dean Lowry can both line up next to Mike Daniels as nickel rushers. Clark is a big loss, but his snaps won't all be taken by one guy.

Matt from Hartford, WI

Did Kenny Clark get hit by Jensen after the play was over? There were so many bodies in the pile, the way Packers players reacted to Jensen was obviously outrage. Biegel, Clinton-Dix and Brooks were all right there in his face when it happened.

Collins, the running back, fell on Clark's legs as he was tackled. With Clark's legs pinned underneath, Jensen then shoved Clark to bend him backwards. It wasn't nice.

Nathan from Tiffin, OH

Hey Mike, "The Packers need something to hang their hat on, and a month in I expected that to emerge." Is that an admission to naïve optimism for this team?


Optimism, sure. But naïve? No. Based on past experience, I believed a Rodgers-less team would establish its roots in about a month, but I'm wondering if the constant change at running back and right tackle has affected that effort.**

Jackson from Rothschild, WI

No way to sugarcoat that one, Packer apologists.

I don't believe I have.

Tom from Swindon, UK

So lately I've noticed the potential of Lowry from camp come through in games and he's doing lots of nice things, but this week Fackrell seemed to get more involved and make plays. Do you think this was the first step on his step from first to second year?

It needs to be. This defense needs every ounce of impact it can get from its young reserves, especially edge rushers like Fackrell.

Dave from Ankeny, IA

During the season, if a team is interested in a player on the practice squad of another team, what do they use as an evaluation? Is it only what was available from preseason games, initial scouting reports, or can they request information from the player's agent?

Pre-draft scouting reports plus college and preseason game tape is pretty much it.

Mark from Franklin, TN

Is what we are seeing a good example of the differences between preseason and regular season for Brett? I imagine there is no substitute for playing with the faster game speed, option routes, more complicated defensive schemes, etc.

No question. I think the quality of preseason play has declined considerably in the current decade. The gulf between August and September football has grown much larger, let alone August to November. I believe what Dak Prescott accomplished as a first-year starter will be more the exception than the rule, in part because he had the game's best offensive line and running game with him.

Sean from Helena, MT

Can you explain the process as to why Flacco didn't get awarded the timeout he called for, when the snap sailed over his head? It was obvious (on replay) that he signaled for timeout before the snap. Just a case of the refs not seeing the signal in time?

You mean Jeff Triplette's crew missed something obvious? No way.

Perry from Lexington, KY

Why do you think the tight end position has been targeted so little in this year's offensive play calling? Seems like with a young inexperienced QB the past five games they would've been more involved.

I think Hundley has missed some opportunities with Kendricks. I think he could start looking for him more.

Gardner from Circle Pines, MN

I don't understand why so many fans insist that McCarthy rip the team in public. One of the guiding principles of leadership over the centuries is to "praise in public, chastise in private." It is a matter of respect and trust. It works at every level in all areas of life. MM is doing his job and doing it well in that regard.

Last year the Vikings were 5-0, lost their first game of the season on the road at Philly when the Eagles' pass rush ate them alive, and after the game Mike Zimmer went to the podium and called his offensive line "soft." How did that work out?

Ben from Denver, CO

In regards to Davante's pending free agency, I initially said after Aaron's injury that his numbers will naturally dip and we would get Adams at a bargain this year. Now that he is still balling out with a QB like Hundley, it seems we may have to actually pay him more than we would have had Aaron not gone down. I'm curious as to how you guys see Aaron's injury affecting his contract.

I think what we're seeing indicates the Packers won't want to let him get to free agency. It could go all the way to the early March negotiating window, like it did with Cobb a few years ago, however. That wouldn't surprise me.

Lee from Marshfield, WI

Agree or disagree. The NFL CBA has really hurt the product on the field. Less time to practice and hit equals more injuries/less ratings/less development/longer development of raw players.

I think there's some truth to that. I (playfully) hate to admit when Vic is right, but he was right on this one.

Andrew from Memphis, TN

A point on the young developmental vs. veteran backup QB debate. I see it as a gamble; you bet on your staff and system to develop. If successful, not only do you have a valuable resource in the short term by having a capable backup, but you have a valuable resource moving forward, either through trade value or an heir apparent. With a veteran backup you're putting your chips behind a somewhat proven NFL QB providing competence at the backup position, but the long-term upside previously mentioned is absent. I, personally, support the choice the Packers made, even if it hasn't worked in this particular short-term instance...yet.

Well stated.

Quincy from Milwaukee, WI

Could this be a case of the yips? I heard an announcer refer to a college quarterback like that once as not being able to trust his judgment.

No, it's not the yips, but I'm sure his confidence took a hit. Whose wouldn't? As I said on Monday, I think Hundley came into the Ravens game riding a wave of confidence from his superb fourth quarter in Chicago, and he got a huge dose of reality in the first quarter that would have been difficult for any young QB to overcome.

Lisa from London, UK

We couldn't get NFL Red Zone in the UK on Sunday, so we watched the Rams vs. Vikings. Did anyone else see the cheap shot from Barr on Goff before halftime? Late hit, Goff went down on his shoulder, just like Rodgers. The ref threw a flag. That guy is dangerous, should be suspended and should be ashamed of himself. It made me angry all over again.

I did not see that, but you've prompted me to go take a look.

Chris from Racine, WI

I understand why you guys respond to the fans the way you do, you have to. But please understand why most of us are frustrated. If we were 1-4 when Rodgers went down, I could understand working through Hundley's growing pains all season. But we were 4-1 and still in the hunt. Now, we are a longshot to even make the playoffs. Last time Rodgers was out, we only gave Tolzien one game and decided to sign Flynn. It just doesn't seem to make sense to give Hundley all season to learn to be a starter at the expense of making the playoffs when we still had a shot.

I understand the frustration, but you have to realize Matt Flynn's availability was a godsend in 2013. He knew the offensive system and could step in after a couple weeks of practice. There is no one with similar, familiar credentials on the street this time around. Also, even with Flynn's huge wins over the Falcons and Cowboys, the playoffs were a pipe dream without the Lions totally collapsing after the 40-10 blowout on Thanksgiving. A lot of things fortuitously fell into place to save that season.

Rick from New Richmond, WI

If last week was a priceless piece of development, what was this week and what does that do to a quarterback?


This week was a reminder that every week is a new week.**

Nick from Arvada, CO

Once it's complete, what does a game plan look like? Is it a series of if/then statements? A menu of offensive and defensive plays the coaches think will work against scouted looks? General statements like, "We're going to run the ball 25 times come heck or high water"? Is it on a single sheet of paper distributed to all of the coaches? Do the coaches refer to it during the game to guide them, or internalize it? I realize you may not know the complete answers to many of these questions, but any insight you can provide is appreciated. Thanks for all the hard work guys, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Generally speaking, a game plan is segmented into the different play calls for each situation chosen for that specific game. Situation means normal down-and-distance, third down, short yardage, goal line, backed up, etc. McCarthy has shared before that he also includes other thoughts in the margins of his call sheet, such as a targeted number of touches for certain perimeter players, for example.

Mike from Saint George, UT

I like ketchup on my brats and I'm not ashamed even a little bit.

Neither am I.

Justin from Los Angeles

I'm glad Ty Montgomery mentioned this on Twitter but I feel like it's worth an Inbox mention too – I was at the game Sunday and it was really uncool when everyone started doing the wave during the Kenny Clark injury. I'm sure it didn't feel great to be taken off on a cart while your own fans are whooping and cheering.

That was not Packer Nation's finest moment.

Jon from Minneapolis, MN

If you had $1,000 given to you that you had to bet on the Super Bowl winner, what team would you bet on and why?

Right now I'd go with the Saints. Pulling out wins like they did last Sunday go a long way. I think they're a complete team on both sides of the ball, and they have a quarterback who's done it all before. But there are still six weeks left in the regular season, and a lot can change. Six weeks ago, did anyone think the Chiefs would be 6-4 right now?

Roger from Raleigh, NC

I think the Inbox is inflating the quality of Baltimore's defense. It looked like bad offense to me. How can we seem in control against the Bears' D, who beat Pittsburgh, should have beaten Atlanta and taken Detroit to OT, but flounder against the Ravens, who have been just plain awful at times this year? Is it me or is this the most inconsistent, unpredictable season ever?

It's the most NFL season ever.

Adam from Great Meadows, NJ

Who do we root for in the Thanksgiving game? A Vikings win would knock the Lions down in the wild-card race, but a Lions win would keep the division race alive.

I've struggled to decide this. Can Minnesota win at Atlanta and at Carolina the next two weeks? If so, then best to tag another loss on Detroit and root for the Vikings for a while. If not, might as well hope the division tightens starting now.

Lori from Brookfield, WI

Mike, I am very grateful for, you, and all your great work. May you and your family have a very blessed Thanksgiving.

Same to you all, and as I stay up late at my in-laws' on Thursday night to write Friday morning's Inbox, I hope to read and respond to your many observations from the three Thanksgiving games. It's always a great day for football, no matter who's playing. Enjoy the holiday, everyone.

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