Mike's Mid-Week Chat: How have the Packers improved on defense?

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

LB Preston Smith and DL Kenny Clark

Hey there, hope everybody had a great Christmas. Thanks for logging on today. Let's go ahead and get started.

Great job on WYMM once again Mike. Do you expect to see any of the defensive changes used last against Henry and the Titans to be used this week against Montgomery and the Bears?

Thanks for checking out the segment. The film was really interesting to go through. To your question, it really depends on how the Bears employ their personnel. If Chicago uses a bunch of two- and three-TE sets, then why not. But if the Bears are going to go three wide and try to run Montgomery that way, you still have to match personnel on the perimeter.

I know, I know. Just beat the Bears. However, if you will allow this indulgence, if the Packers do beat the Bears they will have the same record as last season's. Please compare and contrast.

This offense is in a completely different place than last year's. It's one of the best in the league. That wasn't the case a year ago. Defensively, the Packers are coming on strong late here, which is a good sign. Last year's unit might have been more consistent overall, but we saw it going the wrong way later in the year. Special teams aren't as sound and reliable. That's pretty obvious.

Good morning, Mike! We've been hearing a lot about the Bears' offensive resurgence. How has their defense been playing recently?

It's pretty good, but I don't think it's been as good as the past couple of years, certainly not like the '18 team that won the division. The Lions put up a bunch of points on them right before this recent winning streak started. Minnesota moved the ball pretty well on them, too. Hicks, Mack, Jackson, Roquan Smith are all top-flight players, and Nichols is really coming on. But overall they've been more vulnerable than other years we've seen, in my opinion.

Mike, thanks for your no-nonsense answer today in the Inbox about the Packers identity. I think this concept is a holdover from Vic's days here, but it's not one I could ever get behind. As far as I can tell, it's a fancy way to explain how a team wins games. Because you never hear talk about a team's identity when they lose.

I didn't mean to be dismissive, but I think it is an outdated concept to a certain extent because these young coaches like LaFleur, Shanahan, McVay, Flores and a bunch of others do a lot more game-planning week-to-week based on opponents. It's just how the game is played now.

Mike...are the roster rules the same during playoffs as they were during the season?

I'm not aware of anything different.

Hi Mike. Hope you had a great Christmas. What did you think about the Packers playing Krys Barnes in 95% of the snap count against the Titans compared to Christian Kirksey and Kamal Martin's 20%? Seemed like we were playing lots of man as well and it seemed to work fantastic.

The Packers have decided Barnes is their best inside LB, and he's earned it. I think I mentioned it a week ago and then it showed up again vs. the Titans -- Kirksey seems to be a higher-impact player with fewer snaps, less of a workload. They're getting more with less, and that's not a bad thing. Martin is a real wild card at that position. He flies around like crazy, and when he's in the right spot or makes the right move, he can make a high-impact play as well, but he also can be a little reckless.

Ultimately do you think it will benefit the Packers having so much riding on this game vs having it wrapped last week?

I don't know. We'll just have to see. If the Packers win and get out of Chicago healthy, all is well.

View some of the best photos from the Packers-Titans matchup at Lambeau Field on Dec. 27, 2020.

Could Trubisky be called consistent yet?

He's playing better than he has, but the Bears are also staying committed to the run game, which is helping him tremendously. He also threw a brutal INT in the end zone last week in Jacksonville on first down in the red zone, the kind of miscue that got him benched in the first place. I've always felt the key to defending him was keeping him in the pocket and not letting him run around and use his legs. You don't rush Trubisky to sack him, you rush him to hem him in and make him throw from the pocket.

Are there any playoff teams you'd prefer to see at Lambeau? I wouldn't mind an opponent lacking a winning record, or the Rams without Goff.

Let's hope we're studying the possibilities next week with the Packers getting rested up.

The Packers were able to run the ball effectively against the Bears the last time out. But Chicago was also missing Akiem Hicks. How big a difference do you think his presence makes?

It's significant. The Packers came out in the last game and exploited Hicks' absence from the get-go. It was obvious on the first drive of the game. I expect the Bears to be more stout against the run than last time, but that doesn't mean the Packers can't still be effective running the ball.

Is Adrian Amos playing dimelinebacker here to stay?

It's in his arsenal but he's not playing that spot on every snap. Pettine moves Amos around all over the place, but yes, he's certainly playing more dime LB since Raven Greene's injury.

Our offensive line has struggled through all our injuries but two, Lane Taylor and now Rick Wagner. How does the health of the Bears starting line compare to what they'll field on Sunday?

I haven't seen any injury updates from Chicago yet this week. Stay tuned I guess.

What makes Montgomery so successful? What do you see as his best trait?

He's decisive with his cuts, and he's got a decent amount of power for a back who's not overly big. He's a pretty versatile guy, as far as running between the tackles, bouncing outside, catching passes. He's a really good all-around player.

Hey Mike, thanks for the weekly chat per usual! Assuming Jamaal Williams comes back healthy this week, do you foresee AJ Dillon getting more of his carries, or do you think that'd be purely situational?

I'm not saying Dillon gets 20-plus carries again, but I don't see him going back to just a few after that performance Sunday night. When a guy plays like that, you have to reward him.

Aaron Rodgers said recently that Soldier Field is one of his favorite places to play. Any idea why? The only stadium where he's won an NFC championship game?

I'm sure it's partly the memories from that game and the finale in '13 with the dramatic fourth down. It was also where the Packers played in '14 and won big right after his "RELAX" comment about the offense.

What do you think is key to win the game on Sunday?

Contain Montgomery, keep Trubisky in the pocket, stay balanced on offense, and don't let the Bears dominate on special teams.

Hi Mike.. happy holidays. i am wondering if the Packers feel like they hold the future of Trubisky in their hands this weekend? might they scheme differently if they feel like they want Trubisky to appear acceptable to the Bears organization?

In the immortal words of Herm Edwards: You play to win the game.

The Day After The Titans Game, The National Media Seemed Bumbed Out When Talking About The Outcome....

I think the national folks were hoping for a better game, something down-to-the-wire in the snow.

Should there be any concerns with our record after a bye week these last years? I know we beat Seattle last year, but our form after a bye worries me!

I hear this a lot, and I just don't think it's valid. The Packers' post-bye struggles have had way more to do with the opponents they've been playing in those situations (SF last year, TB this year) than anything else, in my opinion. The playoff bye is huge. You get to rest up, get healthy, and not put your guys at risk of getting injured for a week. Every other team is taking that risk to advance. And only having to win 2 games to get to the Super Bowl instead of 3 speaks for itself. This is a crazy league. You do whatever you can to get the odds in your favor.

What's the story on Jace Sternberger? He's been out with a concussion for like four weeks or so. Is that unusual?

This is his second significant concussion in two years in the NFL. He had one last year as a rookie in training camp that kept him out for a while, too. I hope he's doing OK. You hate to see that.

Darnell Savage, Amos and Jaire Alexander are allowing more Guys to load the box. If they continue to perform at their current levels I am confident we can limit any RB to 100 yards regardless of score. It's so important they stay healthy.

The Packers' secondary is playing at a very high level right now. It's what they envisioned as they've remade the group over the last few years.

Do you think that Dillion is a volume running back like Adrian Peterson. The more he carries the better he gets?

I think most running backs are like that. It helps to get a feel for the game, read the defense on the fly, etc. In this league, you just have to do your best to make it count when you're in there.

So, if the Saints and Seahawks winning and our team fails in Chicago, the driver seat going to the Saints. It is very unlikely, that both (Packers and Saints) are going to lose! Is it possible that the Seahawks rest their starters?

That can't be a serious question.

Would you expect to see more of Dominique Dafney again this week? I was surprised how many snaps he got on Sunday.

LaFleur has found a role for him, and he's come through. This offense always has a place for reliable, productive tight ends, and Dafney has given them a third behind Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis with Sternberger out.

The trubiskaholics are back on a bender now, I bet. I just don't know what to think of him. Looks great and has so much promise at times, then channels his inner Jay Cutler sometimes...

The Bears are trying to figure it out, too. Other than the playoff game two years ago vs. Philly, which he would have won had Parkey made the kick, this is probably the biggest game of his career.

Loving the Lafleur offense right about now.

There's plenty to like. They've had their lulls during the season in certain games, but there were no lulls last week. Staying committed to the running game with these backs I think is the best tonic to cure the lulls.

How Do We Get Rid Of The 2011 Homefield-advantage failure Trama?

It'll be the playoffs, where anything can happen. The Falcons had the 1 seed twice, in 2010 and 2012, before they got it a third time and finally made it to a Super Bowl. It guarantees nothing. But like I said before, you play the odds, and having the 1, especially this year, increases your odds.

To me the importance of having the No. 1 seed this year cannot be overstated: 1) An extra week of rest while the other teams are fighting for their lives, 2) One less game to have to win to get the SB, 3) Playing at home throughout the playoffs, 4) Always playing the lowest seeded team left in the mix.


Please do not overlook the job the offensive line is doing in opening up holes in the running game, as well as protecting #12. They deserve a ton of credit.

No question. I've been saying all year it's remarkable what the offensive line has done given the injuries and all the shuffling around, almost weekly. This is the best performance by a Packers' O-line, in my view, since '14, but that group had every starter for every game except one. This group has done it a very different way.

It will be good when Williams returns healthy but I don't think it's wise to try to split carries between 3 backs. Do they stay with a two back rotation or try to split it up three ways?

I don't know. We'll have to see what LaFleur decides. And it may come down to someone looking stronger in the given game, the hot hand idea.

Don't you feel like the game boils down to the Packers offense against the Bears defense?

If the Packers score 30-plus, which they've done in I believe 11 of 15 games this season, I don't see the Bears scoring enough to keep up, if that's what you're asking.

So what has been the key improvements on defense that has allowed that unit to blossom?

Savage is a different player than he was during the first half of the season. He's really growing in Year 2. Kenny Clark is also a different player. He missed a month and wasn't himself when he first came back from the groin injury. Dean Lowry has played better up front compared to earlier in the season. Preston Smith, too. Za'Darius Smith keeps getting a sack a game pretty much, Amos is super steady, as is Alexander. The emergence of Barnes, as mentioned earlier, and getting more from Kirksey with a smaller workload. There's a lot that has gone into it.

Will Dillon be like Starks in 2010?

I don't look at it like that because the Packers have such an established No. 1 back in Aaron Jones. Back in '10, Brandon Jackson was the de facto No. 1 back and had 700 yards rushing. That's it. Starks filled a huge void. Dillon is adding to a lot of potency the Packers already possess.

This is about as healthy as we could expect for this time of year, isn't it?

Yes. Shhh.

Does The Team Have A "Flat Tire" Anywhere On The Team That Needs Fixing?

The special teams are still very up and down. After some rough weeks, the performance vs. Carolina was solid. Then we saw the blocked FG last week. That phase needs to be more reliable and consistent. I don't have to remind this crowd what a fake FG and onside kick can do to you in the playoffs.

Hey Mike, regardless of whether or not it truly was a factor, and since LaFleur did appear to be excited about the Jordan Love pick, do you think the perception that it lighted a fire under Rodgers to have the MVP season he's having enhances LaFleur's chances of getting coach of the year?

I don't think that should have anything to do with it whatsoever. LaFleur should have gotten stronger consideration last year. He took a sub-.500 team to 13-3 without his QB playing lights out, like he is now. If you're not going to give him credit for that, then he deserves credit for helping get Rodgers back to an MVP level and keeping this team rolling. That's how I see it.

Who do you think has the best chance of beating the Chiefs in the AFC?

KC will be a tough out, obviously, but I think Buffalo has the best shot. That team strikes me as one that plays with no fear, starting with Josh Allen.

Can Dillon pass block well enough to earn more snaps?

We'll see. That's the next step to rounding out his game, which is not unusual for a rookie RB.

I'm amused by the sports commentators talk about seed swap scenarios. I find myself saying, "but none of that will matter because the Pack will win to get the first seed". Naivety or faith?

Call it whatever you want, but I take nothing for granted. The Packers were an inch from getting the 1 seed last year, but were also down big at Detroit and almost blew the bye altogether. You just never know how these things are going to play out. Chicago has everything on the line, too.

Who would make the toughest matchup in an NFC final?

Just beat the Bears. That's all I've got time for today, folks. Happy New Year to everyone. Take care, Mike

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