Mike's Mid-Week Chat: What are the toughest matchups vs. the Lions?

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

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Lions TE T.J. Hockenson

Hi everybody. Thanks for logging on today. We can get right to it.

Hi Mike, I read on another media outlet that this was the 18th time that Aaron Rodgers has been named NFC offensive player of the week. How spoiled are we, that's an outlandish number isn't it?

Yeah, that's pretty crazy. It's his 13th year as a starter, and he's missed a total of about one full season due to injuries. To average more than one per year over such a long period of time is impressive, to say the least.

Special teams, an issue with players or coaching? If its players, is it time to turn over a couple spots at the bottom of the roster or turn to starters? If coaching, what's the end game because it's hard to believe that ML will continue to tolerate this.

I'd be guessing if I were to tell you where more of the blame lies. But it doesn't really matter. Things have to improve, and the current players and coaches have proven they can do better, so they should. The breakdowns have to stop.

This week's referee is supposed to be Alex Kemp. Isn't he known for calling a lot of penalties (see: Vikings at Packers, week 8)?

That sounds vaguely familiar. I would expect both teams to be on their guard if Kemp's numbers have stayed high, though this year has been different with mixed crews on a weekly basis due to COVID, so it's not like a normal year in terms of predicting or planning for that.

Hey Mike- thanks for taking the time to do this. How much of the offensive success do you think is due to LaFleur's scheme and how much do you think is due to Rodgers' adjustments at the line of scrimmage?

It's plenty of both. The scheme gets guys open, and Rodgers goes through his progressions in rhythm. If he sees a bad look at the line, he'll change it and it's usually a good call. It's been a productive partnership obviously. They trust one another and often know what each other is thinking.

Is this a new injury with Tyler Ervin or an old one continuing to dog him?

New things seem to keep popping up with Swerve on the injury list. He's had a rough year in that regard. Seems likely we'll see Tavon Austin's GB debut on Sunday.

Mike, the only time I ever even consider pulling for the Vikings is either when they're playing the Seahawks or this time of year when playoff positioning comes into play. So, Vikings or Bucs?

I'll be writing about this in Path to the Playoffs, but it's definitely better for the Packers if the Vikings lose. The only way the head-to-head loss to the Bucs will factor into the playoff seeding, assuming the Packers win the division (which they will with two more wins, or one win and a Vikings loss), is for the Bucs to win the South, and they're three games back of New Orleans with four to play, same separation as in the North.

Hey Mike, how serious of considerations do you think OC N. Hackett is getting for HC? He's certainly has had a successful year and shown the positive effect he can have on the atmosphere and energy of the team.

It's really hard to say. Usually guys have to get on the interview circuit for a year or two before they end up landing that first head job. But I could definitely see more attention coming his way now.

Tough break for Billy Winn, considering all he's been through to make it back. Is the assumption that the recent signing Anthony Rush will be active, any expectations for him?

Yeah, the acquisition of Rush turns out to be good timing given Winn's injury. You hate to see that with Winn, like you said, someone who's been through a whole lot to get back on the field and contribute. We'll see what the next few weeks bring.

This is not at all criticism, I've really enjoyed watching the team this season. I'm curious on your thoughts that of the three games so far versus winning teams, that's where two of the three losses have come from. We all know there are shortfalls on the team, how important will fixing those be to have success against the better teams in the league for the playoffs?

As I said in Inbox this morning, no team plays perfectly clean football, but the Packers have to start reducing the glaring mistakes -- ones that appear highly preventable -- now that we're hitting the stretch run. The special teams returns, the fumbles, fourth-and-long breakdowns. That's what they have to clean up. There are little errors in every game. Big errors are what get you beat against good teams in the playoffs.

Am I being biased in saying I believe the Packers secondary is extremely underrated and not talked about enough? When healthy, I'd put our 1-2 combination of Jaire Alexander and Kevin King against anybody. Not to mention the coming out party for Darnell Savage in recent weeks. Adrian Amos just does his thing week in and week out.

The duo of Alexander and King, when they're on the field together, is the best the Packers have had in quite a while, in my opinion. Amos is a steady-eddie back there, and Savage looks like he's coming into his own lately. It's a strong group and Chandon Sullivan is solid at the nickel too. Their coverage has led to some of the uptick in sacks. Coverage and pass rush always go hand in hand, and they're helped when Rashan Gary and the Smiths get quick pressure, too.

The Lions always seem to "bring it" against the Pack. Where are they most dangerous coming into this matchup?

They're dangerous because the cloud has been lifted with the regime change. It was hanging over them with every loss and it's gone now. Last week's comeback in Chicago is a huge boost of confidence for that team, and they aren't going to consider themselves out of it at 5-7 when right now the 7 seed in the NFC is 6-6. The Lions will be jacked up to play on Sunday, I guarantee that, and Stafford can get a hot hand at any time.

Stafford always seems to give us fits. What's the best way to deal with him?

You have to pressure Stafford into rushing his throws, which can lead to him making risky throws. But he's got Adrian Peterson behind him to keep the defense honest, so you have to be sound against the run to get Stafford in third down and then get after him. They've also played a lot of games without Golladay, and I'm not sure what his status will be for this weekend. He changes their passing game, particularly deep.

Hi Mike - Was thrilled to see your prediction about Aaron Jones breaking a big run come true last week -- what a TD! Any predictions for this week? Also, what are the Packers best and most difficult matchups against Detroit?

I've already mentioned Peterson and Golladay. I'd say the other is Hockenson. He was big on the 96-yard TD drive that started their comeback at Chicago. Defensively, the Lions have struggled, so I look at this as a game the Packers have to protect the ball and do their thing. I think the offense can have a big day. The Bears were struggling like mad on offense and the Lions didn't hold them down much.

Well Aaron Jones has shown that he is a top 5 running back in the league so when do you think Mr.Gutekunst is going to resign him and do you think we are going to franchise tag Corey Linsley to have a little more to resign Jamaal Williams?

I can't really say when the next re-signing will occur. There's a lot of uncertainty with next year's cap and how to manage all of that. I do believe the Packers would like to bring Jones back. I'm sure they'd like Linsley back, too, but affording both after the deals given to Clark and Bakhtiari might be tough. We'll just have to see.

Who's your dark horse for the playoffs right now that no one is taking seriously enough?

I still think Arizona can be pretty good, even though the Cardinals are on a losing streak right now. If they rediscover what they had going earlier and get hot these last four games, they could be dangerous. There's a lot of talent on that roster.

Was happy to see Dean Lowry come to life.

That was a strong performance by Lowry. He's had a quiet year but it would be great to see this be the start of a big finish.

On the OL, did MLF decide to change the alignment and not play Jon Runyan or is he nursing an injury? Sounded like Runyan was going to play vs Eagles.

It did, but LaFleur said after the game they felt the best matchup against Fletcher Cox was Billy Turner, because he did well against him last year. So they slid Turner to right guard, and adjusted from there -- which meant Lucas Patrick flipping to left guard and Rick Wagner coming off the bench to play right tackle. It was a matchup-based decision.

Are there any updates on AJ Dillon? It seems like he's been on the COVID list for a long time.

There have been no updates, other than he was attending practice and observing last week for the first time. That had to be a good sign. We'll see what that means for this week.

Which teams would you say have the D-line personnel to generate pressure with their front four (especially those who we might see in the playoffs) and is that still as much of a problem for GB as it was in the past?

In the NFC, I think the Saints and Rams have the strongest defensive fronts that can generate pressure without blitzing. Those two teams are playing pretty good defense lately, especially the Saints.

Mike, thanks for all the coverage. I gotta think with the Lions 32nd ranked rushing defense, Williams and Jones should have a great game. What do you think contributes to the Packers having a great day on the ground on Sunday?

Clean execution and avoiding penalties. If the Packers are in favorable down and distance -- and not getting behind the sticks due to flags -- the running game should be at their disposal regularly, which then also puts play-action on the table, and Rodgers has been incredible on play-action passes this year.

Kingsley Keke, was the Eagles game a preview of more to come from him? Seems to be a player on the rise?

We saw the two sacks early in the year at New Orleans, and no more sacks until the Eagles game. But the coaches have been saying they like what he's been doing, and his work against the run was continuing to improve. The Eagles have struggled to protect the passer all year, so the Packers did what they should have in that game. How much it carries over remains to be seen.

After reviewing the film, what happened on the return for a TD? (The last one where JK Scott missed the tackle)

The punt was right down the middle instead of toward the boundary, one of the gunners got washed inside and therefore lost contain, and another coverage player missed a tackle. Those were the three biggest issues, and Reagor was off to the races.

Does Savage get another pick this week? When was the last time one player got a pick in three straight? Williams?

That's a good question. I'd have to look that one up.

I've watched the Cowboys a couple of times this year and it seems like the D just gives up late in the game. I feel for McCarthy. It seems like the team never really bought into him in the HC role.

That defense is a mess, particularly against the run, and when you can't stop the run it's demoralizing.

Who makes the decision as far as fans in the stands at Lambeau? I know it's been decided already for the regular season, but what about playoffs?

That's a decision made at the top, by Mark Murphy, in consultation with local health experts on the conditions in the community. It does remain TBA on the playoffs, so they'll continue to monitor things and see what it all looks like in a few more weeks.

Can the Packers be patient with Austin and avoid rushing him into action before he's comfortable?

I think Ervin's latest injury means Austin is going to get the call this week, at least on special teams. How big a role he'll have on offense right away is harder to say.

Why are MVP awards only based on the player's performance during the regular season? I would think how a player plays during the playoffs is even more "Valuable" than his regular season performance?

That's the way it's always been, in all the major sports. It puts everyone on a level playing field to win the award, so it doesn't just become an award for guys who make the playoffs and get to play more games -- though it's very rare an MVP is named on a team that doesn't go to the postseason.

In the Packers' last 7 trips to Ford Field, they've had the lead for 52 minutes of game time (i.e., less than one full game), but they've won 4 out of the 7 games. Are they used to playing from behind there now?

You could say that. Even games they've won by double-digit scores have regularly been close until the fourth quarter. I feel like the last time the Packers just ran away with one there from the start was back on Thanksgiving in '11 or '09, somewhere in there.

"when you can't stop the run it's demoralizing" C'mon, Mike, you're talking to Packer fans here.

Hey, there's struggling to stop the run at times, and then there's the complete inability to stop it -- like the NFC title game last January or the Cowboys last night. They're two different modes in my mind.

Who is someone that will emerge as an unsung hero by the end of the year? I'm going with Tavon Austin. I think he will be used in a variety of plays & make the defense have to prepare for yet another wrinkle in the offense.

Austin is as good a pick as any, but I also think Allen Lazard -- who hasn't made a ton of noise since coming back from his injury -- could be due to emerge again.

I realize it's a tough environment to get good intel, but any insight to the story about the pass rushers meeting with Pettine asking for more freedom?

I'm sure the players, and Pettine, will be asked more about that this week. With media access so limited this year, we have to be patient to find out more.

Two home and two away. If we keep the formula to win at home and split on the road, that makes 12-4.

That should get the Packers the 2 seed, but it might not get them the 1. I think the Packers have to run it and get to 13-3, because I could see the Saints losing one game, but I'm not sure about two. Though you never know.

All right, sorry to cut it a little shorter than normal, but I do have to run. Thanks for all the questions and enjoy the game Sunday. I'll be live blogging like always for anyone who wants to join in there. Take care, Mike

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