Mike's Mid-Week Chat: What are the key matchups for the Packers vs. the 49ers?

Senior writer Mike Spofford answered fan question in his weekly live chat.

Offensive line

Hey everybody. Thanks for logging on today. Hope all is well. I see there are some questions already in so I'll get started. Keep asking away and I'll do my best.

Hey Mike, hope you are doing well. What do you make of the news this morning that the 49ers have shut down their facility due to a positive COVID-19 test?

Well, that news just broke not long ago so the league will be going through the contact tracing protocols and everything else. I honestly don't know what will happen now. The Packers are scheduled to fly out there late this afternoon, with the plane leaving in about 5 hours. We'll just have to see what the league says.

When the schedule first came out this game looked like a likely L. Now an L would feel like a real loss to a team playing a 2nd string QB and without its all-world TE.

This is a game the Packers have to win. The 49ers are so banged up. Green Bay has its own injury issues and COVID-related absences as well, but nothing on the scale of what the 49ers have dealt with all season. San Francisco proved its still plenty tough the last few weeks, with two big wins and a good fight in Seattle. It won't be easy, but the Packers have to take advantage of what's in front of them and win this game.

With players on both teams testing positive for COVID-19, and so close to kickoff, do you think there's a chance this game gets postponed?

At this point, it can't be ruled out. The Packers' tests have all been clear since the lone positive, but with a 49ers positive the day before the game I'm not sure how the league will want to handle that.

Switch Rashan Gary to Rover? His awesome pursuit might help the run game and let's Za'Darius Smith focus on the pass rush from the edge.

I don't anticipate any major scheme or alignment changes up front at this point, though I've been wrong before. The Packers didn't play well up front and paid for it, but as a unit they've shown they can be much better than that and have to find that level of play consistently.

Hey Mike! This doesn't necessarily have much to do with the Packers upcoming game but I'm interested in your answer. What advice would you give to aspiring young reporters/writers?

I don't have enough space here to really say. In a nutshell, I'd say learn how to conduct a good interview and tell someone's story before you start worrying about crafting your own opinions.

Do you expect to see more Dexter Williams as our primary RB with Tyler Ervin getting more involved with jet sweeps, or more of a split carries backfield between the two?

It's really hard to say, but I would think the Packers would still want to utilize Ervin on the sweep motions. Dexter Williams could have a huge opportunity in front of him, getting thrown into a major role like this. It's always interesting to see how a player responds to this situation. He got on the field on special teams in Houston and made a costly mistake, so I would imagine that only adds to his motivation to prove he belongs out there.

I think it will be very hard to resign Kevin King after the year. He simply isn't on the field enough. I know the defense is much better with him than without, but I'm guessing the cost could be $10M per and it just seems he can't be counted on to be on the field. How do you see it?

King's injury history, which unfortunately has resumed this year after a strong and healthy 2019, makes his market very difficult to predict. If he had put together another healthy and productive season like last year, I'd have expected a really big price tag. Now, who knows? Maybe he comes back quickly and the rest of the season there are no issues. But no guarantees there obviously. There could be a wide variance in what teams, including the Packers, think he's worth.

How is Mason Crosby doing? Is he off the injury list?

He is still on the injury report but there's been no indication he's in any worse shape than last week, when he was available for place kicks, but gave way to JK Scott on kickoffs.

What is the latest time someone like Allen Lazard can come off of IR and still be eligible to play tomorrow?

The Packers have until 3 p.m. CT tomorrow to make roster moves for a Thursday night game. I don't know what moves the Packers are going to make, but I'm expecting at least a few.

I know SF is really banged up on offense, but how's the secondary looking? Given the Packers RB situation, I wouldn't be surprised if Lafleur and Aaron Rodgers opt for pass heavy play calling.

Other than Richard Sherman's injury, the 49ers' secondary is pretty much the same unit as last January. The DBs plus Warner and Greenlaw at linebacker. The rest of their defense looks very different. I think a lot of this game will fall on Rodgers due to the Packers' RB situation, but they'll still need a ground game of some kind to keep SF honest.

Ted Ginn Jr. would look great in our slot, Bears just released him, what do you think?

The Bears are having a lot more trouble on offense than the Packers do, so if Ginn can't help them, I'm not sure how much he could help GB. But in a year like this I guess there's no reason to rule anything out.

Is it just me or have the Packers been unable to stop the run for years now. When was the last time they finished in the Top 10 in run defense?

It's been a while, and I'd have to halt the chat to look it up and be sure of my info. But they don't have to be top 10 against the run, they just can't have these games like last January and last week when the other team's run game completely dominates. They have to play more consistently and figure out how to stem the tide in a game when things start to go wrong.

Do you think Darnell Savage has reached the expectations so far in year 2?

I think the Packers were looking for more of a Year 2 jump from him in terms of high-impact plays. That hasn't happened yet, but there's still a lot of season left.

What is the biggest difference, outside of COVID, between the 2019 Packers and the 2020 Packers? My opinion is the number of injuries to overcome.

No question. The Packers were remarkably healthy all last season. They've had a lot more to deal with this year, and so far they've managed to navigate them pretty well. The offense needs David Bakhtiari, Aaron Jones and Lazard back sooner than later, though. Those are three key players on one side of the ball and we saw last week how hard it is to consistently produce on offense without them.

Can you help me understand why players having been in contact with positive cases are being automatically ruled out despite being tested every day...?

Because exposure doesn't necessarily lead to a positive test right away. The virus can be incubating for a few days and then show up as a positive test, but the infected person could be spreading it to others in the meantime without knowing. It's the high side of caution, but with the way these outbreaks have gone, a string of positive tests can show up within a team over the course of several days. No one knows the extent all at once, so the goal is to isolate high-risk contacts as soon as possible for five days even if they're testing negative.

I think all Packer fans are worried that next year we won't be able to sign all the players on our roster that we'd like to keep. I expect we'll lose a few of our favorites. But isn't every team in that situation? Does it mean the market will be flooded with free agents of all types and positions?

With the expected drop in salary cap for 2021, nothing about this next offseason and free-agency season is going to be normal. It's going to be uncomfortable for a lot of teams and very unpredictable.

Another big difference between the Packers in 2020 vs 2019 is this year's lack of forced turnovers by the defense.

Absolutely. If you had told me before the season started the Packers would have four takeaways through seven games, I'd doubt the team would be 5-2. Those types of plays were huge last year, and they have to get back to those. They're generated mostly by pressuring QBs, and you have to stop the run to force teams to throw. Even when the Packers have done that, the pass rush has been lacking at times.

Is there any chance that we see John Lovett getting carries out of the backfield (with his background as a fullback)?

Who knows at this point, but he's been spending his time in practice and meetings with the tight ends, not the running backs. Same with Ervin being with the receivers and not the backs. That's why I think Dexter Williams will be a key player in this game.

There has been speculation that one way to improve the run defense with existing personnel is to play closer/tighter coverages and force the opposing QB's to make throws. How is Mullens as a deep ball passer?

I don't know enough about him, frankly, but he was moving their offense just fine last week in Seattle after he came off the bench. The Seahawks' defense isn't what it's been in the past, but still, he was productive.

I think the best way to fix the run D is through gaps control. Everyone has to beat their man and fill in gap. Packers aren't lacking talents, they just need to do their jobs. Execution is everything.

No question, and when they get a chance at a tackle in the backfield, they have to make it, or at least slow up the ball carrier enough for other guys to arrive. Tackling doesn't have to be perfect, but complete whiffs don't allow for any help to get there.

What is your opinion on the failed Will Fuller trade?

I said what I thought in Inbox this morning, that I wasn't surprised at all. I think Fuller could have helped the Packers, yes. But I'm sure the Texans were asking for at least a second-round pick, figuring they'd get a third-rounder as a comp pick if he leaves in free agency after the season. And the cap was the bigger concern. He'd have been an expensive half-year rental eating up potential carry-over cap space the Packers will probably need to make competitive offers to Bakhtiari and/or Jones.

Follow up on the extensions / 2021 salary cap: Often new contracts of top players reset the market. Average salaries always rise. Could it be different next year? Lower valued and shorter contracts?

I think the market will have to change considerably, but it's hard to say how much it changes for the truly elite players, or if the financial adjustments are more with mid-level players getting contracts restructured and lower offers in free agency. It's really hard to predict.

Wasn't there rumblings that next year's cap might not go down, instead borrowing from future cap increases?

It's going down, but the total amount of the cap decrease is being spread out over multiple years, not just next year. If it were all next year, you'd have chaos with such a major drop. It's going to be chaotic enough in some senses.

In both the II and other forums the discussion of talent has come up for our roster on defense. While it is true that many players had good seasons last year, that doesn't actually prove they can do it every year. The ability to reproduce that level of physical effort for 20 games for consecutive seasons isn't a given.

No, it's not. The game is played by humans. The Packers had a couple of guys who put up career years in 2019. They had others they were projecting to make big strides. It doesn't always work out. But I'm not defining anyone's season after seven games. The Packers have who they have and there are plenty of guys who know they need to do more.

When will they likely decide on the game being played tomorrow?

I would think the league would have to decide by late this afternoon, before the Packers get on the plane, if the game is on as scheduled or needs to be postponed.

Hi Mike - Which matchups do you think are most important for the Packers to win against SF? Which ones are you most optimistic about?

I think the Packers should be able to protect Rodgers better from the 49ers' pass rush than they did in the two games last season because SF has lost multiple dynamic players up front. I also think the defense should be able to better avoid giving up the explosive plays that burned them in these matchups last year. So protection and big plays allowed are where the Packers can change the results.

When would a postponed game be likely made up?

I'm sure the league's preferred option would be to still get the game in this weekend because the Packers have already taken their bye. The league would prefer to put off adding a Week 18 for makeup games at the end of the regular season for as long as possible.

Hi Mike, care to share which players on the defense you expect to have a breakthrough day tomorrow?

It could be any number of guys. Other than the final play of the Houston game, the defense has not generated a turnover since Week 3, I believe.

There is a morbid fascination with this game of attrition. We are missing AJ's but they are missing Kittle. Who can be weighed down the least?

It's not just those guys. The Packers have a ton of guys on the injury report while the 49ers have a ton of guys on IR. Are the Packers getting anyone back soon, like Bakhtiari, Lazard or King? We may not know until tomorrow.

With all the injuries it might be advantageous to wait until Sunday to play?

That could benefit the Packers with some of those guys I mentioned. It would also possibly allow Jamaal Williams and Kamal Martin to clear the five-day high-risk window if they don't have any positive tests. They'd be eligible to play on Sunday. But again, I don't know where the league is on the current situation with SF's positive test.

Do you think penalties could become a problem again in the game tomorrow, or is it more of a discipline thing that will probably be solved? (Thank you so much for your great work, Mike!)

Penalties hadn't been a problem for the Packers until last week, when they had one of the league's flag-happy crews. But that's not an excuse. If you know the data on a crew you have to play more disciplined, and the Packers didn't do that. But that was the first time this team was hit with a bunch of flags in one game, so I think it's a good bet they'll play cleaner moving forward.

I thought I read the Packers / 49ers game could be moved back as far as next week Tuesday if needed. Is that not correct?

There was a game played on a Tuesday night already this year, so there's precedent, yeah.

All right, folks, I have to sign off. Thanks for the participation as always and I guess we'll see what we learn the rest of today. One way or another, hope to chat again next week. Take care, Mike

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