Mike's Mid-Week Chat: How can the Packers improve over the bye week?

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

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Packers offensive unit

Hey everybody, welcome to the bye week. Thanks for logging on today. Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. Go ahead and send in your questions and I'll get started shortly.

Hi Mike, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving with your family. Are you a drumstick kinda guy?

I did have a good Thanksgiving, but I'm not a drumstick guy when it comes to turkey. Too hard to eat the cranberries that way.

Hey Mike,

How is this a bye week for you if you are doing II and MMWC?

Ha, well, we don't get to just check out entirely, but I am doing the chat from home and turning on my computer at 10:55 a.m. today was the first work-related thing I did, so there's that.

My untrained eyes tell me that the defense this year is playing much more together than years past. It's felt for a few years now that they've had a solid accumulation of talent, but kind of played as talented individuals. It looks and feels much more cohesive this year

I don't know if I'd characterize it that way. I think the defense played together in the past, too, but this year it feels the coordination of the pass defense is at another level, and they have the best inside LB they've had for about a decade calling the signals and running the show on the field.

Hey Mike happy holidays! I was attending the game this past Sunday and noticed the players and coaches really trying to amp the crowd up from the sidelines in the 1st quarter has this been the case at a few games or was the game abnormally quiet? I couldn't exactly tell from the 50 yard line.

They wanted the crowd to get into it from the jump, which I thought they did. I don't think there was anything unusual one way or another.

Do you think the big plays allowed on defense are a result of miscommunications or just straight up getting beat downfield? It seems like 2-3 times a game the deep ball costs us on defense.

This past game it looked to me like guys just got beat, plain and simple. It happens. You hope in those situations a tackle can still be made to prevent a TD so the defense can still recover.

Happy bye week Mike, how will you be enjoying your time off this Sunday?

I'm sure I'll watch some football, and then in the evening I'll open the Inbox and see what people's thoughts are on the day's slate of games for the Monday column.

Mike, assuming David Bakhtiari comes back, can Yosh Nijman play right tackle? Not looking to replace Billy Turner, but if anything happened to him, it'd be nice to have someone fill in as well there as we've filled the left tackle position this year

I think Nijman could play right tackle, but Dennis Kelly is an option there, too.

Hi Mike. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving,

I heard this was the latest bye week in packers history, is that true? I know they say it every year the bye week comes at a good time but for some reason it feels like this time it really comes at the perfect time!

It's the latest I can remember, that's for sure. As I said somewhere before, the Packers really needed the bye two weeks ago when that new round of injuries hit, but they managed to get through two more games with a split and are in great shape at 9-3. It's all working out in that regard.

Hey Mike! Hope the bye week is treating you well. Is there any chance we can see Jaire Alexander and Za'Darius Smith back on the practice field after the bye week and get ready for the playoff push?

I don't get the impression that their potential returns are imminent, meaning right after the bye. We'll just have to see week to week. Never know I guess.

We saw Jaire doing some drills off to the side at practice this week. I'm guessing that doesn't open his window to return, but what would officially constitute that? Does the team make an announcement to the league?

Yeah, the team must make an official transaction that shows up on the league wire that a player on IR has returned to practice officially.

Packers catch a break with De'Vondre Campbell put in protocol during the bye

I don't know Campbell's situation, but hopefully he's in good health and we will see him on the field vs. the Bears.

When Don Barclay played, I looked at him as the epitome of the do-it-all OL guy. Am I remembering him playing that way correctly? And if so, how would you compare him to Elgton Jenkins who also seems to have that ability to play anywhere needed on the line?

Barclay could play a lot of different spots and was very valuable to the Packers in that fashion. But with all due respect, he wasn't as talented as Jenkins is. Barclay wasn't drafted, Jenkins was the 44th overall pick and made a Pro Bowl in his second season. Jenkins isn't just a plug-n-play guy, he's an elite player everywhere he lines up.

What starters do you think will be back for the Bears Game?

I honestly have no idea. I thought it was a great sign that Rashan Gary, Aaron Jones and Allen Lazard all came back for the Rams game and seemed to get through no worse for wear, so just having them back after missing only one game is a huge positive.

I'm glad the Packers didn't need to rely on Aaron Jones too much Sunday. I know he played a decent amount of snaps, but I was glad to see AJ Dillon in there to salt the clock away. Having both of those guys for the stretch is so important

No question about it. I've been saying all along this offense is at its best when it goes through the running backs first, and having two guys to carry that load will be hugely beneficial down the stretch.

Did you see the WFT call a time out and then go for it on 4th and goal just outside the 2 minute warning? The field goal would have ended the game. Is there any rationale for that choice?

Their kicker, Joey Slye, was injured and they didn't have anyone who could kick a FG. All they needed was the 3 points to seal the game, make it a two-score difference, but Rivera felt he had no options that wouldn't risk a block/TD the other way.

Can equipment staff customize Aaron Rodgers game shoe to accommodate and protect his broken toe?

I would imagine there's some kind of extra protection in there, but I don't know the specifics. He wouldn't want it to be something that would hamper his ability to run. He's shown he'd rather deal with the pain and be able to get out of the pocket when necessary.

What do you think of the Brian Kelly situation?

Nature of the beast in college football these days, right? I don't cover that industry, so I can't say much about it, but nothing really surprises me anymore. Money talks.

Can you explain how Josh Myers is an improvement at Center, for my untrained eyes? Is it quicker blocking, better run help?

He's just a bigger body who can get more push in the run game and anchor even better against bull rushes from those big D-tackles. It's interesting how centers have gotten larger in recent years. Not that long ago, Scott Wells was the Packers' center on the XLV team, and he was not big, but as a wrestler was incredible at using leverage against bigger guys. Those types of players have a harder time making it these days.

Small sample size I know, but the run game looked like it really missed having Jenkins in there.

I think all season, the run game has missed that elite combo of Bakhtiari and Jenkins on the left side. Everyone has played well, but it's hard to replace a combination of an All-Pro with a Pro Bowler lined up right next to each other.

Is it me, or does it seem like an inordinate number of last-minute drives by offenses this year are successful? Seems like with under 2 minutes left, so many defenses are almost completely ineffectual. What gives?

Great question. The two-minute drive might be the toughest thing to stop in the game. The rules are geared toward offense, pass rushers are usually dead tired at the end of games, fatigue makes it harder to tackle, all those things. Offenses also practice it a ton because so many games come down to those final drives. Teams have polished plans for how they want to attack and execute.

Who are some other OL who have had that ability to play at a high level anywhere across the line? Not necessarily restricted to Packers players, either.

Clay's uncle, Bruce Matthews, is in the HOF and was an elite player anywhere he lined up. Off the top of my head, I can't think of anyone currently in the league who has done what Jenkins has done/is doing. That's not to say someone couldn't, but it's just very rare.

Biggest game left on the schedule?

Based on the record of the opponent, obviously Baltimore. But the Packers are looking to win them all, so they're all big. If the Bears pull a surprise in Chicago Sunday and knock off the Cardinals, suddenly that Sunday night game at Lambeau looks different. You get the idea.

Nice to see Rodgers connect on a few of the deep shots lately

LaFleur and Rodgers are nothing if not aggressive. They always will be. When they see/get a single-coverage matchup on the outside they like, they're going to let their guy try to make a play.

With the outbreaks of COVID throughout the league, has there been a renewed push in-house to get players and other personnel vaccinated and/or boosted?

There are booster efforts going on around the league, as far as I know. The league also implemented a higher-level protocol for this post-Thanksgiving period, the hope being any outbreaks can be prevented or minimized.

Which of our TEs do you see having the potential to fill the role of receiving TE for us over the next 5 games? Marcedes Lewis would be the obvious answer, but they don't seem to use him as much as a receiver. Or will we mostly rely on WRs and backs, as we have all year for the short yards over the middle?

Josiah Deguara is probably the best option. He had the TD at Minnesota and the big fourth-down conversion vs. the Rams. Lewis and Dominique Dafney are occasional options, too, but if not having Robert Tonyan means using the running backs more in the passing game, I think the offense overall will be fine.

how does the bye week help the offense improve in the red zone compared to normal game weeks?

The coaches go through a self-scout period where they take a closer look at everything, what's working, what's not, and why. Teams have to turn the page so quickly to the next opponent during the grind that there isn't time to really sit down and ponder significant adjustments. If there's something to change or another concept worth trying in the red zone, they'll find it and get it in the upcoming game plans.

I find it interesting great signings, great players don't make a great team. Rams might be in the playoffs but just going all in with players doesn't always work out. Brees said it Sunday night, it isn't just about good players. In this case, sure Stafford gets blame, but so do the coaches.

This isn't fantasy football. That's why that other kind is called fantasy. It's a team game and everyone has to be incorporated to maximize their talents. The Rams still have time to do that with their new additions, so anyone would be a fool to write them off, but it's easier said than done when guys arrive midseason like that.

We know the answer to who would win 1v1 against A.J. on the field, but what about eating wings? He seems to be a big wing guy on Twitter. AJ vs Spoff, vs Wes, who wins, and can we make this happen? 18 wings, set, go.

Oh, I wouldn't dare take him on. He weighs 250, man. I'm sure he'd put me to shame. I love a good batch of wings, though.

He wasn't as elite, but I remember Mike Flannigan going from center to tackle, when needed.

Yes, Flanagan was a great example. Very solid player anywhere he lined up. I believe he made a Pro Bowl one year at center, if I'm not mistaken.

Hey Mike, Mike Flanagan played a few games for us at LT, and did very well as I remember. An underappreciated member of those teams, especially considering what he had to overcome.

And yes, Flanagan's injury history and the story of his journey was pretty remarkable.

Do you yourself have any quirks or reactions to when watching an NFL game in certain situations? I find myself getting annoyed at defenses that seem perpetually lost especially at obvious offensive plays.

I concentrate a lot on coaching decisions and strategy, like when they go for it on fourth down, what play calls they like on third-and-3, when a defense gets aggressive and sends the house, that sort of stuff. It's always interesting to try to peg tendencies when watching an unfamiliar team.

*cringes* go Lions

Hey, I'm very curious to see how that game goes. I mentioned it in Inbox this morning. Minnesota is fighting for its season now.

Offense has been really good lately but it seems like they're still capable of more scoring efficiency. What do you believe is the tipping point for the offense to take another step forward?

It's just about finishing drives. We're rarely seeing three-and-outs or short possessions. The Packers are moving the ball consistently. But they haven't finished drives as efficiently as last year, and I think that comes down to the running game not being as reliable as a year ago, especially in the red zone.

Not that I pay a lot of attention to this kind of stuff, but I noticed in the current QB ratings the top two spots are taken by oldest QBs - Brady and Rodgers. What other positions (maybe Kicker) would you ever see that at?

Sometimes offensive tackle. The best ones aren't as old as quarterbacks, but very rarely is a rookie or second-year guy ranked as one of the best left tackles in the league.

The best eaters are usually the smaller guys, I think you are selling yourselves short on this wing competition.

Ha, I appreciate the vote of confidence.

*cringes* go Bears

Ha, yeah. Packers fans have to be Bears fans this week, no matter how much that hurts. There's no way around it.

On the Lions, Dan Campbell wants to play spoiler, Lions have played tough this year in their games.

They have. Most of their games (not all) have been darn competitive. They just haven't been able to get a win. He's got his team playing hard. But the guys on the sideline have to help during the games, too. That coaching blunder on defense at the end of the Thanksgiving game, with the back-to-back timeouts, was ridiculous.

We hear about how spoiled we Packer fans are with our QB play over the past 25+ years (happily guilty of that) but one of the most overlooked aspects of our team is that we've had 3 consecutive GMs capable of drafting top-5 OLs over that time span. I can't think of another team with that kind of run of OL play. Everyone else is selling the farm to get a QB, but a good line can overcome a lot of flaws.

When you're not constantly searching for your next QB, you can focus your draft picks on other premium areas. The Packers and their astute GMs have benefited from that for years, and they haven't had to use first-rounders on O-linemen all the time, either. They've found quality starters and Pro Bowlers everywhere in the draft.

With the enhanced post-turkey-day covid protocols are you worried that a team (thinking playoffs here) will have a significant number of key players all missing a game? That would be a shame.

That's what the league is trying to avoid.

Nagy called the Bears win over the Lions on Thanksgiving "huge". Can a win over a winless team that came at the last second really be considered 'huge'? Or do you think he was playing it up for the media and gave his team an earful for having barely pulled out that win?

Nagy is coaching for his job and he knows it. What he says doesn't really matter anymore. Just whether he wins games or loses them.

Hi Mike - With how well AJ Dillon has been running, do you think there will be a more even split with Aaron Jones after the bye? Or will Jones still be the clear RB1 once he's fully healthy? Or maybe more 2 back formations?

I wouldn't take anything off the table. LaFleur's offense is built with packages and concepts that suit the individual backs. They're each better at certain things. So depending on which concepts are featured more in a given game plan based on the opposing defense, the snaps/touches/activity could shift from one guy to another anytime.

All right, folks, with that I'm going to sign off. Thanks for all the questions, and enjoy your Packers-less NFL weekend. Talk again next week. Take care, Mike.

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