Mike discusses challenges Packers face in his mid-week chat

Senior writer Mike Spofford answered questions from fans


Hey everybody, sorry I'm a minute or two late. Let's get going.

Just beat the niners, then get healthy!

That's the only thing worth focusing on right now.

What do you see as the primary reasons for the teams struggles up to this point? I think it starts with Rodgers cleaning up his mistakes.

I think there's a ton of blame across the board. Rodgers has missed some throws he normally makes, and he's missed some open guys, but it's not all on him. The penalties are way up, which is affecting field position, down-and-distance, and all those things. The defense in the red zone has allowed some wide-open TD passes that shouldn't happen, not in the middle of the end zone. Dropped passes are still an issue, though not as much in Detroit. It's too much to clean up five games in, but that's the Packers' task.

You mentioned that McCarthy's game plan was aborted early in the game due to the score. Shouldn't his game plan really consist of multiple plans or contingencies? Games goes our way, we use plan A, game goes sideways, move to plan B.

You always have that contingency mentally, but you only have time to practice your primary plan in your three on-field workouts. That's what he's talking about is a lot of stuff the Packers have practiced isn't getting called in these games where they fall way behind.

Before we kill the coach or Aaron. The special teams including that freak illegal touch that led to a one yard touchdown run accounted for a 20 point swing in the Lions favor.

It was bad luck, a bad call, however you want to characterize it. But it happened in the first five minutes of the game. 7-0 score. The better teams can overcome that when it happens that early. The Packers had plenty of time to overcome it and they didn't.

You mentioned in Unscripted that the Packers have gotten off to such slow starts that they've been playing from 20+ points behind, and McCarthy has had to completely scrap the game plan to make up points.... Isn't that a pretty good indication that the "game plan" isn't effective??

My point is we don't know, because the execution has been so poor and the mistakes on special teams were killing them. The Packers moved the ball from the get-go in Detroit. It didn't result in enough points because drives bogged down and then the kicks were missed. But they were piling up yards and it continued the rest of the game, too. The Lions got 17 points with roughly 30 yards of offense. Every mistake the Packers made was magnified.

I just don't buy the Aaron Jones argument why he isn't on field. There have been many a great backs that weren't good at pass protection. Look around the league now and guys that arnt great pass protectors still get the ball way more. Send him out on routes, run screens etc etc etc. But more than anything get him the ball!

McCarthy admitted Jones should have gotten the ball more in Detroit. He also said it's not just about the stats, it's about packages and concepts the different backs have repped. I think people need to get off the Aaron Jones thing. I understand the frustration and confusion, but the Packers are getting plenty of production from their running backs. It is one of the most positive things this team has going. Giving Jones the ball more isn't the cure for all the other things that ail this team. It has other more pressing issues.

How do you go about getting penalties cleaned up? Is it something you can practice or is it just about playing smarter?

I think it's the latter. Blocks in the back, facemasks, taunting, running into the kicker. Practice not doing them? No, it's playing smarter in the heat of the game.

Which matchups against the Niners can we try and exploit Monday night?

The 49ers are banged up, and not just losing Jimmy G at QB. If there's a game to attack early and start a game fast, this is it.

We didn't really see much of Rodgers in the pre-season and then the knee injury happened in the first half of the first regular season game. Are we certain that there are no lingering effects from the broken collarbone on his throwing arm?

I don't know. I don't think so, but I've said the lack of practice for a few weeks appeared to be affecting his play. Last week was the first full Thursday practice he's put in, but he may need to rest the knee more now after that awkward tackle on the early scramble in Detroit. We'll see as this week goes along.

Mike, the All-22 film has showed that the receivers are getting constantly open, so is not a problem of the playbook. Rodgers, on the other hand, is not getting them the ball. What is going on?

He's admitted he's not playing as well as he has in the past, but he's confident he'll get it going. I believe him.

Besides a very young QB, where do Niners' weaknesses lie?

They've lacked explosiveness at receiver. That's due in part to the QB change, but the TE Kittle is their leading receiver, and it's not even close. Take him away, and if Breida is out at RB (ankle), the defense should have the upper hand.

The Packers have been plagued by penalties not just this year but for many years. From procedure to personal fouls and everything in between. These boil down to a lack of discipline and accountability both of which point to coaching or a lack of. This isn't just "we'll have to clean that up". How do MM and the coaching staff finally fix this? The bench and the waiver wire can be great motivators.

Let's just say I suspect a fair number of players are on notice this week. It's difficult to make a lot of changes week to week in the NFL, but with the bye coming up, the players know the coaches will be reviewing everything.

In my 14 years of watching the NFL, I have never seen a decrease in holding and block in the back penalties on punts/kickoffs. What is it about those specific plays that attract those specific penalties? Lots of wasted yards.

Players lose position/leverage on their assignment and rather than let their man run free, they still try to run interference and throw a block. But if you're not in the right position, it's likely going to be illegal.

Regarding fans wanting Jones (or anybody) to get the ball more, I think they don't realize that sometimes plays are used to set up upcoming plays. The sophistication of play calling is way over my head.

Same here, and that's my point about game plans being designed with concepts that set up things they want to run later in the game. 20-point deficits at halftime are not normal, and it's happened three times in five weeks, for various reasons.

King looked unsure of himself on Sunday. Was it his hamstring injury that caused his hesitancy?

It was a groin injury, but he also had missed 2 1/2 games.

It seems like the offense has been able to really get going in the second half of most games. Is that a product of teams playing prevent with a huge lead or the offense finally finding a bit of a rhythm?

The Packers have found their rhythm in those circumstances, and defenses with big leads don't want to give up the big play. The Bears did, and that's why they lost. The Packers had a huge play in Washington that was dropped. The Lions didn't really give up a big play until EQ's at the very end. Defenses that make you execute all the way down the field make comebacks more difficult.

My boys played sloppy football Sunday and ended up with way too many penalties, but I am still proud of them. Look at the way they conduct themselves in the locker room. Nobody is blaming someone else, they are standing behind Mason Crosby. I think this is what is meant by "the tone of the locker room." That team-ness is what will pull them out of this.

This team has been through worse stretches and come out of it. As I said in Inbox and on Unscripted, I believe this team will play better. The question is can they make a big enough jump against the teams coming up on the schedule, because no one expected they'd have this big a jump to make after five games. I think all six teams the Packers are playing on the road from here on out are better than the two teams they've played on the road thus far. Just my opinion, but the challenge is significant. Right now, though, it's just beat the Niners.

Hey Mike, I was at the game in Detroit Sunday, and that place was a tough environment to come back from. I can see how the psychology of the first missed kick could throw Crosby off, but to miss 5 kicks in a row... how does someone mentally bounce back from that?

If anyone can do it, it's Crosby. It's not like they were a bunch of mis-hits, ducks, shanks, or whatever. He wasn't off by much, except maybe on the PAT. You could hear the crowd start roaring every time he stepped on the field. It couldn't have been easy. But Crosby is a pro, and he'll go about it like a pro and get ready to do his job.

A lot of what ails the Packers stems from a lack of practice time IMHO. Traditionally the Packers don't practice during the bye week. Are they prevented from practicing by the CBA?

The CBA mandates a certain number of days off for the players during their bye week. I'm not sure of the number.

Kudos to Drew Brees, well deserved. I hope one day it's Rodgers breaking those records, but more importantly I'm hoping for him to have at least one more super bowl win than Drew.

They don't get any classier than Brees. What a career. I thought the Saints were going to win the Super Bowl last year until the Miracle in Minneapolis. He appears on his way to giving them another shot in 2018.

Probably too early for any injury new on Cobb, so I'll ask about MVS instead. How did he do essentially taking over for Cobb and can he continue that for as long as Cobb is out?

He was better than he was the week before, and the more he plays the better he'll get. It's hard for rookies to make all the correct route adjustments on the fly based on coverages and such, but for getting thrown in there, he's contributing and making some plays. That's all you can ask for.

The reality of this situation is that we are not the only ones struggling at the moment. Look across the league. Atlanta 1-4, Minnesota 2-2-1 with a home loss to Buffalo, Philly 2-3 after winning the Super Bowl, and Detroit even beat the Patriots. Are Packers fans the only ones being a bit irrational right now?

Every week is like a Super Bowl to every team's fans. It's what makes the league so exciting. But it's a long season. They all count the same, but at the end of it all it usually comes down to how's playing the best football in January.

Just need to vent. I'm done watching games until the NFL can figure out how to consistently and correctly officiate them. You nailed it in the Inbox this morning--no, there wasn't a clear look to overturn it (my bias says it hit the Detroit player), but the refs still botched that play. I cannot stand refs blowing these kinds of calls anymore--it's unacceptable! The league has the money to figure it out, but it seems they don't want to spend it. This is more than just one play, and more than just the Packers. Watch any game on Sunday and you'll find awful calls.

The league has continually said it doesn't want games dragged out by endless reviews, but at some point it's going to have to decide if too many fans are getting turned off by arbitrary and questionable calls that can't get fixed. I thought the Detroit punt play was a total botch job, to rule on the field after huddling that it was the other team's ball. Replay can't fix everything, but fans are demanding better officiating and the league has to figure out what to do about it.

What one thing is the most important to fixing this team?

If the defense starts taking the ball away and the offense protects it better, a lot can change.

Do you think it will be more difficult for the Packers to make the playoffs this year, or when they had to "run the table"? Given our record vs. not very difficult teams so far, I'm thinking the stretch after the bye is possibly the toughest the Packers have ever faced... Thoughts?

It's a gauntlet, there's no doubt, and it's almost all on the road through November. But this is the NFL. I remember thinking no way Matt Flynn could go into Foxboro and go toe-to-toe with Brady, and he did. I remember the Packers beating a Cowboys team in '09 one week after a horrible loss at Tampa. You just never know.

Our offensive tackles are graded as top players, yet we are still seeing a lot of pocket pressure in games that throws off the timing. Is the middle of our line ok or has there been regression from interior players?

Rodgers' second sack-fumble was a clear miscommunication between Linsley and Taylor. They both started blocking the guy and then let him go, thinking the other had him. One of the rare times the Lions blitzed, the LB came right up the middle untouched. But other than those couple of plays, I thought the O-line had a solid game. They aren't going to be perfect. But when a mistake is made, it can't be compounded by fumbling the ball or getting flagged for intentional grounding. Then one mistake becomes larger.

Hi Mike, additional comment regarding the officiating. The league hires "full-time" officials for better consistency and still have trouble getting calls right.

I've been saying for a few years now the league has made the rule book too complicated, and what they're asking these guys to do at live speed isn't fair or reasonable. It's been my take for a long time.

As the No 1 fan of the Brewers, any thoughts on what they have been able to do so far in the playoffs? Any Cubs fans in the office that you can give the ol' raspberry to?

There are some Cubs fans, but I don't gloat. Growing up when the two teams were in different leagues, I'm not a Cubs hater, even though the two teams are such big rivals now. The Brewers have their work cut out for them against the Dodgers. When LA was fading in August, I was really happy because I thought they had a very dangerous team. But the D-backs faded worse and the Dodgers got in. Should be a great series.

Crosby missed a PAT against the Bills. Did the issue start then?

I don't think so. He was drilling kicks no problem in warmups on Sunday.

With the changes to the playbook, and lack of practice time, is it possible that Aaron Rodgers isn't going through his progressions as quickly as he used too?

Something's not right, or not normal, with the way he's playing, but it would be foolish of my to try to speak for him. He knows he's not playing up to his standards. As I said before, his track record would indicate it'll all come around.

I thought allowing Crosby to go out and kick one more time at the end of that game was a real show of confidence and a smart move by McCarthy.

No offense to anyone, and many have posited this theory, but that's not why McCarthy sent him out. The team was down 11 points, needed two scores on either side of an onside kick, and the clock was almost drained. It was the longest of longshots, but the only hope was to kick a FG, recover an onside kick, and throw a Hail Mary. If that hadn't been the best and only possible scenario to salvage the game, that last kick wouldn't have happened.

Can you answer my question about whether or not Montgomery has lined up in the slot?

I don't recall seeing it much in Detroit, but I suspect with the WR injuries it was part of the plan that got scrapped when they went no-huddle the whole second half.

What was the highlight of the Detroit trip for you? Obviously not the game!

Getting on the plane, finishing my work, and then logging in to an online account of the Brewer game and seeing them get a 3rd and 4th run via a balk and wild pitch. It helped salvage the day for me.

Is it a realistic option to start the game in a 2 minute hurry up?

Sure, the Packers have done it before.

Playing your best in January only happens when you play well enough September through December. Wouldn't you agree there has to be a sense of urgency?

At this point, yes. The Packers can't lose Monday night to SF, not with the road slate coming up. Get to 3-2-1, try to get healthy with the rest, and go from there. All right, I've gotta run. Thanks for logging on, everybody. Take care. Next week I'm not sure what day I'll do the chat, but it probably won't be Tuesday. Maybe Wednesday or Thursday. Stay tuned. Talk to you then. Later, Mike

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