Mike's Mid-Week Chat: What are the key matchups vs. Tampa Bay and Tom Brady?

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

CB Jaire Alexander

Hey everybody. Thanks for logging on today. Looks like there are questions coming in already so I'll get started. Ask away ...

Good mourning Mike. What a stiff-arm. Been watching football for 60 years and I'm not sure I've seen one better. Did you see it last night and what were your thoughts?

That was something. Derrick Henry is a strong dude. Forces of momentum play a factor in a situation like that, but it'll be on a highlight reel for a long time, that's for sure.

Hi Mike!

Thank God the bye week is over. I know how important the bye week is for the players, however I hate the fact that I don't get to watch my favorite team play. Personally, I don't like how early bye weeks begin. Why not have just a four week window for bye weeks instead of weeks 5-11? I feel like it would be much more fair.

The league likes to keep as large a slate of games as possible each week, so the byes are spread out. It's the way they've always done it and I don't see that changing.

Do you think Bruce gave Tom B a thorough tongue lashing after their last game?

Not at all. He screwed up and he knew it. I thought making light of himself with the social media meme was pretty funny. It's just that Brady never seems to afford his teammates the same latitude in the heat of the moment.

Hi Mike. Are you of the opinion that our defensive line / defense is getting better and good enough to make a run should we go to playoffs?

I do think the defense is getting better, but there will be plenty of challenges along the way. It's a process for both sides of the ball to get to where they're going to be come December and January, which is when it really counts. The offense is flying high, but it's going to face some adversity and have to respond as well.

Davante Adams's and Kenny Clark's status?

I would think they're in good shape for this week but I can't say for sure. We'll see what their official statuses are at the end of the week.

Who's going to be featured this week for the offense?

Tampa Bay has a pretty stout run D, though losing Vita Vea could change that a little. I think this one comes down to Aaron Rodgers and Adams doing their thing, with getting just enough from the running game against a tough front.

Mike, being a Packers fan from Massachusetts I've seen my fair share of Brady games. While he's great, no doubt, a common theme to those games is capitalizing on the other teams' mistakes. A blocked punt, a pass interference, a turnover, etc. Protecting the ball and playing mentally sound football is key. Serenity now.. serenity now...

Absolutely. Playing clean football is how you limit Tom Brady's opportunities, and you have to capitalize on any mistakes he makes. He's thrown two pick-sixes this year. He didn't overcome the first one, but he was able to rally back from the second one.

Thanks for doing this. I have been watching our WR's block pretty well. Do you think that Gutie keeps that in mind when drafting WR's?

It's part of the picture, but I don't think it's an overriding concern. Blocking can be taught. What they look for on college film is the willingness to use their bodies physically. Position coaches can help refine technique.

Hey Mike. As you and Wes have eluded to in your stories and in II, you really have to like the depth this team has. Clark goes out, Kingsley Keke and Tyler Lancaster step-up. Christian Kirksey goes down, Ty Summers/Krys Barnes step-up and Kamal Martin is still on deck. OL kept moving guys around and Rodgers has stayed mostly clean. WR's go down and the offense doesn't even blink an eye... I like our chances going forward with this in mind.

So far the depth has been up to the challenge, and all those extra snaps the young players have received should pay dividends down the road. But the Packers are going to want their top guys back, make no mistake about it. Adams and Clark and crucial for this team to go as far as it wants to.

Hey Mike, could this finally be the week Tyler Ervin gets the ball on an end around play?

He's currently dealing with a wrist injury and didn't practice Monday, so we'll see.

Mike...First...a quick "thank you" to both yourself and Wes for all your hard work-ESPECIALLY given the circumstances. Are you "surprised" at how prolific GB's offense has been the first four weeks without the benefit of any on-field training camp, pre-season games, etc.?

I am and I'm not, if that makes sense. The limited training camp following no offseason was not ideal, but defenses were dealing with the same limitations. Also, no fans at Minnesota and at New Orleans worked to GB's advantage. I figured the offense would find another level in Year 2 with LaFleur and Rodgers together, but I didn't think it would be this quickly. Then again, some of the circumstances have helped more than hurt.

With Vita Vea absence do the Packers have a chance to exploit the middle of the Bucs D?

I would think the Packers would probe there and see how the Bucs react.

Mike, from your observations, what sorts of things do you expect to see Packers looking to improve on coming out of the bye week?

As I mentioned on our latest Unscripted episode, I think it's short-yardage situations on offense, and tackling and takeaways on defense. The Packers can be better in short yardage and they know it. Defensively, the tackling started fine the first two games but has slipped the last two, and three takeaways in four games isn't enough.

Is there a scenario both Kamal Martin and Krys Barnes are on the field at the same time?

Sure, but I don't know if it'll be this week. Martin missed the tail end of training camp and then a whole month. I don't anticipate him being thrown into a big role on gameday right away, if he's even active for this Sunday, which is not a given by any means.

Which team in the NFC concerns you the most Mike? Love all of the work yourself and Wes do everyday, I'm a big fan! Thank you!

It's hard not to be impressed with Seattle being 5-0. They were an eyelash away from losing two games, to the Patriots and Vikings, but they've continued to win despite a defense allowing the most yards in the league (which is hard to believe given the history of that team). I expect Seattle's defense to improve as the season goes along, and Wilson is lighting it up, just like Rodgers is. It's too early to say it's a two-team race in the NFC, because the Rams and Bears only have one loss apiece, and no way I'm writing off the Saints or Bucs yet. But teams like Tampa, SF, NO can't afford to lose too many more early to have a shot at the 1 seed and only bye.

Are the Seahawks the best team in the NFC? Are they the one to beat in order to get to the Super Bowl?

Maybe. The Seahawks and Rams still have to play twice, so those games will go a long way in positioning. Same with the Packers and Bears. There's a lot to be decided yet.

Haven't seen much from practice reports, but do you think Equanimeous St. Brown will be ready to step in at WR on Sunday?

I put him in the same category as Martin. He's missed a lot of time. I think to expect a player to just jump into practice for a few days and play a bunch of snaps in a game right away isn't realistic, or safe for the player, frankly.

How much does Jaire Alexander practice his ball catching and tracking skills I feel he's on the verge of all-pro status and just needs to finish more picks. Noticed in the past many times he's in great position but the hands and ball don't quite match at the moment of the catch. Those skills are developed over thousands of repetition's.

Alexander has the hands. That's not the issue. He's admitted himself he has to catch the ball first when he has the opportunity before looking to run. He just mentally gets ahead of himself. It'll come.

Some in the Chicago media think the Bears DC had his best game against the Bucs. How could Mike Pettine use this on Sunday?

I take nothing away from Chicago's defensive effort, but any DC looks good when he can get pressure without blitzing and flood the coverage lanes against a good QB. Brady is not going to scramble around. If the four-man rush can get there, seven in coverage makes it tough. The Packers have to make sure they tackle Ronald Jones, though. He's a tough guy to bring down, and the Bucs will feed him and let him use his spin move regularly.

What do you think about the Vikings going for it on 4th and inches with the opportunity of kicking the field goal and eventually extending the lead?

I liked the call. I realize they could have gone up 8 and been playing OT worst-case scenario, but the chance to put the game away without giving the ball back to Wilson I thought was their best shot. It didn't work out. Give Seattle credit. The Vikes were running the ball at them that whole drive but couldn't get the few inches they needed when it mattered most.

Pack looks great, but this next four game stretch is tough. When offense gets to 1-yard line, they need to score. Didn't cost them vs. Falcons, but do you think they are practicing those short yardage situations to get better?

LaFleur blamed himself for the bad call vs. Atlanta. The short-yardage failures vs. Minnesota and New Orleans looked more like execution, and the players have seen the film.

Hi Mike, I see that Kamal Martin and St. Brown are both back at practice. Do we know the status on Rashan Gary?

Gary was back at practice on Monday, so that's a good sign.

How do you see Raven Greene's role as we proceed past the bye?

It seems he's earned more snaps. Pettine was pleased with what Greene gave him in the Atlanta game. He's the perfect fit for that hybrid role on the second level and I think Pettine wants to use him there a lot.

How do you think the Playoffs will be impacted with majority of stadiums not having fans? Seems like the key is the first-round bye but the home field advantage for dome teams are gone. GB still has the advantage of playing in the cold.

Yeah, unless the fan situations drastically change, the playoffs will be more about the weather than the home field itself.

NFL Network has the Packers rated #1 in their latest power ranking. Is this too high?

Those rankings are fun and all, but they mean absolutely nothing. It doesn't matter how a team is playing now. It matters how a team is playing 2 months from now, and that's a long way off.

Whose absence hurts their team's run defense more: Kenny Clark or Vita Vea?

Perhaps we'll find out. The Packers certainly missed Clark, but the run defense looked a lot stronger vs. Atlanta when Clark missed his third straight game. It can take time. The Bucs will be making their first adjustment without Vea. Sometimes that's when it's toughest.

Aaron Rodgers has been great for the Packers for so many years. But, am I alone in thinking there is just something different about him this year? He looks like a man on a mission and I don't know if anything can slow him down.

He's playing at an MVP level, no doubt about it. He's given us some insight into it, though without a lot of specifics, about spending time in the offseason to get to a better place mentally and watching his own old film to look for things. But he's said many times he's found a comfort in this offense, which he didn't have last year when he was trying to learn it all. That's really the biggest thing.

Besides the obvious one which games are you most interested in this week?

Bears-Panthers and Rams-49ers. Carolina is a quiet 3-2 and will be a tough game for Chicago. The Rams look strong and could hand the 49ers a fourth loss already. That would be significant.

Tom Brady was a week early in forgetting what down it was. I would gladly have had him forget on Sunday about it being 4th down instead of last Thursday night.

Ha, he's not going to make that mistake again. As I said in Inbox last week, I think that was the first time we've seen the lack of crowd noise work against the road team. There's no way he doesn't know it's fourth-down if he's coming up to the line of scrimmage and a Soldier Field crowd is in full-throat with the game on the line.

Any David Bakhtiari contract talks swirling around lately? At all?

Haven't heard anything. Bakhtiari is speaking with the media today but he's made it pretty clear he's not going to keep talking about it.

Hi Mike! Thanks for doing this. Do you think Robert Tonyan will have a significantly reduced role now that Davante is back? I know we can't really expect another 3 TD game from him, but I was so impressed with how he fought for those catches and TD's, and really hope he continues to be a big part of the receiving game.

Tonyan is the No. 1 tight end on this team as far as I'm concerned. That's not a knock against Marcedes Lewis, who is the veteran leader of the group, but Lewis does not have the passing game role Tonyan does. Yes, Adams is coming back and will get a lot of attention, but Tonyan was targeted only six times vs. Atlanta in having that huge game. He can still get six targets a game, easily.

Do you find it hard to not get excited over the Pack's fast offensive start or does your sportswriter professionalism prevent it?

I just know it's a long season. Only five years ago, the Packers were 6-0 heading into a bye week. Then they came out of the bye and lost 3 straight, not looking anything like the team we'd seen. I'm not saying that's going to happen to this team, which I think is much better and deeper than the '15 team. But anything goes in this league. It's tough to keep winning the way the Packers have.

I'm trying to not get my hopes up and just enjoy the journey. That said, what is one reason we should be excited for this team's chance at reaching it's ultimate goal, and what is one road bump that has a high-level possibility of derailing them?

The reason for excitement is the injuries to this point haven't knocked the team off course, and some of them have been to significant players. That's a sign you have a strong roster for the long haul. The possible bump? It's the NFL, and you can't take anything for granted.

Mike McCarthy said once a team has to learn how to handle winning. Do you see this as a potential problem this year?

No. While I agree with McCarthy's point, this team learned how to win last year. Lots of close, down-to-the-wire games, and they found ways.

Are you bummed or relieved to not have to travel to Tampa this week? Has it been a nice change of pace to stay local while the team is away?

I miss being at the games themselves, that's for sure. But I don't miss the travel, hotel, time away from my family, and all of that. I also don't miss writing stories on bus and plane rides after the game. But not being there for the actual game is a huge adjustment.

I saw on the Dope sheet that the Packers average more than 10 yards per third down, but their opponents average 4.2. How significant is that?

It's called the money down for a reason. The Packers have converted several third-and-longs already this season. I'm not sure that's sustainable, but they've been tough to stop no matter the down and distance.

What are the chances MLF will try to get AJ Dillon on the field more? Jones and Williams are playing lights out, so (injuries aside) it seems crazy to shake things up. What a great problem to have!

I think that's the way LaFleur sees it. He wants to get Dillon involved more, but forcing it and potentially breaking the rhythm of the offense when it's going so well is a risk. It's a long season, though, as I keep saying.

In response to an II response, is there anything to be said for Jaire not getting interceptions because he's not being targeted? Curious what the stats look like this year so far for the ball heading his way.

Yeah, he's not getting attacked as much, but he's still kicking himself for the pick he missed at New Orleans. He was looking at the end zone on that one. I don't have any stats in front of me as far as how often he's been targeted, but with any corner, when you have a chance to get your hands on the ball, you have to cash in. It might only be once every two weeks, but the great ones make those plays.

If Kevin King can't go, do you see Jaire matched up on Evans? Hoping Godwin doesn't come back this week because I don't trust Jackson that much.

That'll be an interesting decision. There are always two schools of thought. You can put your best guy on their best guy, or you can count on your best guy to shut someone else down by himself and keep a safety over the top of their best guy for help.

What will your setup look like on Sunday? Are you and Wes both going to be at Lambeau (working in separate rooms with the same TV broadcast that we see)?

Exactly. We use different conference rooms that have big screens, and we have our laptops set up to work through the game. He's doing the quarter by quarter story updates and I'm live-blogging the whole game. Then we go through the Zoom press conferences afterward before returning to our desks to write our postgame stories.

It's election season, and with all the toxicity I'm trying to be positive and collaborative, but is it ok if I still hate the Bears?

That's allowed.

Joining late after a zoom meeting, so you may have answered this already. Does Tampa Brady make you as nervous as NE Brady would have in the past?

I put nothing past Brady. I don't know if he's had a receiver as good as Evans to work with since Randy Moss was in New England. You know he's angry about how last week's game ended, especially with the biggest mistakes being his own. The Packers have a chance to make the Bucs 3-3. I suggest they take advantage of the opportunity.

Does live blogging from a TV broadcast help with incoming questions being that you are seeing the same footage as we are?

It helps to keep things more in sync timing-wise, but I don't get to see as much of the field and other things going on as I do from the press box.

It's looking inevitable that the league will eventually have to add weeks to the season if they want to play a full schedule. Is there any way to do so and keep the drama of a 2010s-style Week 17?

Probably not. But the league is going to hold out as long as it can before adding the Week 18.

Seems like the Bears have been absurdly lucky but in your view is there anything " there" over there to worry about?

That defense seemed to settle in during the second half last Thursday, and Foles is capable of playing way better than he has so far.

All right, I have to sign off now. Thanks for all the participation folks and enjoy the rest of your week. Take care and stay safe. Best, Mike

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