Mike's Mid-Week Chat: Can the Packers get rolling in December?

Senior writer Mike Spofford answered questions in his weekly live chat.

QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers

Hey everybody. Thanks for logging on today. Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and enjoyed the long weekend. Let's get to it.

Do you know anything about the new return man that was just signed? And realistically, can we expect improvement this late in the year?

I don't know much about Tyler Ervin, but if there's a place on a football team you can plug someone in during December and just let him go, it's returner. There isn't a huge thick playbook to learn as far as blocking schemes. The Packers are looking for a spark and any spark in the return game could make a difference.

With the way he started the season, I was hoping Pack would resign Bryan Bulaga to one final contract. With the injuries he's now battling through, do you see the Pack resigning?

I really don't know, and I don't think Gutekunst and Co. have even decided yet. There's plenty of time for them to ponder that in the offseason. I think Bulaga has had a great year, and he deserves a lot of credit for playing through a lot of bumps and bruises. I think this most recent knee injury wasn't just a bump or bruise and he got out there. He's proving he still has plenty left in the tank, but what that means this offseason I couldn't really say.

So, with the Packers having interior defensive struggles why don't they try using a four-man front most of the time to generate pressure and stop the run ? They could take Kenny Clark and Za'Darius Smith as inside lineman while having Preston Smith and Kyler Fackrell on the ends (Kylers been great on the edge rush).

They have used this a fair amount in certain situations. I actually thought the defensive front was pretty solid against the run last week. The game conditions dictated running the ball but Barkley only averaged 4.4 per carry, and six of his 19 carries went for 1 or less. That's pretty good. Clark and Dean Lowry are the two best run-stoppers on the interior, and they need those guys, along with Tyler Lancaster, Kingsley Keke, Montravius Adams and everyone else to bring their A game this week for Peterson and Guice.

Good morning Mike, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. When the weather turns bad do we tend to let Jamaal Williams get rolling more than Aaron Jones? Or am I over analyzing this? Go Pack.

I think you go with what's working, or who's hot. Williams is a pounder and can be pretty effective in cold weather, but the Packers need to get Jones in the rhythm of the offense. It's a tough balance but if they're employed right situationally I still like the 1-2 punch better than focusing too much on one guy.

Do you feel like we have to win out to have a shot at a 1 or 2 seed and a first round bye

At this point I would say yes. There are scenarios where the 2 seed would be in play at 12-4, but the Packers probably need to go 13-3 to get a bye.

Was at the game Sunday. I knew Z. Smith was quite the character, but I got a real kick out of watching him work the crowd pre-game prior to going back into the locker room.

He's a personality as well as a player. No doubt about that. He's really embraced the spotlight that's been shining on him in Green Bay and the leadership that goes along with it. Great addition on the field and in the locker room.

I haven't watched any Redskins games this year. What should we look for going into this game? How can the Skins hurt teams? And what do the Pack have to do to get a W?

Just take a look at the highlights from their win last Sunday at Carolina. Peterson and Guice combined for 228 rushing yards. They fell behind 14-0 and then dominated with the running game and defense. The Panthers failed on 10 straight third-down opportunities, and then the Washington defense made a goal-line stand similar to Green Bay's in the final seconds to preserve the win. Their punter just won special teams player of the week and they ran back a kickoff for a TD two weeks ago vs. Detroit. They were 1-9 with an interim coach and have won two straight. This is a team that is not laying down for anybody.

Mike, was Oren Burks wearing the communication helmet at the end of the game when Blake Martinez was sitting?

I'm sorry, but I didn't take the time to look. At the end of the game I'm working on website updates so furiously that in those massive sub situations I'm not even looking at the field.

One last question I have is do you think Matt LaFleur is scheming up more "no huddle" plays and more short, quick passes to help against a strong pass rush like against the 49ers? I feel as if we didn't get such a bad start to the game with the call on Davante Adams and the near scoop and score that we could have pulled it off with the right adjustments.

The Packers would have needed more than a better start to beat the 49ers that night, but to your point, I think LaFleur has built a lot of short passes into the offense, or at least provided outlets for Rodgers on the perimeter when the downfield routes don't materialize. If they face the 49ers again, it's back to the drawing board, though. The Packers were dominated up front that night and scheme wasn't going to fix that.

Rodgers had a real look of disgust when he threw a quick out on a blitz and MS took off on a middle route, not understanding what he should do on a clear blitz situation. Did you see that and will it impact his play time?

Allen Lazard and Geronimo Allison are getting a lot more snaps than Marquez Valdes-Scantling right now. That's just where things are heading. I thought both of those guys had solid games against the Giants.

Mike, is this the year we beat the Vikes in their new stadium?

Let's see if the Packers can get to 11-3 at that point and then we'll talk about it. It is a venue that hasn't been kind to GB, clearly.

Good Morning! What are your thoughts about giving Mr. Lazard the additional opportunity as a return specialist given his size and speed.

That would be tough with him not having much experience (that I know of) as a return man. I think he's going to keep playing more on offense as well, and he's on kickoff coverage, too.

What can Pettine do to fix the lack of being able to cover tight ends across the middle? or is it simply that the Packers don't have enough speed at LB?

I don't know. That's a great question and I'm not an X's and O's expert so i can't give anyone a great answer to this. It's been a problem for the Packers going back to the Philly game in Week 4, and they haven't fixed it. And when you don't fix something, teams will keep attacking you that way. Coverage isn't just about speed. It's also about understanding leverage and reading and reacting to routes. The Packers just haven't gotten the job done there, whether they've employed LBs, safeties or zone coverage.

I want to be able to listen to the Green Bay coverage with Wayne and Larry during the games instead of the often horrible and biased TV commentators. On the internet there is always a lag between what I am hearing and what I am seeing. Is there anyway around that or do I need to go out and buy an old fashioned radio? Lucky for me I am coming to Lambeau this Sunday to see the Pack play my childhood team, Washington. GO PACK GO!

My guess is if you go with the radio, your problem will be reversed with the radio call being ahead of the TV. Your best shot is if you have one of those TV devices that allows you to pause live TV and then try to sync it up with the delayed radio stream on the internet, I suppose.

Okay so this really is my last question. The Packers are inevitably no matter what going to end up facing the Saints, Seahawks, or 49ers in the playoffs. What do we have to do as a team to improve to beat these super physical, beat you up front, and run down your throat type teams in the post season?

Again, questions for down the road, but in the moment my answer is for the Packers to do what they do and be at their best at it. That means getting the offense to flow through the running backs, whether via run or pass, and getting sacks and turnovers on defense. Do that, get to the fourth quarter in the game, and take your chances. The Packers have won a lot of games this year being the superior team in the fourth quarter.

I watched the Vikings/Seahawks game and the Vikes are scary good. Even without their top receiver and Dalvin Cook out par tway through, they almost pulled it off on the road in a very hostile environment. Packers will have to be top of their game to beat them in Minneapolis.

I was impressed with Minnesota on Monday night as well. When the Seahawks put together that onslaught in the second half and went up 34-17, I thought the Vikings were done, but they came right back and hung in there. That showed a lot. No one is going to be an easy out in the NFC playoffs, and I say that about the NFC East champ as well, because no matter the record, that division champ will get to host a game.

Could the Bears possibly unseat the Vikings (or maybe Packers) as the wild card seed? Also, why do teams like the Lions keep trying to win when they seemingly are better off trying to get a better draft spot, this late into the year? Im asking because I honestly dont understand the rationale. Im still learning.

If the Bears beat the Cowboys tomorrow night, they'll be 7-6 and they'll start talking about winning out to get to 10-6 and liking their chances. That still might not be enough in the NFC, but they could put themselves in position.

Did you see the interview where Aaron Rodgers reeled off every single person he has thrown a TD to. That man is amazing. What doesn't he remember?

I did see that and thought it was a fantastic story. His recall is astounding. Over the last few years I've done two sit-down interviews with him for big Yearbook features -- one with Nelson and another with Adams -- talking about big plays, big moments, things that forged their relationships, etc., over the years. I hardly had to ask any questions because he just starts reminiscing, the recall kicks in, and he gives all the details. It's fascinating getting into a conversation like that with him.

Do you know which network is airing Sundays game? And who is calling it?

The game is on Fox and it's Kenny Albert and Ronde Barber on the call.

Mike, would you beat Wes in a snowball fight?

Indubitably. I've got the better arm from my baseball days.

Just wondering what the record is for sacks in a year by a Packer. I know Reggie had 16 one year.

Tim Harris had 19 1/2 in 1989. Reggie's 16 in 1988 is second. To be clear, sacks were not an official statistic in the NFL until 1982, so any sack totals by Willie Davis or others from the Lombardi era are not in the official records.

Do you think that the relative good health of the Packers can be the key to a "run the table" and a possible first round bye?

Being healthy certainly beats the alternative. When your top players are playing, it gives you the best chance to be playing your best football in December heading into the postseason. I think these next two home games are the opportunity for the Packers to get to that point.

You said you've done 2 big sit downs with AR12, but I've always wondered how often do you get to see and talk to him and the other players on a daily basis? (not necessarily during scheduled interview times)

Very little. Their schedules are very structured and it's not like I have a ton of time on my hands to just go hang out when they're in the locker room. The offseason is when there are opportunities for more conversations, here and there.

Why do you think there seems to be a gap between how teams scheme and how the media pundits want them to scheme?

Because the media pundits go off of what they see in the most recent game and make their grand pronouncements. Coaches are going off the film from the entire season, and their opponents' film from the entire season, when they put together game plans. The reference points are completely different. One is a snapshot, the other is much more thorough. It's also a 60-minute game, and one schematic adjustment does not make for a game plan that can carry you for four quarters.

Last year we lost most of our one score games and this year we are winning those. Are we just a .500 team who was unlucky last year and lucky this year? or is it just karma?

This is a different team. The eye test tells you that. The defense, despite some struggles, has made key plays at key times. I talked earlier about the fourth quarter. The Packers were outplayed in the fourth quarter a lot last season, especially during the doomed road stretch at LA, New England, Seattle and Minnesota. When you're the better team in the fourth quarter, you win more games.

Mike, What's the timeline to activate Jared Veldheer?

Good question. I don't know how long they have that roster exemption. I've never seen this situation unfold before. Sorry I don't have an answer for you.

Jimmy Graham's snaps at TE have gone down to 50% for game reps. Besides the running game helping out, I gotta think ML thinks they need to find something from Robert Tonyan or Jace Sternberger as Adams and Lazard are the only real threats as of late.

I really think it's a week-to-week game plan thing more than anything else. I do think LaFleur wants to get the running game going again, and that means the best blocking TEs are going to get their opportunities to show they should be playing.

I have to say it. While I am a devout Packers fan I can say in no uncertain terms that it is no fun to sit behind a fan wearing a cheesehead. Those things take up a lot of viewing real estate.

Can't say I've ever sat behind someone wearing a cheesehead, but I would imagine it's not ideal. Maybe offer to buy the person a beverage in exchange for taking it off. Might be worth it.

Not a question, but maybe this offseason, you and Wes should do a day in the life of, I'd find it interesting to have an inside look at your job. I bet a lot of others would, too.

Ha, I'm not sure it's as interesting as you imagine it to be. Almost all of our work becomes public in one form or another, so there's not much else to show.

What receiver in college this year would be your dream scenario for Pack to land in next years draft?

Haven't looked at the upcoming draft at all. I really don't even start doing that until the combine in February. By then the player rankings start taking shape and you can get an idea of who might be available in the spot the Packers are picking, and we don't even know that spot yet.

How did the snow affect your ability to see the action on the field? I'm always amazed at how the broadcast production can adapt to those conditions, although it took a bit for some of the magic lines to adjust.

It didn't really affect things that much, other than not being immediately sure what yard line was the line of scrimmage at any given moment. The weird thing was looking at the TV and seeing that computer graphic that had the numbers and hash marks visible, and then looking back at the actual field where only the lines every five yards had been shoveled off and everything else was white. That whole thing was just strange.

I understand the logic to just get to the post season and you never know... But winning out and getting at least the 2 seed would be huge. If NO,SF or Seattle have to come to GB for a 20 degree game all normal game plan goes out the window. We have shown to be the better team in 4th quarter of cold games.

Hey, I understand the Packers got to Super Bowl XLV as a wild-card team, but the bottom line is this -- get a bye and you only have to win two games to get there instead of three. I'll take those odds any day. The byes are incredibly valuable.

All right, I think I'd better sign off. Coach LaFleur is having a press conference shortly and I need to get downstairs. Thanks again for the participation everybody, and we'll talk again next week. Best, Mike

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