(I know you're a cold-weather team, but how does the climate, the conditions that are expected on Sunday affect the passing game? How much do you emphasize to your guys?)**
Well, everybody has to play in it. Really just handling the football in cold weather. We had the opportunity to practice outside today. We also had the opportunity to open up our indoor facility, the Hutson Center. The temperature inside I think was between 29 and 32 degrees in there, so we're working as much as we can handling the football in this type of weather. But we don't feel it affects us at all.
(Is this the quarterback you envisioned Aaron would become?)**
I think he's definitely the quarterback we all hoped he would become. He was a young talented quarterback, had a very bright future, and now we're in year three of his development, and he's definitely developed into a special player. He does it the right way. He'll break them down physically, mentally. He's in a great rhythm right now. He's playing his best football of his career at this point, and that's what you want, especially this time of year. He's definitely a big‑time quarterback. He's everything we hoped he'd be.
(Is there anything you can attribute Rodgers' play over the past few games to?)
He has played at a high level really all year. I know what the numbers are, but Aaron is a very consistent player and it probably stems from his personality. He is clearly one of the most consistent quarterbacks that I have had the opportunity to work with. He is the same person every day. He doesn't swing with the highs and lows of how the season is going or how our practice is going, and I think it really carries over to the playing field. He works extremely hard at his craft. He has done a great job with his body over the time we have been here. He is a well-conditioned athlete. Just the way you see him play in the pocket, he gets out of the pocket. He is very strong, he breaks tackles, he is able to extend plays. But he is just a very consistent individual and I think that has a lot to do with the way he is playing.
(The referee for this game is the same as Week 3. Do you stress this to your guys, to be more mindful in case the game is called tight again?)
I don't think you can really look at the first Bear game. I understand we had 18 penalties, they had five penalties, but we finished the regular season ranked No. 3 in penalties. I think 4.9 or 5.0 penalties per game. The 18 penalties in one game, we look at that as more of an anomaly. I know it is more of an all-star crew. Terry is the referee. He has obviously been selected for this game for good reason. We look at that game as an anomaly. I don't think this game is going to be about anomaly officiating. These are two very good teams that earned the right to be in this game, and this game will be about the football teams.
(A year ago Rodgers was criticized for holding the ball too long and taking too many sacks. How did you guys work through that?)
Sacks are usually a combination of things. If it is usually just one individual or something that you are doing, you usually fix it before the whole season goes by. We got off to such a poor start in pass protection. It was a combination of everyone involved. From Aaron's perspective, there were times he was holding the ball trying to make plays. That is just the development of how you play in the pocket, the time clock in the pocket, the ability to get out of the pocket. You can't come out every single time. A throwaway is a positive. Actually when we grade the quarterbacks when they throw the ball away, that's a positive play because you go on to the next down. Punting is OK if you have to throw it away on third down. It was just an experience he learned from.
(When you look at your run game in Atlanta, Starks was like 2.8 a carry or something. Are you happy with the production there?)**
Well, the most important statistic in the running game, as I state in here weekly, is attempts. I think we're 31 attempts last week, and if we can run the ball more than 30 times this week, I think we'll be very successful.
(The Bears almost drafted Starks a little before you guys in the sixth round. Do you remember from draft day, if you felt fortunate to get him, or if you talked about drafting him in the fifth round, anything like that?)
I just remember when we selected him, and I know there's a relationship there in Buffalo. Alonzo Highsmith has a relationship, and everybody was excited when we drafted him. As far as the Chicago Bears being on the phone and so forth, I was not aware of any of that. We're happy we selected him that day and we're even more happy he's here today.
(Mike Martz is known as a pass-first guy. Are you surprised how run-heavy the Bears have been the second half of the season?)
I think they're just doing a very good job of playing to their strengths. Their formula for success, running the football has a lot to do with it. If you look at the way the offense has performed over the course of the season, they've had very favorable field position, and running the football particularly of late, and how they ran the ball against Seattle is a little different than how they've run the ball against us in the past. Those are the types of things we're looking at. But Matt Forte is an outstanding football player. He's clearly one of the better players on their football team, and they're doing a good job of getting the ball in his hands. I'm not surprised by it at all.
(After Hester broke that return in Chicago, what was the key to containing him here in the second game?)
Ball placement and coverage. That's really what punt protection comes down to, in the punt protection converting to punt coverage. I think we do a very good job in the protection aspect of our punt game, a lot better this year than last year, so we feel good about that. Where you place the ball and how you cover it. The return in the first game, the ball was punted right down the middle of the field. So we still have to cover the ball. We didn't do a very good job covering, and we didn't do a very good job placing it. That's what we have to be very aware of this week.
(You don't have a lot of older veterans on your team, but for a guy like Donald Driver, being at this stage of his career and one game from the Super Bowl, can you appreciate what that means to him?)
Definitely I can appreciate it, and you can really see the urgency too. It's really Donald all the way down, particularly the players that were here in '07. You really have an understanding now of how hard it is to get to this game. I know my first year in the NFL in 1993, we went to the AFC Championship Game, and you kind of think, 'Boy, this is great. This is not that big of a deal.' But it's such a hard game to get to. Just the urgency, the messaging from the veteran players to the younger players, I really like the pulse of our team, the energy of practice today. They're just really into it. It starts with the guys like Donald, Charles Woodson. You have conversations with those guys, and they know how important it is to get this opportunity accomplished, because you don't know when it's going to happen again.
(Do you guys use those veteran guys between Donald and Charles? Do you lean on them at all?)**
Well, I look for opportunities to give leaders a chance to grow and express themselves. We've had playoff captains, so I'm giving those guys an opportunity to talk to the team before the game right before we go out. But most of that stuff goes on in the locker room when they're in there together. So our leadership has definitely improved over our five years here and definitely this is the best group of leaders we've had in my time.
(How does Woodson play into what you're talking about?)**
Well, he's one of the playoff captains. He's clearly one of the leaders in the locker room, and he's done a very good job of speaking up. Charles was someone that didn't always say a lot, was more one‑on‑one, but now he's stepped it up. Him and Aaron have done a very good job standing up and saying things when they need to be said.
(How close was Bigby to playing last week?)
He was close. We just felt that another week would be better. I anticipate he'll have a good chance of going this week.
(Does the potential for poor footing hurt or help certain guys?)
I would think it helps the individual with the football. I think anytime you're on a surface that's not the level you'd like it to be, it favors the man with the football or it favors the individual that knows where the football is going. That's the way I've always viewed it.
(You guys have played four straight must‑win games and guys have talked about staying up until midnight studying film. Any concern about the guys being emotionally or mentally drained?)**
I don't think so, just because of the schedule that we've been on. We've had three days off, so you could just see Monday that they were really into ‑‑ they wanted to get started on Chicago. We just went through the personnel breakdowns of the Chicago Bears in all three phases and then they had the day off Tuesday. I just really wanted to get them on a normal week. And today very attentive. If we are guilty of anything, it would be too much energy. I don't think we're worn out at all. I think coming off of a six-day (week), I think the schedule definitely favors us now.
(The last couple of years there have been a number of former head coaches who have joined other staffs. Can you talk about the value of that?)
Well, when you have a former head coach on your staff, it definitely brings value to your program, just the opportunity to be a head coach in this league. The opportunity to speak to all you wonderful people is an experience you definitely can learn from. It just improves your staff and it improves your awareness game day. I mean, it's definitely something that's an advantage. It's definitely something that Dom Capers brings to us here in Green Bay.
I've had the opportunity to have endless conversations with Dom about things he's done in the past. He's built two programs from scratch in the National Football League, Houston and Carolina. So to be able to listen to his experiences, and he shares that with the other staff members, it's definitely a value to your program.
(They're a Cover‑2 team, but are they trying to mix anything into that? Is there anything they're doing to try to confuse people?)**
No, they do a very good job. I think it's probably the best defense we've played to date, just fundamentally sound in the way they're playing. They've been together for pretty much the whole year. They haven't had any injuries. They're definitely better than the first time that we played them and the second time, so very impressive the way they played Seattle. They're running their system, their schemes, and more three shell probably than two right now, but a lot of that has to do with the opponent and the score of the game, things like that. They're playing at a very high level right now on defense.
(How much does Brian Urlacher mean to the Bears ‑‑ last year he wasn't on the team; they were 7-9. This year he's playing with them and they're in the NFC Championship Game.)**
Brian Urlacher is one of their leaders. He has a complete understanding of the defense. But even more so, the communication that goes on on the field of the offense. He does a very good job of sorting out audibles and the communication that goes on offensively. You may check to a play and he may check to a coverage. He has excellent command of that defense. He's been playing there forever. There's a reason why he goes to the Pro Bowl every year, so he's a big part of what they do.
(You've talked to the team about putting their picture on the wall next to the other championship teams. With everything that's gone on this year with this team, specifically with the injuries, how hard has it been not to lose sight of that ultimate goal?)**
Well, we've never lost sight of it because it's always right behind me every day when I speak to the team. I pointed to that again this morning, and we're halfway there. We talked about 16 quarters as a football team. We've completed eight of them. And we need to capture these four in Chicago, and it puts us closer to getting that picture on the wall. It's a goal that's still in front of us and it was a goal when we started and it's still a goal today.
(You were able to contain the last two backs in McCoy and Turner. What does Matt Forte do well?)**
I think Matt Forte is a complete back. They give him the ball obviously as a runner but also out of the backfield. He's an excellent fit for that offense. He's a big back, which definitely in these type of games, this type of weather on that field is what you're looking for. So we've got to do a very good job tackling him, tackling him and getting him to the ground.
(Can you talk about Jordy Nelson and how sometimes he seems almost like a tight end, especially in the red zone?)**
Jordy is having a heck of a year, and really Jordy is what you're looking for as an individual in the whole receiver group. What I'm referring to is all five of those guys play all five positions. You don't have to line just this receiver at the X. I've been in programs where you can only play certain players in certain positions and that's not the case. That's a great asset to have as a strategist week in and week out.
You can also try to tailor him. Certain guys run certain routes better than others. Body type also factors into it. But Jordy is doing a heck of a job. James Jones is definitely in the same category. To have that much flexibility where all the receivers can play all the positions it's definitely a great asset.
(What has happened the last four weeks to allow your defense to be so devastating? Is that a combination of youth and experience and everything just coming together at the right time?)**
Yeah, I think you've answered your own question, but yeah, it's here, too. Communication is excellent, just the play speed this year compared to last year has definitely improved. We've always been very highly skilled as far as having ‑‑ the ability to get our hands on the ball, taking the football away. We're doing a very good job of that. Schematically they have such a better understanding of what we're asking them to do. Our defense has done a great job particularly keeping people out of the end zone. Our big emphasis last year was red zone defense and adversity defense, and those are two of our strengths this year. So any time you make corrections from year one to year two and you see the benefits, it's refreshing.
(How much fun have you had this year with this team?)**
How much fun? I'm having a lot of fun now, I'll tell you that. There were some tough moments, but I think it definitely was a great experience for all of us. We've seen all kinds of football teams, if you don't deal with adversity, you're not moving forward, and we're a perfect example of that. Great work ethic, a lot of character and really a fun group to coach.
(You've come across more confident with us the last couple weeks maybe after the Detroit game before you went into New England. Was that calculated? Did your guys need that after the Detroit game, or is that just how you felt?)**
I think it's just how I felt. I don't think I'm a very calculated individual. I don't think I could pull that off. Nobody's underdog. We're nobody's favorite, either. I think that's our motto today as a team. This group has a lot of confidence. We've never wavered from our goals. We've had challenges, everybody does. But we're here for a reason. We deserve to be here, and we're excited about getting to Chicago.