Mike's Mid-Week Chat: What's the focus vs. the Panthers?

Senior writer Mike Spofford answered questions in his weekly live chat

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Panthers WR D.J. Moore

Hey everybody, thanks for logging on today. Hope all is well with you and yours. We can get started.

Is it accurate that if the Packers win both NFC games they have left, lose to Tennessee, but Saints lose to Chiefs, that no matter what Rams or Seahawks do Packers have the tie breaker in a three way at that point based on conference record? Because that scenario sounds reasonably possible.

That sounds right. I admit I haven't gone through all the details myself, but I think it could work out that way, yes.

Who is the Packers biggest threat in the playoffs? I think the obvious answer is themselves considering how many times they shot themselves in the foot in Indy or Tampa Bay.

I think the NFC is pretty wide open. The Packers, Saints, Bucs, Rams and Seahawks have all shown the ability to get hot and go on a run. All those teams have looked like the best team in the conference at some point this season.

Good morning mike! While I won't have an issue because I have NFL Network, is there a live stream of the Wayne and Larry radio broadcast?

I believe there are ways to find that, yes. Every week we post an item on our site with all the various streaming options. I'd suggest checking out the info in there.

Seems like Tampa would have the upper hand if we are tied.

But only if Tampa wins the NFC South. If the Bucs are a wild-card, they will be seeded lower than the Packers no matter what.

Hi Mike. I don't remember much about Brian Price. What are your recollections of him?

I remember a nice guy who was fun to talk to, and a pretty active D-lineman who could do some things in a limited role. He's not going to play 40 snaps a game or anything at this point, but he can help in the rotation if they activate him.

How is the forecast for Saturday looking?

Chilly but nothing crazy from what I've heard. But it's only Wednesday.

Do you think we will see some of AJ Dillon this week? Having him really fresh for the run might come in handy.

I have no idea how Dillon is doing after his long stint on the Covid list. I'm sure they're working him back in slowly. That was a long layoff.

Doesn't it kind of blow your mind to see the offensive stats the Pack is putting up and still seeing so much left out there on the field every week on dropped passes? If a few players had better hands this team would be out of the NFL average stratosphere! I mean Aaron Rodgers is still completing almost 70%?!?

There haven't been a lot of drops lately. The one deep ball vs. Philly, but other than that, the last 3 games if I recall correctly the receivers have caught just about everything.

Is a big return as demoralizing to the defense as it appears to be?

I think those can be demoralizing to the whole team, but it's on the defense to go out and thwart the momentum, which the Packers did to hold the Lions to a FG late in that game. Those are big moments. I know the defense has had its struggles at times, but it has risen up at some key junctures too.

You should expect 3,500+ readers on Saturday's Blog...

It would be awesome to hit a number like that. It would be a new record, for sure.

Here in Connecticut, Packer fans whose cable package doe not include NFL Network are concerned they can't see the game against Panthers (limited bar options due to COVID, etc.). I saw the recent streaming options article in the app, but can we be certain the game will be viewable in the app on mobile devices?

Cross your fingers, I guess. It's not something we directly control, but it is supposed to be available. I think the caveat, though, is you can't stream it on WiFi. You have to stream it on cellular/data, which can be costly depending on your service plan.

Good Morning Mike, do you think there could be a chance we see all 3 ILB's during the Tennessee game? I know that someone had mentioned all 3 played last game. Wondering if we are in any sort of preparation for that heavy hitter.

On the field at the same time? I doubt it. I can't recall seeing a package like that, and it would be a big departure to put something like that in during December.

The Cowboys have been heard complaining about the "incompetence" of the coaching staff. Saying they are unprepared and have poor game planning. Is this just frustration speaking or has Mike McCarthy really lost his ability?

When teams don't win, people get frustrated. It's been a rough year in Dallas, but it sounds like they're going to give McCarthy the opportunity to turn things around. I expect him to be up to the challenge, but his surrounding cast will matter, too.

Mike, Marquez Valdes-Scantling is looking like our #2 WR. Do you see his development similar to Davante Adams? Fans were hard on Davante early in his career.

I don't think they're anything alike, to be honest. They're different receivers who have had different struggles. What's the same is the Packers believe in both players, and they've both gotten the opportunity needed to prove who they are.

What are your plans for Sunday, Mike?

Getting some sleep after a long night of work, first of all. After that, I'm sure I'll try to catch as much of Bears-Vikings and Chiefs-Saints as possible.

Glad I could finally make it on here live this year! Do you think that Tavon Austin will see more snaps on Sat?

I do. LaFleur somewhat regretted not using him more this past Sunday, but game flow can go that way with regard to plans for new players. I think his workload will increase as long as he keeps producing.

In your mind, does Rodgers have a better chance to win MVP if He somehow finds another level these three games or Mahomes has another bad game possible losing one that he's played poorly in?

If both keep doing what they're doing, I think it's going to be a really close vote. Mahomes has a big matchup against that New Orleans defense this week. Rodgers has three cold-weather games coming up that will make things harder in the passing game. We'll just have to see how it plays out.

Mike....I just want to add my thanks for your game day blogs. For us displaced cheeseheads who would rather not go to sports bars to catch the games during the COVID mess, they are super helpful in following what's going on.

Thanks for your participation. It's challenging but fun at the same time.

Hi Mike - It's looking like McCaffrey is not expected to play this weekend... Without him on the field, what is the toughest matchup for the Packers defense? And do you see this being more of a pass heavy or run heavy game for the Packers offense?

If the Panthers get DJ Moore back as a top target for Bridgewater, that'll be key. Moore is a big-play guy. On the other side, I think the Packers will want to stay as balanced as they can, and the weather could factor into things. The Panthers aren't particularly great or bad defensively in any one aspect. They don't have a lot of sacks. That might be their biggest weakness.

What is the on-side kick return "hands" team SUPPOSED to do on that play? I can't imagine they are coached to all stand there with the opposing players waiting to see if the ball goes 10 yards and then see who pounces on the ball first.

If it doesn't look like the ball will go 10 yards, they are instructed not to try to recover it, where a muff would make it a live ball. The kicks that are right on the edge whether or not it looks like they'll go 10 yards are tough ones. But I wouldn't want my guys trying to jump on the ball at 7 yards if it's sideways path would suggest it's not going 10 yards.

Mike - I think people don't realize Robert Tonyan is a restricted free agent after the season. In your mind is he someone the Packers are looking to lock up long term?

Potentially, but with RFAs you have tender offers and other procedures that can buy time to work out a long-term deal.

The MVP race might come down to which teams are still fighting for seeding and which rest their players. Chiefs could clinch the bye with a win and a Steelers loss I believe.

Chiefs need a win plus a Steelers loss and a Bills loss to clinch the 1 seed in the AFC this week. But yeah, if things get clinched and one team or another decides to sit players, it might factor in stats-wise, but I don't think the voters would punish someone for not playing when it's not necessary.

Hey Mike! I understand personnel changes constantly but are there any glaring changes to the ways this Panther's team plays systematically compared to the Kyle Allen led team that almost beat us last year?

They have a new head coach in Matt Rhule who has overhauled a lot of things. I don't think they're very similar at all.

To tie this to the Packers, do you think Aaron Rodgers is a very happy minority Milwaukee Bucks owner with the Supermax news from yesterday?

Absolutely.

Hi Mike, thanks for the chat as always! From the perspective of your preseason self, what's been the biggest surprise to you thus far?

Just how well this offense clicked from the get-go in Week 1, when there wasn't an on-field offseason (OTAs, minicamps, etc.). They had a few weeks in training camp to put it all together and they hit the ground running.

I see all the online chatter about the Packers playing consistently with one of the "lightest" defensive boxes in the NFL. I think if you have AR and a highly efficient offenses, why not play the percentages? Are you aware of any metrics the defensive coaches rely on in determining the relative success of their "light" boxes against the run?

They chart everything and know their successes and failures of certain packages against what offenses do. But game plans are more opponent-specific than anything. Figure out how you're going to limit what your opponent does best and build a plan from there.

With the Packers defense at 8th in total yards allowed and 19th in points allowed (not surprising with our offensive dominance). Is the concerns with the defense mainly with the inconsistency?

For sure. This defense has shown at times it can make plays that change games. It also has frustrating letdowns. Last week it was the screen passes on one drive and the penalties on another. It's hard to play strong defense for 4 quarters in today's NFL. Offenses are good and the rules make it tough. But this Packers unit has been up and down pretty much all year. As I said before, when they rise up in big moments, the offense has to take advantage, and it usually does.

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Hey Mike, Is it just me or is Wes really feeling his oats lately? He's put together some pretty sassy Inboxes. Late season push?

Even with a lot of victories, seasons can get long on all of us. Wes is fine. He just takes it out on the Inbox sometimes instead of me, which I appreciate.

I have to agree with Ferd. They could at least attempt getting the ball but with momentum going out of bounds so the ball goes out of play.

That would be one strategy when the ball gets near the sideline, yes.

Out of the upcoming free agents... who do you see as odd man out? Money will be VERY tight this offseason.

No idea, and it's not something I focus on when this team is in the position it's currently in. There's a long offseason to worry about all of that.

Mike, any word yet on Rashan Gary's status for the game Saturday?

He was listed as limited on the estimated injury report yesterday, with a hip injury. That's a good sign, meaning if the Packers had conducted a practice, he wouldn't have been held out entirely.

Do you think teams will have a lot more turnover this off-season as every team scrambles to get under the cap?

Potentially, yes.

Mike, what is the rule on allowing enough space for a returner making a fair catch? Is an actual distance mentioned in the official wording? It just seems like defenses are getting up close and personal way more than I'm used to seeing.

It's been pretty much the same as always from what I've observed.

Thanks Mike, Who has improved the most on defense this year?

Gary, Darnell Savage. Dean Lowry has come on strong lately. Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin are definitely showing they belong. I think Vernon Scott has a future, too.

I know Tonyan looks like what we had been expecting from Graham the past two years, but seeing that Graham has about the same numbers with the Bears this year as we are getting from Big Bob, are the Bears doing something different with Graham than we did?

I don't watch the Bears all the time, but I've said before I think Graham has just caught the ball better on those red-zone targets than he did here. The Packers gave him a ton of chances and plays weren't made as frequently. You look at his receptions compared to total targets when he was here and the efficiency wasn't good.

To follow up on the question/comment in II today about how it is unrealistic to expect any defense to dominate in the NFL these days, it seems to me that in each possession you might get them in 3rd and long (7+) yards once. You have to get them to 4th down in those cases, It seems like the Packers were better at that last year than this. For instance, once the Lions converted that 3rd and 9 on their first drive a TD seemed almost inevitable. If my premise is correct about the deficiency this year versus last what do you think is the cause?

Your premise is right. When you get a third-and-long, the defense has to get off the field. Statistically over the full season, the Packers are one of the best defenses in the league in third-and-7-plus. The early third-and-9 in Detroit led to a TD, and the only third down after that on the opening drive was third-and-2. They gave up some third-and-longs at Indy. But overall, they've been good there and haven't had as many letdowns as other teams.

Mike, what's your take on Aaron Jones hiring a new agent?

I mentioned in Inbox this morning that one read on it is he might be wanting to get something done with the Packers sooner than later, and when it wasn't getting done, he switched things up. If he were determined to test the market in March, there would have been no rush to hire a new agent. But I don't want to speak for him. I might be missing something in the equation.

A lot has been made about home field advantage not being such an advantage this year due to the absence of fans. Going out on a limb, but perhaps our D can capitalize on the cold weather and we can start the early production on some FroZa' Tundra T-shirts....

I know the crowds won't be involved, but I still think the Packers playing at home in January would be to their benefit. Teams like the Bucs, Saints, Rams don't play in that kind of weather and the Packers do. Green Bay might not put up 35 offensively in the cold, but the negatives for other teams might be more.

In the MVP race do voters only take into account official passing stats or do they take into account less measurable attributes? Like would they consider Rodgers ability to get free plays on hard counts or noticing 12 defensive men on the field or even just getting into a better play based on the defensive alignment?

Every voter has his/her own interpretation of what the award means and what stats and attributes matter most. There are 50 voters, so there can be all sorts of opinions.

Comparing dollars paid to TDs scored you'd you say that Tonyan is the best value on our team?

That's one way to look at it. Aaron Jones was one heck of a bargain last year in that regard, no?

With Barnes and Martin coming on, do you think they become the primary ILBs this season at some point?

Perhaps. I wouldn't rule anything out, but we'll just have to see. I still expect all three of those guys to get snaps, but their workloads could continue to adjust.

Does Pettine truly prefer the third safety over the second inside linebacker or is it all based on the talent at those positions?

It's based on the player available and what he gives the defense. It's also dependent on the personnel groups the opposing offense is using in certain situations.

I just received a Kringle delivery (I live in Idaho) from my family in WI. Now, a Packers win on Saturday will complete a near perfect week.

Aw, that sounds really good. It's almost time to check the fridge today, too.

When I think of homefield advantage at Lambeau, I always seem to recall SF and Atlanta coming in and winning at Lambeau. Was it purely difference in overall talent during those games?

Pretty much, yeah. Michael Vick was at the top of his game when Atlanta won here in the playoffs, and that SF team was in the middle of a heck of a run. Home-field advantage isn't everything, but I still think it's better for the Packers to play here in January than elsewhere.

Is the Packers organization doing a holiday event for staff this year? Lots of employers trying virtual parties and I'm imagining such an event at Lambeau this year.

No, the annual holiday party has been called off, as expected. The organization is giving all the employees a gift of some sort of meat box, though, which should be nice. Everybody gets to pick theirs up today or tomorrow.

Just a hardy thanks for all you Wes and Larry do to keep us entertained! Enjoy you all tremendously!

And we appreciate your loyalty and readership/viewership. Sorry folks, but I have to run now. Talk again soon, and enjoy the game Saturday night. Best, Mike

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