Mike's Mid-Week Chat: What will be different this time?

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

Packers vs. Buccaneers during Week 6 in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Hey everybody, welcome to NFC Championship week. Thanks for logging on. I see some questions coming in already, so keep them coming and let's get right to it.

As I was watching the game I noticed that I didn't see Darnell Savage. Was he injured during the game? His stats are pretty low.

No, he wasn't injured. The Rams didn't challenge the Packers much down the field. Goff's 21 completions only gained 174 yards. It was mostly dink and dunk, which takes the safeties out of play.

Any word on if Vita Bra will be active for Tampa Bay? How would that affect the rushing game plan?

I assume you mean Vita Vea. We may not know if he'll be activated until the end of the week. He hasn't played in three months. It'll be interesting to see, if he does play, how much of a workload he can handle after only 3 days of practice.

Hi Mike. We can talk game plans til we're blue in the face, I don't expect Pettine to drastically change his scheme for one game.. but if there's a game to bump and press I believe it's this one. Brady will kill zones, isn't a mobile threat, and the weather could make the game a little slower. Challenge those receivers and let Rashan Gary, Za'Darius Smith, Kenny Clark, etc get to work up front.

If I know Pettine, he isn't going to have his guys run one coverage all game. He's always going to mix it up. He prefers that against any QB, HOF or not, so they can't get an easy reads on what you're doing. The question is will he lean more toward man or zone in the back end. That could depend on the personnel packages the Bucs use.

Who's the X factor?

Great question. I'm still trying to decide.

What's the big difference you see in this matchup between week 6 and now? Mine is Davante Adams was in his first game back in week 6 and that seemed to affect his timing with Aaron Rodgers.

That may have been part of it. Also, Clark was back for the first time from his injury and wasn't the same. The Packers will have Allen Lazard and Kevin King, who didn't play in Week 6, as well.

Hi Mike. Do you see Mike Pettine playing more zone? I imagine Chandon Sullivan having a hard time covering Antonio Brown, Godwin or whoever they play against him.

We'll just have to see. It all depends where the safeties are deployed as well. Help over the top? Run support? The Packers have to stop the run first.

Hey Mike! What's the latest on AJ Dillon? Will he be available to truck over White this week?

Haven't heard anything on Dillon. The Packers practice today around 1:30 so I'll see if he's out there.

Good morning Mike. Thanks for the chat. Another great WYMM. It's turned into my favorite piece on the web, Thanks.

Thanks for watching/reading it. That was some really fun offensive film to watch.

Mike, did that jumping out of your suite seat include a fist pump?

No, I had to get my fingers right back on the keyboard for the live blog.

Do you think LaFleur speaks with McVay and Shanahan this week to get any insight on how to attack Tampa's D? It's great to have some great offensive minds as friends that you can reach out to.

I don't know, and if he does, I doubt he'd tell us.

I've seen the stats that indicate Brady's struggles when under pressure. What's the scoop on Tampa Bay's offensive line? Will we be able to get in there with a four-man front, or are they too good to beat one-on-one?

I thought Tampa's offensive line was what won the two playoff games against the Washington and New Orleans fronts. That unit is playing as well as the Packers' unit right now.

How much film study does the team put towards the week 6 matchup versus what Tampa has done in the playoffs? That previous matchup seems so long ago.

It was a long time ago, and that's up to the coaches. LaFleur said there are things to learn from the game, but nobody is going to dwell on it. Sounds like a good approach to me.

I know the risk in putting a starter as a returner on Special Teams but given the stakes, is it possible we see someone like Jaire Alexander or another starter back there returning at some point in the game to try to energize the return units?

I wouldn't rule anything out, but that would be a pretty major change for this late in the game. That in itself, no matter who it is, comes with risks, too.

Mike - at first the crowd was supposed to be 6,000. I have since heard 7, then 8 and now 9,000 fans. What was the official count and is there and limit on the number of fans from the NFL?

The official paid attendance Saturday was around 7,400 but the Packers announced there were a total of around 8,400 in the stands.

You guys are the most talked about team right now in the NFL. In an interview with Davante Adams, he stated that at this point, the only team that can beat you guys are yourselves. What are some things that you think need to be fixed before the game on Friday?

I don't think it's a matter of fixing anything. It's a matter of finding ways to stay efficient on offense and continue to take away the big plays on defense. That and protect the ball has been a good formula for this team.

In watching the Packers first game against Tampa, my one overriding thought was how their MLBs wrecked the Packers game plan. How does MLF and the offensive coaches game plan to neutralize White and David?

I have no idea. That's why they get paid the big bucks and I'm sitting here.

My x-factor is Kevin King. With the way Jaire has been playing I think Brady is going to look to who King is matched up with early and often.

Very good possibility.

How can the Packers defense generate more pressure to disrupt the Tampa passing game this time around?

Pressure on the interior is how you disrupt Brady. It's how he lost the two Super Bowls to the Giants. Easier said than done, but getting pressure from the inside will make a huge difference, and that falls on Clark and a lot of times Za'Darius, who moves inside when Gary comes in on the edge.

Are we about to find out how much Tom's blood has thinned since moving to Tampa?

I suppose, but it's not going to be brutally cold or anything. Colder than last week by 10 degrees or so, but I don't think it's going to be some kind of shock to Brady's system. The larger question is how their perimeter players handle the ball in these elements.

Where is the weak spot on this Tampa defense (if any) and where can the Packers really attack them?

They like to press and get their hands on receivers. They really challenged the Saints WRs at the line, in part I think because they weren't worried about Brees being able to beat them deep. Handle that physical play on the outside and some opportunities will be there.

Who do like in the AFC?

I said when the playoffs started I thought Buffalo had the best chance to knock off the Chiefs, so I'm not surprised it's these two. It's hard for me to see KC losing, though, if Mahomes plays. But I don't think the Bills winning would be a huge shock*.*

If Dillon can't go, does that remove the 2-RB package (with Aaron Jones motioning out) from the playbook?

No. They could still do that with Jamaal Williams and Jones. It just puts a larger snap load on both guys, but there's no holding back in a game like this.

I heard the cardboard signs made good noisemakers. Anything else they might use?

I'd say stick with what was working.

Hi Mike, I was rather surprised that we didn't see a whole lot of Damon Harrison on the field Saturday. Considering we knew how badly the Rams needed to run the ball I thought for sure we would see more of him. With the way that the Bucs have been rushing this postseason, do you think there is any chance we see more of him this weekend?

It all depends on the personnel the opponent uses. If they're still lining up three wide, it's hard to load up too heavy against the run. You still have to have guys who can get after the passer if it's not a run. If they come out with two TEs or other run-heavy looks, that changes the thought process.

Hello Mike, my 2 cents is better blocking on punt returns may help produce better field position. Just a thought.

Just no penalties or turnovers. That's all I care about at this point.

What's your gut telling you about this game based on your experience and understanding and expertise on NFL especially Packers?

It's a toss-up. It really is. Both teams are playing extremely well. Both teams have HOF QBs. The Packers are at home, which you'll take anytime. But I don't think either team comes into this game with a decided advantage in any way.

The cold shouldn't affect Brady or Gronk as they have played many games in less than ideal weather but do you think it'll have an impact on the rest of the roster?

That's what we have to find out. Jones, Godwin, Fournette, Evans ... guys like that, one wrong hit or one bounce off the hands from the cold could mean a turnover.

Interior pressure is also how the Broncos beat Brady twice in the AFC championship...


In year two we've seen the full extent of MLFs playbook and the devastating impact it can have on an opponent. My question is have we seen all of it or do you expect to see some New looks Sunday?

I don't know if we'll see anything brand new, but the coaches are always developing variations off of things they already run. That's a constant process.

Congrats to Philip Rivers on retirement. I know you don't have time to do research but didn't it feel like he always had a great game whenever he played the Packers?

Yeah, his numbers against GB were pretty crazy. But the Packers did beat him a couple of times even when he lit it up.

Will Kingsley Keke be available this week?? We could use all the pressure we can muster.

Again, won't know until practice this afternoon where things stand with him. Hopefully he's been recovering OK.

Jamaal Williams didn't have a lot of touches against the Rams but I thought it was his best performance running the football. Your thoughts?

I loved how Williams ran the ball against the Rams. He was just charging hard and protecting the ball every time he touched it. His effort was outstanding. Plenty of yards after contact. Same with Jones with some of his spins.

The D has to run to the ball and gang tackle. This seems to be more prevalent lately.

The defense is playing much better than it did earlier in the year. There's no question about that. It always starts with getting more hats to the ball and not asking guys to make one-on-one tackles in open space.

Last week you correctly predicted Lazard as the player to watch... thoughts this week… you are hot!

That's why I said before I'm still thinking about it. You guys are putting all kinds of pressure on me here.

Could it simply be Rogers vs. Brady?

It could be which of them makes the fewest mistakes. But I also think it's as much about the running games for both teams, because that's what sets up the QBs to be at their best.

Hi Mike, what say you? Hold Fournette to less than 60 yards rush and 60 yards receiving and Pack win?

It's not just Fournette. Jones is a tough runner, too. The Packers can't let the Bucs' ground game set the tempo.

Aaron Rodgers is playing super. Last game vs Bucs he looked like a deer in the headlights. How will that be different?

As I mentioned in Inbox today, it's about finding rhythm and timing on offense. The 10-0 lead down in Tampa in Week 6 was gained with all off-schedule, improv stuff. Rodgers had no rhythm from the start and he knew it wouldn't last playing the whole game that way against that defense.

The legacy implications on this game and playoff run are massive for Rodgers. Beating TB in the NFC Championship Game would be legendary and something Packer fans would never forget. I think Brady has had plenty of success, this is Rodgers time.

Let's hope so.

Hi Mike, do you think this is a tougher defense for GB to face since so much of the offense is dependent on the run and LA didn't really have Donald at 100%?

It's a defense built very differently. The Rams had the best D-lineman in the league and the best corner, with Donald and Ramsey, and one of them wasn't full strength. This defense is built around the inside LBs, the best duo in the league. The Packers have to find a way to get them blocked in the running game to get some consistent yards on the ground. It's not going to be easy.

Will Robert Tonyan be a key?

He's always going to get his number called a handful of times every game. And so far he's always been ready.

In the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a lot of people in the NFL community thought that the New Orleans Saints were going to move on. Of course, this was not the case. Is there anything that concerns your team reviewing this?

I think the Saints were going to win if Jared Cook doesn't fumble on the third-down conversion. Saints were up 7, and that conversion put them across midfield and they were going to go up two scores. It changed the game and the Saints never found anything on offense the rest of the way.

Hi Mike, what do your eyes tell you about how each of these teams played in the last month? I think it is evenly matched across the board, what do you think?

As I said, I think both teams are playing really well. Both got hot at the right time, which is what it takes.

Do we match up better with the Bills or Chiefs?

I couldn't care less.

I think the availability of AJ Dillon could be key. His 255 pound punishing runs especially in the 2nd half in 26 degree weather will wear any D down. Thoughts?

Williams runs with as much power as Dillon from what I've seen, but the more options you have, the better.

Before last season Gute made four very big FA signings. I was very high on Adrian Amos and the Smith's at the time. I must admit not so much on the Billy Turner signing. I was Wrong! Major contribution at three line spots have made him well worth the price. Thought he was outstanding at LT Sunday. From what you've seen this year which of the three spots is he best at?

I think his best spot is RT if I had to pick one, but you're right, he's been invaluable with what he's provided in terms of versatility and high-level play. Really important piece to this team.

Do you know that status of Antonio Brown? I heard he was injured last week at NO?

They're saying he's day to day with a knee injury. An MRI revealed nothing serious.

Any word on players possibly coming back in the playoffs from IR?

No word.

The best definition I know for irony is "reality laughing at naivety". Ergo for something to be ironic there must be a naive view at the root. There is nothing particularly naive about the Bills or Packers losing their Week 6 games, nor in imagining different results this weekend. So coincidence, not irony.


Mike, with the six rings and all the GOAT talk, do you think Rodgers feels like he has something to prove?

It has nothing to do with who's on the other side. Rodgers knows full well what a second Super Bowl would mean to his legacy, and it's been driving him for a long time now.

Do the Bucs have any corners who can match up with our tight ends? If Tampa has to commit at least one of White/David to coverage, that could go a long way.

Another interesting matchup to watch. They could use their LBs or a safety. We'll see.

I'm calling at least 2 interceptions and 2 sacks for our defense; the players will feed off the crowd and Tampa's snap count should become more predictable with the noise factor. Scary Gary will have at least 5 pressures.

That's bold, calling Brady with two picks. One might be enough to turn the game.

The x-factor answer is always Marcedes Lewis.

You got it, Big Dog.

Mike, you had feeling about Lazard last week and it was spot on. Who do you think will have big game this week?

You guys just won't stop with this. I'm going to have to sign off and sit and ponder this between now and our shoot for Final Thoughts at the end of the week. Thanks for all the questions everybody. Take care and enjoy the game. Best, Mike

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