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Mike's Mid-Week Chat: How do the Packers fix the red zone?

Senior writer Mike Spofford answered fan questions in his live chat

Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Head Coach Matt LaFleur

Hey everybody, thanks for logging on today. Tough ending to the season for the Packers but we all move on. Go ahead and start sending in questions and I'll get going.

So.. Where do we go today? Do you think SEA or DET would have had the better chance against SF? I guess it doesn't really matter. Not giving SEA any chance in that one, but hopefully one of the others will knock SF out. Boy, I dislike that team.

Honestly, the way things played out, I wish it Detroit had gotten the 7 seed. I think the Lions would give the 49ers a tougher game than the Seahawks will. I would've liked to see what the Packers could do, because Green Bay had played 6 dominant quarters vs. Miami and Minnesota before hitting the roadblock Sunday night. But the Lions finished 8-2 in their last 10, with one of the losses a walk-off vs. Buffalo on Thanksgiving. The Lions really finished the season strong.

Do you have any clue if getting the cap in order will be a priority this year or do you think it will be more of the same of kicking the can down the road?

They will work to keep the cap in order, and there will be a big boost in the cap from the new TV money in 2023. But it mostly hinges on what happens with Rodgers. I could see them restructuring guys like Bakhtiari and Jones to push some money out, but I don't think they'll be doing that on the scale they have the past couple of years.

Could the NFL suspend Quay Walker at the beginning of the 2023 season?

It's possible. I don't know. I haven't seen what the final disciplinary ruling is. I did see one report that a suspension was unlikely, and a fine would be the most likely punishment.

I think the question is, can anyone stop the 49ers in the NFC?

I agree. I think San Francisco is the most complete team in the NFC. But they will have a QB appearing in the playoffs for the first time, and the playoffs are the ultimate crapshoot. So who knows. But the Niners have been the best team in the NFC the second half of the season, there's no doubt in my mind about that.

In good news - Hamlin was just released from the Hospital at Buffalo.

Yeah, I saw that. Tremendous.

Hasn't it been "win or go home" since the 4-8 mark? It was like a five-game playoff run that finally ended. Nobody was looking forward to another playoff game in SF.

I was. There's nothing like the playoffs. It's what we're all in this for. Yeah, it was pretty much win or go home since 4-8, but the opportunity to get the playoff bid wasn't actually there until Sunday night, and then it was gone.

Did you watch the J.J. Watt tribute vid? I've heard good things, waiting for the HardKnocks episode tonight to watch it.

I haven't seen it yet but I've heard about it and definitely want to check it out.

Among one of the bright spots that you mentioned, what did you think about Christian Watson's deep catch that was obvious PI (and called as such) - but it didn't matter. Live, I was thinking he may have bobbled it on the ground. Replay showed no such thing, and my immediate reaction was: "I can't wait to see this guy go through training camp healthy."

Watson's progress once he was on the field and playing regularly was obvious. He's a true difference-maker on offense and if he doesn't need to be wide open to make catches, like that one you referenced, then watch out. He's got a lot of tools and still has a long way to go to maximize them.

Do you take Allen Lazard's locker-room interview to mean he intends to seek greener pastures elsewhere next season?

I believe Lazard is going to see what's available to him out there. He wanted a long-term contract from the Packers after last season and didn't get it, only getting the RFA tender. You never know how everything is going to shake out, but I expect him to test the market for sure.

There was talk about unfair scheduling about the Sunday night game. Isn't the Monday night playoff game even worse? It's a guaranteed short week for the winner.

Couldn't agree more. I don't like the MNF wild card game, but it's all about the ratings and the dollars. It's a tough spot. Then again, the Rams were in that game last year and won it all, so ...

I almost feel bad saying this, but I like this Lions team. I felt as good for them winning as I did bad for us losing. Hard not to root for Jamaal and Campbell.

The Lions are really building something with Campbell and Holmes running that show. Next year they'll have their first-round pick from last spring, Jameson Williams, healthy and ready from the get-go, plus they have an extra first-round pick from the Stafford trade (No. 6 overall) and an extra second-round pick from the Hockenson trade, along with about $30M in cap space. I was chatting with their website writer after the game Sunday. He gave me that rundown, and there's clearly a lot of excitement building in Detroit.

What do you make of the similarities between Aaron Rodgers throwing it to a double covered Watson instead of a wide open Lazard, just like the playoff game last year (Adams double covered, Lazard wide open)?

Not much. The Lions rushed 7 on that third down, and Rodgers was about to get drilled. It was an all-out blitz. Different from the final offensive play vs. SF last January in my opinion.

With future of players - do you have any media accessibility (limited to or including 12) with players the rest of the week before they ship out? Probably at least one with Gutey, right?

Our last day of access was Monday when players were cleaning out their lockers. Gutekunst is scheduled to talk on Friday, and then that's pretty much it media-wise until any news breaks or the combine in Indy. Players won't be back until mid-April for the start of the offseason program.

If Rodgers returns, what happens with Jordan Love?

He'll be a backup for a fourth year I believe. He won't like it, and nobody would expect him to, but I'm not sure what choice he'll have in the matter. The Packers can pick up his fifth-year option in May and keep him under contract through '24.

Is NFL going to look at officiating DPI's in the off season. After this year don't know what a DPI is anymore.

Couldn't tell you. I'm not hearing DPI is a big concern as far as the officiating goes. There have been rumblings about roughing the passer and something there might change, but we'll see.

The stats on GB's performance in the Red Zone (nee, the Gold Zone) this year are atrocious. That to me is the single biggest area of regression and opportunity for improvement. What's your take???

For sure. To be last in the league in goal-to-go and near the bottom in red zone is not where anyone wants to be. For the most part, it wasn't a big issue moving the ball, it was scoring points that held back the offense. The Packers rolled up around 700 yards in the two games vs. the Lions and only scored two touchdowns. Those two games more than any others, with so many scoring failures, are why Green Bay's season is over.

How is it that the Lions almost seemed to know what plays the Packers were going to run?

Great question. I don't know if it was great anticipation, or just that they won at the line of scrimmage. Probably more the latter. When you win up front, you will have someone disrupting the play in some fashion.

The FBS championship game was actually OSU vs GA. Wondering if the AFC championship game might be the same thing? Assuming KC or Buffalo wins, they will be a heavy favorite.

I really like Buffalo's chances to go to the Super Bowl, and KC will always be right there. But don't count out the Bengals. That team is playing pretty well and those guys pulled it off last year. They've got the playoff experience to go with the belief now.

How do you view the differences between MVS and Watson as 2nd year players. I see obvious similarities physically and with speed; but what are the nuanced differences?

Watson is more physically imposing and might be able to enhance that this offseason. I know one of his goals will be to stay healthy, and he'll be dedicated to working on his body. Watson quickly became a guy the Packers wanted to use in different ways on offense, and he got those opportunities. He would've gotten them sooner if not for the knee, hamstring, concussion, etc. He did what he did in basically half a season.

Do you and Wes get time off between now and the combine?

We'll work on taking time off here and there before the combine, and then after it as well before the draft.

I know there are a lot of variables that come into play before the draft that would affect your answer, but given what we know now what do you anticipate being the position of need that we address with our mid first round pick?

This could go any number of directions and there's way too much to sort out yet. The Packers won't go into it saying "this position is our top priority at No. 15" either. They will build their board, see what it looks like and pick their targets.

So the Lions' arrow is pointing up, the Bears have nowhere to go but up... what about the Vikings? Whatever happens to them in the playoffs, I don't see their run of success this season being sustainable in the future.

I don't think Mike Zimmer was ever able to get the Vikings to the playoffs in consecutive years. It was always every other year. That'll be Kevin O'Connell's challenge, maintaining the level of success Minnesota experienced this season. It won't be easy. They'll have a first-place schedule now, and everyone will target them as the team to beat in the division.

If Hackett comes back to GB in some capacity, do they create a new title for him other than OC?

That's certainly an option, but I have no idea how LaFleur would handle that. I don't want to speak for him.

Does Gutey have a plan or at this point more like 3 or 4 plans. Are they all dependent on 12?

Not all. They'll study everything and figure out the areas of the roster they want to upgrade the most, and they'll go about all the free agency and draft prep with that in mind. They'll know the various cap contingencies based on what happens with Rodgers and go from there.

The Packers signed another kicker this week. It's going to be crowded in their position meeting rooms. Didn't Mason Crosby indicate he'd like to be back?

Yeah, he did. We'll see if the interest is mutual and if something can be worked out. I'm sure Gutekunst will be asked about Crosby on Friday.

Hearing anything about Lambeau Field as neutral AFC site?


Does LaFleur need to come up with an entirely new playbook for the red zone?

Maybe. He said many times what they were doing wasn't good enough, so that portion of the playbook is probably in for the biggest overhaul. Only the coaches who study every piece of film know how much of the failures can be attributed to the plays versus the players just not executing what was called.

I'd like to see the Cowboys do well for MM's sake ... he did a lot for our football team and handled his dismissal with dignity ...

They've been a hard team to figure out late in the year here. I could see the Cowboys getting hot and going on a run, because they have that kind of talent, but they have a lot of question marks as the playoffs open with the way they're playing. Their quick ouster last year vs. SF is a bad taste they'd like to get rid of for sure.

Crosby was unable to get kickoffs into the end zone much of the time. Is it feasible to use a younger leg just on kickoffs?

Possibly, yeah.

Hi Mike, just wanted to say thanks for your work this season

Appreciate that. I want to say thanks for the audience, because without loyal readers and viewers I wouldn't be able to do this.

Kliff signed an extension through 2027 and was fired. Does his contract get voided or do they have to pay him through 2027 to not be their HC?

I don't know the specifics of Kingsbury's deal, but usually with coaching contracts he's going to get paid every dollar that was in it. What the Cardinals owe him will be offset by anything another team pays him if he gets another job, but coaching contracts are not like player contracts where you can let someone go and not owe anything further.

Who would you say is the highest priority to bring back out of Adrian Amos, Rudy Ford, and Keisean Nixon? I'd say Nixon.

I don't want to rank anybody because the overall list is a lot longer than those names you mentioned, but I would think Nixon would be a priority with how he changed the return game and proved to be a pretty reliable nickel corner.

Red zone...I think an athletic and reliable TE solves problems. Is there one on the roster or a draft target?

I would expect tight end to be a draft target regardless of what happens with Lewis and Tonyan for '23.

If Hackett does return, do you think LaFleur would consider turning over play-calling responsibility to him?

I know LaFleur said he would consider giving it up, but I doubt he will. When McCarthy did it, he took it back before the end of the season. It's just in the DNA of how coaches like to operate. It's not right or wrong, it's just who they are.

If no Rodgers next year, are Packers back to mostly noon games?

I doubt it.

I love Aaron Jones, but five fumbles? That's got to get fixed somehow.

He vowed in his last media interview Monday to be better. He knows his ball security must improve. Just about every high-usage running back goes through a patch like this at some point in their careers. He'll come out the other side. I think what stands out the most with Jones is he's had two fumbles in season-ending games over the last three years now.

Mark Murphy sure had some kind words for you, Mike. I'd like to second those and imagine a whole lot of Packer fans would do the same.

As I said in Monday's Insider Inbox, I was flattered and humbled. Mark was very kind and it means a lot to be recognized in that way, even if it makes me a little uncomfortable, because that's just who I am.

If Rodgers retires or is traded, do you think we're in for a complete rebuild or do you think this would be a team that still competes for a playoff spot next year?

The whole point of having a prospect like Love here is so the franchise doesn't have to go into a complete rebuild when the HOF QB's time ends. The expectation will be to compete, no different than it was when Rodgers took over for Favre. In 2008, the Packers hit a rough patch at the end of the season, but then they were right back in the playoffs in '09.

For a rookie I thought Doubs was sensational up until he hurt the ankle and I expected him to pick right back up when he came back. He never really did. What happened? Good route runner, great hands?

Yeah, it didn't appear to me Doubs was the same player after he came back from the long layoff. I don't really have an answer for what happened. He's a young player with a lot in front of him, and a potentially bright future. He's not afraid to put in the work, I know that.

How does it happen that the run game seems to be feast or famine?

A lot of that has to do with how defenses play the Packers. When Watson became a big threat, defenses started sitting back with their two safeties, which opens more room for the running game. The Lions didn't sit back as much, brought a safety into the box a lot and challenged the Packers to win routes outside with the running game not there on early downs. Teams do what they feel best fits their personnel. That's part of why this is such a week-to-week league.

If Rodgers retires do think they should trade a couple more veteran high cap guys like Bak and Kenny Clark to lower the cap, load up on picks and target 2024 instead of 2023 with an experienced Love and plenty of picks and a lot of cap space?

Replacing guys like Bakhtiari and Clark is not as easy as just loading up on picks. Those guys are established, big-time pros and if you aren't forced to get rid of them, I don't see a reason to. They can be an important part of the foundation for whoever the QB is.

Any in-depth player stories on the horizon? Yes/No acceptable answer.

I don't know how you define in-depth, but Wes and I have some stories from our final interviews in the locker room on Monday that we'll be spreading out over the next couple of weeks. They won't be longform biographical histories or anything, though. Just more season wrap-up pieces.

Coach said he'd meet with Rodgers this week. Do you expect a decision this soon?

No. Rodgers meeting with the coaches and others before he leaves town is pretty standard. He was very clear he's going to get away from it all and think about it in due time. Does that mean a decision in 4 weeks or 6 weeks or 10? I don't know. It'll be a while without hampering the team's plans as free agency approaches. That's what Rodgers suggested on Sunday night.

All right folks, with that I need to check out. This will be the last live chat for a while. I'll be back at probably random times in the offseason, if news warrants or when other events come up. So thanks for all the participation this season, take care and we'll talk again soon. Best, Mike.

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