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Mike's Mid-Week Chat: How do the Packers handle Steelers' pass rush?

Editor Mike Spofford answered fan questions in his live chat

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive front sacks Jacksonville QB Trevor Lawrence.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive front sacks Jacksonville QB Trevor Lawrence.

Hey everybody, thanks for logging on today. We're finally back to our usual day and time. I see questions coming in already so I'll just get started.

After we were all told Jordan Love would be a work in progress this year, many are calling for him to be benched. Can you point out to these naysayers some of the great QB that had bad starting seasons. From what I can see Love is on pace with some of the greats. With a little patience I believe he could become something special. I can't stand our instant gratification society.

I don't think there's any point in comparing Love to anybody, because developmental timelines always vary. Anyone ready to give up on him after half a season simply doesn't know football. He has plenty of room to improve. He's also done a lot of intriguing and promising things. Those who aren't willing to let it play out can't be helped anyway.

Any word on Kenny Clark's shoulder? injury and prognosis?

Nothing yet. I'll be heading to practice shortly after noon today and I'll see if he's out there.

The run defense has been much better these last two games. What do they need to (continue to) do on Sunday to contain Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren?

The stoutness of the run defense has been important these last two weeks. We've seen fewer missed tackles, and we've seen guys getting off blocks to muck up the running lanes. Those efforts must continue. The Steelers run the ball better than either the Vikings or the Rams, so it'll be a bigger challenge.

Hi Mike. My daughter, GM Sarah and I made the trip to Lambeau and were happy to see progress in all three phases

The progress that might have me the most intrigued is what we saw on special teams. I know Anders Carlson missed a kick, but with Keisean Nixon's 51-yard kickoff return, plus a 15-yard punt return by him and a 22-yarder by Jayden Reed, maybe the Packers are hitting on something in their return game. It's worth watching.

Hope Watson is good to go. It was one catch like that at the beginning of the Cowboys game last year that saw him start to light it up. Hoping for similar pattern this year, because that could open things for others, too.

Indeed. Hauling in that one deep ball against Dallas last season really sparked him, and this entire offense. I don't think anybody would mind history repeating itself in that regard.

I know we won't know the starting 5 offensive linemen until Sunday. But Sean Rhyan played well for his series. Any chance he starts?

I'd never rule anything out, and I agree Rhyan played well in spot duty, but I don't think Jon Runyan has played poorly at all to lose his job, and you're not replacing Jenkins at the other guard spot. The fourth-and-1 offside penalties were unfortunate, but based on what Runyan said after the game, I don't think anybody told him the first flag was on him (the referee announced Nijman's number, incorrectly). I don't see the Packers turning over a position from an experienced player to a new guy just like that, especially with a defensive front like the Steelers on deck. It does appear Rhyan has made himself the next guard up, though, which is a climb on the depth chart from earlier in the season.

Mornin' Mike!
Maybe you won't have to wear your boxing gloves this week, eh? After watching how our O line seemed to handle Aaron Donald, maybe we've turned the corner and and this will carry over for the rest of the season

Different challenge this week, with the Steelers' two impressive edge rushers in Watt and Highsmith, plus a guy like Heyward on the interior. This is a tough group all the way across. It's not about zeroing in on one guy to stop from wrecking things. The Steelers have multiple guys who can do that.

The league fines players for penalties. Can the team? What about bonuses for penalty free games.

That would all be against the CBA and salary cap rules.

Nice "Airplane" reference on the II this morning, Mike! I assume you review the game "all-22" video before producing your fine WYMM piece each week. Do you make note during the game of something to look for, or just let the "action come to you?"

Either/or. Sometimes I leave the press box with an idea of something I want to take a closer look at Monday morning. Other times I don't and just see what I see. It depends on the game and how it goes. Thanks for checking out the piece, though. It's one I really enjoy putting together every week.

Four fried chickens won't be enough to stop Watt. Any other ideas?

Chips from tight ends and running backs will almost certainly be in the game plan, but those might be needed on the other side with Highsmith, too. These guys really get after it.

Glad to see some motions and misdirection come back to the O. Is that partially due to O line play and also healthy Aaron Jones opening up Pony pkg ?

I think it's a combination of a lot of things, including what you mentioned. Getting Jones and AJ Dillon on the field together and having Jones motioning around can really keep a defense on its toes. Some of it is opponent-based too, from what those defenses have struggled with on film.

Mike, I know the secondary has been getting a lot of props for their play last Sunday, but I thought the D-Line also had a great game, especially considering Kenny Clark got hurt. The 2 rookies really seem to bring it!

Agreed. Wyatt didn't have any real splash plays, but he was solid in there. Wooden had the fourth-down stop. Brooks deflected a couple passes. Slaton has started to become a force against the run and needs to keep it up. You have to like what the Packers have in that group right now, provided Clark can get back in there quickly.

I noticed what Douglas noticed. Every running play but 1 that series went right behind Rhyan and he had a hole open for them. The TD was the only exception and that was because 33 cut it back. Not asking for Runyan's benching, it was simply nice to see Rhyan get some productive snaps. Jars on the shelf.

It would appear Rhyan has put a lost rookie season behind him and is making strides. There's a lot to be said for that. He was drafted in the third round for a reason.

While at the game, I couldn't get the blog on my phone. I'm guessing common problem?

We've been hearing that from some folks. Plenty of others get it on their phones no problem. All we've been suggesting is check the cookie settings and other configurations that might be causing a problem. Because it's not a universal problem.

Well, Donald is great, but it is a different challenge with TJ, Cam, and Alex.

My point exactly.

With limited snaps, it seems like Wooden and Brooks seem to make more impact plays than Wyatt does or am I just imagining that? I would hope draft order doesn't take precedence over results.

Sometimes splash plays are easier to come by when guys are fresher and not getting worn out. The coaches see all the film and know what's what.

All the defense bashing but I see it as a TOP issue. The last couple weeks have been better.

I think TOP had something to do with it, but the unit also has been plenty inconsistent on its own. It was doing fine on third downs until Cousins suddenly tore them up on a bunch of third-and-longs. That's not a TOP issue. Even without Douglas, the coverage in the back end against Kupp and Nacua was vastly improved over what we've seen in other games, too.

With Isaiah McDuffie's great play, any chance they would put him in on run downs in a rotation with De'Vondre Campbell or Quay Walker? Or is that far fetched?

I doubt it, but there's no discounting the value he's had when filling in. McDuffie has slowly but surely grown as a player over the last couple years since he arrived. Campbell and Walker are the guys they want out there most of the time, though, as long as they're healthy.

Winnable game this week, IMO. Pickett's been off all year, so I think our defense should be able to hold up, esp. if the secondary plays like it did last week. It comes down to whether last week's offensive production was a fluke, or a sign of things to come. What's your feeling about the team, going into this game?

This game is all about being able to hang in there for 60 minutes. Four of Pittsburgh's five wins have come when trailing after three quarters, then the shut out the opponent in the fourth quarter and get the score(s) they need. They've won by playing grind-it-out, crunch-time football. The Packers have to be ready to do the same.

I was thinking of asking about a more common rotation possibility if the two youngsters keep showing up. Because a fresher Clark is dangerous.

Interesting thought. The more the young guys prove themselves, the more options the coaches have.

Hi Mike, made my first visit to Lambeau this past weekend, took the tour and saw where you and Wes sit….wrote in that with my buddies coming, we were the squeeze for the juice! Bragged about y'all all week…Keep up the great work

Glad you had a good time and enjoyed your visit.

Saw the stat that the Packers have not won in Pittsburgh since 1970. Seems like it's time to break that drought. Anything about the location that makes it particularly challenging?

I don't think so. It's just one of those things. The drought is 50-plus years but it's only five games (regular season). I might be writing more about that history later this week, so stay tuned.

What's your assessment of Tucker Kraft so far?

He's coming along. I saw some pretty good blocks on film vs. the Rams. I thought he showed up the most, so far, with his blocking in this past game.

Did you get a chance to see the Badgers Saturday? Looked like I was watching the Packers from the past three weeks.

Yeah, a tough and frustrating loss for another team in transition.

Also, do you think it's smarter to have Jaire Alexander travel with Pickens or Johnson, since the latter has started to come alive lately? And have the other doubled with safety help?

That's way above my pay grade. Not sure how the Packers will go about it, but Alexander looked healthy and like himself this last game, so that might influence the decision. Pickens is averaging 17.4 yards per catch. That's the stat that catches my eye.

I appreciate having more play calls for 33, but it still seems that we throw too many sideways passes instead of looking down the field more. That backwards pass landing out of bounds could have been a disaster.

That was just a checkdown and Love was trying to avoid the sack. With a 7-point lead in the fourth quarter, he's got to protect the ball better there, and he knows it. The more designed swing passes and such are being run to set up other looks in the middle of the field, and we saw some of that working. You have to be able to execute the whole playbook for plans to work as intended.

I don't recall: Is the Steelers' field artificial turf? Any specific concerns there?

No, the former Heinz Field is grass. Previously at Three Rivers, back in the day, they played on turf. The really hard stuff.

I know Aaron doesn't play for us anymore but can you believe he may get back by the end of the year?

I'm not going to go on the record doubting him, but I'll believe it when I see it. That's a terrible injury and very difficult to come back from within the same season.

Musgrave's touchdown was the first wow moment this season in my book. Play calling, execution and result. Can we have more of that please?

I think the whole offense is looking for more of that. Christian Watson's contested catch right before that was a big one, too. Sometimes individuals need to make plays, other times everyone has to execute to perfection. Whatever it takes.

Is the inbox always a roller coaster. It feels like people think we're gonna win out after every win and lose out after every loss.

Pretty much. Nature of the beast.

Mike, was Samori Toure a healthy scratch last week, or is he dealing with some health issues? I would like to think he'd have made that catch over the middle that Heath dropped.

He was a healthy scratch to my knowledge. It was an opportunity missed by Heath.

Perspective… Change the outcome of about half a dozen plays, and the Packers are 6-2 or even 7-1. The next 4 games are tough opponents. I'd be elated with 2-2 and seeing progress. The arrow is up with a young team.

Change the outcome of a dozen plays and every team in the league has a vastly different record. That's how this works. Just beat the Steelers.

Was at the game and sat right below you guys in 324. Unbelievable seats. You guys realize how blessed you are, right??

I do my best not to take it for granted that I get to watch live football at Lambeau Field on a regular basis. Going to other stadiums is a nice change of pace, but Lambeau is the best venue in the NFL. It really is.

Change the outcome of a couple plays and we are 1-7 too. It's a thin line.


Mike, what is Eric Stokes' status. Should we expect him to see significant playing time this week?

Stokes will not be eligible to return from IR until after the Chargers game next week.

Mike, that was an interesting tidbit Gutey shared at his presser regarding the 3rd round pick for Douglas, and his expectation that with it being a top 100 pick, that someone from the Packers top 50 on their board would be available. That feels like he revealed "double secret probation" kind of info!

I thought it was interesting, too, though I don't think he's revealing anything other teams don't already know. It's confirmation as to how different every team's draft board is. Sure the top 15 or 20 players are probably the same, or close to it, but after that there's a ton of variance.

Yes, I still find it incredible that we came back and beat the Saints !

You don't normally win a game with one good quarter of offensive football, but it worked out that day. The Saints losing Carr at QB certainly contributed as well.

I was at Lambeau for the first time in a couple years and the stadium rocked. Was the crowd louder than normal even before taking the lead?

Hard for me to tell in the press box. I'm so zoned in on the live blog I pretty much block everything else out. The loudest I can recall the stadium since the return of fans post-Covid was probably the Minnesota game late last season, when Keisean Nixon took that kickoff to the house.

Any obvious reason for swapping out Robinson for another practice squad RB ? Just a case of churning and getting a look at another guy ?

Would appear so.

Hooray, this is the first I've been able to confirm that I'm back to being able to see the live chats while they're!

Good to hear. Appreciate your persistence.

As my schedule has had me watching games on a small screen or reading your blog, I got a true sense of how young the faces of the players are when I watched the game on the big screen. It put things in perspective for me!!

I know the Packers don't want to keep talking about the youth of the team, but it is a reality. This is the youngest team I can recall being around. Some of the players are younger than my son, which puts it in perspective for me.

Not having prime time games is a blessing this year. I get to sleep almost every Sunday night. The one good thing of missing a HOF QB.

Well, there are still three more night games coming up on the schedule at this point -- Chiefs, Giants and Vikings.

Has Royce Newman gotten any snaps yet this season? ST maybe?

He had filled in at left guard when Elgton Jenkins was hurt earlier in the season.

Does your son play football Mike?

Ha, no.

Mike I heard early in the season a lot about Najee Harris and his less than ideal runs. Does it seem they've gotten that fixed?

Harris is climbing toward 4 yards per carry on the season. He's currently up to 3.8. But Warren has given the run game a spark. He's got a 4.7 average on 56 attempts, with a long of 22, so that average isn't skewed by a long-distance run or two.

Is Love's deep ball inaccuracy a developmental thing? Can you coach that?

Absolutely. He's not a finished product in that department, or any others for that matter.

What's up with the league basically taking away the Lambeau Leap?

The league hasn't taken it away. Celebration time has been shortened, so as Aaron Jones said after the last game, players have to decide if they're going to jump in the stands or celebrate with their teammates. There isn't time to do both.

There has been talk, rightfully so, that the O-line wasn't playing well. Did they turn a corner health-wise, or are they figuring it out with play time, or?

All of the above in some respects. The Packers are still figuring things out at LT, with Nijman taking over for Walker but then leaving the Rams game with a back injury. Jenkins wasn't quite himself when he first came back but seems to have settled in again. Myers is improving and becoming more consistent. Both Runyan and Tom played through injuries for a couple of weeks but they seem to be more full strength now, too.

Apparently the "jungle jump" was invented by the Bengals and looks awfully familiar....

Their prerogative.

Packers have the lowest PPG in the first half and the highest in second half. Is that because of conservative play calling in the first vs aggressive in the second half?

No, it has to do with executing well versus not.

If the last time we beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh was in 1970, they were still a real NFL team, prior to the merger, right?

1970 was the first year of the merger. The Steelers were always an NFL team, not an AFL team.

Execution is a product of good play calling. The packers need to be more aggressive on offense in the first half.

That's your opinion. I don't think aggression or lack thereof has anything to do with it.

Is the O-line figuring out how to function better without David Bakhtiari a factor?

I think so. Health and finding the best LT to fill in at that spot are the larger factors I think, though.

If both healthy, who starts at LT against quicker pass rush?

It would appear the Packers had decided on Yosh Nijman last week, so if he's healthy, I think he's the guy. But we'll see.

I imagine part of Packer 2nd half success is the opponent playing quasi prevent, less aggressive D with a lead over the Packers?

For several weeks in a row, the Packers were basically in two-minute hurry-up mode in the second half of their games. This past week was the first time in a while they were running their offense off the game plan and call sheet throughout the contest.

Mike, that 1970 Steelers Packers game featured two HOF QBs, Starr and Bradshaw. However, Bart was past his prime, and Terry was before his.

Yeah, I was looking up some info on that game earlier today. The two teams combined for 10 turnovers.

If you needed more proof of week-to-week:
Miami makes Denver look awful
Denver beats KC by 2+ scores a few weeks later
KC beats Miami on another continent shortly after

The Lions got clobbered by the Ravens and have rebounded just fine. Now the Seahawks took it on the chin from the Ravens and have to bounce back. And the Steelers beat the Ravens.

From what I've seen, both at games and on TV, this season, aggressive first-half play calling hasn't been the issue. Blown plays and missed assignments on first-half play calls has shaken the team and prevented them from getting into a rhythm. Hopefully, the confidence from the win last Sunday will help their focus.

Agreed, and that's the idea. They still have plenty to clean up on offense, because the first 2 1/2 quarters last Sunday were full of mistakes. But those mistakes were sprinkled in with a lot more positive play than we had seen.

This weeks matchup is very intriguing to me. Both teams have top ten defenses in my opinion and both have young offenses with first year starting QB's in the developmental stage of their career.

I would say the Steelers' defense has been far more consistent than the Packers'. But it's definitely an interesting matchup, yeah.

A healthy Aaron Jones makes a world of difference to this offense. Dillon is a complete change of pace, but Jones just puts so much more pressure on a defense.

Totally. When he's full-go, he can be used in so many different ways, and defenses have to adjust. Constantly.

Is some of the first half issues guys coming out "to tight"? I know it's not all of it, but they don't have a lot of veterans that have been there to guide them.

I have no idea if that's an issue. Usually the plays called early in the game are the ones practiced the most during the week, so it's been hard to figure. This last game started much better offensively until the fourth-and-1 offside call ruined the first drive.

Hope to see Luke Musgrave build upon last game.

Absolutely. He's just getting started, I believe.

Jaire certainly looked like his back got better. Hope he is avoiding our practice squad QB in practice lately :)

Yes, that would be a good idea. Talk about a freak injury.

How many passes have Karl Brooks blocked? I thought he blocked a FG too.

Brooks is up to four batted passes now, and yes, he did block a FG.

The 5 straight losses in Pittsburgh is part of what I call meaningless statistics that some pundits use to build a narrative to suit whatever outcome they prefer. There are maybe a handful of players from both teams who played in 2017 game.

For sure. I enjoy writing about that stuff because it's interesting, and fun to look back at the details of some games. Rodgers' only game in Pittsburgh in '09 was a wild shootout with Big Ben that came down to the very last play. Hundley almost upset the Steelers in '17 in a primetime game when nobody gave the Packers a chance to stay close. It all means nothing to the game in front of everyone, but I like taking trips down memory lane.

I just joined. You can start the chat now

Ha, sorry. But I do have to go.

Thanks for the chat, Mike, I know you have to head to practice. As Ray Kinsella said to Terrence Mann, I want a full report.

I'll do my best. With that I'll sign off. Thanks for all the participation today and I'll be back next week, as well as on the live blog Sunday from Pittsburgh. Take care everybody. Best, Mike.