Mike's Mid-Week Chat: Who are the X-factors for the Packers vs. the Rams?

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

S Darnell Savage

Hey everybody, thanks for logging on a little early today. I had to bump the chat up because of the football team's schedule. Today is "Thursday" in a game prep week (game Saturday) so I appreciate the adjustment. Let's get to it.

Thanks for a great year of chats Mike! Any idea of changes on special teams for the first playoff game? ST has been the weak link for sure so hoping something changes.

I wouldn't anticipate anything drastic. The special teams have proven they can do it, and they have veteran leaders who have been at this a while. They just need to come together as a unit and be on top of their game, which means everyone doing his job.

Obviously Aaron Jones is one of the best RBs in the league at this point, but AJ Dillon can certainly be a force as well. Any indication how ML will manage the running game since it will be needed against the Rams defensive line.

Really hard to say. When the Packers had all three backs for the Bears game, they only ran 44 offensive plays, so Dillon didn't get as much playing time as anticipated. We did see both Jones and Dillon on the field together for a few snaps in that game, though, so I'd keep an eye on that.

The media has been giving a lot of attention to Ramsey and Donald, deservedly so.. Is there anybody else on the Rams defense that can have an impact that isn't so well known?

The corner opposite Ramsey, Darious Williams, had the pick-six at Seattle and has had a really good season. Ramsey is the All-Pro, but Williams is a tough customer, too. Up front, Michael Brockers and Leonard Floyd can get after the QB as well.

Spoff! You have had quite a career how many play-off games is this for you now? Would love to hear your favorite playoff covering memory ok I'll hang up and listen LOL!

I hadn't counted them up until just now, but I believe this is my 21st postseason game for packers.com, and the 25th of my sports writing career. My favorite memory was probably the first playoff game I covered, the '96 divisional vs. San Fran, the mud game. That was in my newspaper days, and it was quite the scene going into a mud-filled locker room afterward to interview players.

Rams offensive playmakers. Who are they, and who will they line up against?

Akers at RB, Woods and Cupp at WR, Higbee at TE are the main ones. I'm not sure how the Packers will match up on the perimeter, but slowing down Akers is the biggest key. This Rams offense is tough when it gets the play-action game going. If you can slow down the run, the play-action won't mean as much.

Are you buying what the Rams are selling on their rhetoric for Aaron Donald? a rib/oblique injury is certainly significant isn't it?

It sure looked like it last Saturday, but I have no idea what a week of recovery will do for something like that. It's hard to imagine Donald being 100%, but Donald at 80% is still a whale of a football player, I would imagine.

In your opinion, who is the better matchup for the Packers defense? Wolford or Goff?

I don't think that matters too much, really. The scheme is predicated on play-action to make the QB successful, which is why clamping down on the run is the key defensively. Seattle couldn't contain Akers and they had a hard time defensively even though Goff completed less than half his passes.

Mike, The Rams beating Seattle; more a product of being a familiar opponent or just being a better team?

They were better on that day, which can happen anytime, but especially against a familiar/division foe. That was their third time playing Seattle and second time in three weeks. It felt like the same type of thing unfolded, albeit in a little wilder fashion, in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh game.

Hey Mike I appreciate your WYMM last week - do you see anything on the tape for this week's match up with the Rams that you will watch for on Saturday? Anything us common fans should keep an eye out for?

Both of these QBs like to use the play-action bootleg or rollout. It's a staple of both offenses. Both defenses should know how to defend it. I'm curious if either team will be able to make that play effective.

Hi Mike, I know everyone is excited and the adrenaline is pumping. Wild card weekend saw some unnecessary and foolish penalties that can really pump the brakes on a team's momentum. Do the coaches show the players replays of those incidents (stumping on logos, swinging punches, shoving in the back out of retaliation) and talk about keeping their emotions and pride in check?

They certainly talk about it. I think the fact the Packers were in this same position last year, with mostly the same team, will help in that regard. They know these playoff games are going to feature momentum swings, sometimes severely. You have to play with emotion but stay in control at the same time.

How much time do you think Jared Veldheer will need to integrate changes since his last stint with us? In other words, could he play this weekend?

I'm sure they'll get him ready to fill in at tackle if someone goes down. LaFleur hasn't said anything specific, but I don't think he was signed in order to just walk in and start.

Hey Mike, how are you? I noticed recent playoff history favors the #1 defense. Am I the only one worried about this match-up? Sure, it will be cold, but I fully expect the Rams to come and play hard. I love the Pack and I will never doubt their ability, but I cannot get over how tough of a game this will most likely turn out to be. Thanks!

Nothing's easy at this stage. The Rams have the No. 1 scoring defense, but the Packers have the No. 1 offense and have scored points against some pretty good defenses this season. If the Packers do what they do best, which is protect the ball and score TDs in the red (gold) zone, I think that's how they win the game.

Do you still cover the games in person with Wes or do they make you work at home?

We cover the home games from the stadium. We're just in a suite -- me, Wes and Ryan, our social media manager -- with our computers set up.

Did you save some mud? Sort of like dirt from the mound after a no-hitter.

Ha, no. It wasn't pretty, I'll say that.

With the impressive defensive line of the Rams, will screens and short crossing patterns be more effective than five-step drop backs looking for deep balls?

I think it's about keeping the passing game on time, which is get the ball out in rhythm. If the Packers can run the ball, set up play-action, and keep things in rhythm, they can be effective. Then it's just a matter of finishing the good drives -- which will be fewer in the playoffs -- in the end zone.

How healthy are Corey Linsley and Rick Wagner? Do we have a sense other than injury designation?

It sounds like the Packers are in good shape, health-wise. Linsley is not even on the injury report and Wagner was listed as limited yesterday. The only player who didn't practice at all Tuesday was Kingsley Keke, who's still in the concussion protocol.

I know anything can happen in a playoff game (see Steelers vs. Browns) but I just can't see the Rams one dimensional offense scoring more than 20 on the Packers D and the Rams D holding the Packers to less than 20+. Am I seeing this game through green and gold colored glasses?

I don't know if I'd put the specific numbers on it, but turnovers are the great equalizer and that's why the Packers have to continue protecting the ball the way they did. The Rams were minus-3 in turnover margin in the regular season, an anomaly for a 10-win team. They won the turnover battle in Seattle 2-0. It was a huge factor in that game, with the pick-six being the big highlight of course.

Do you think they'll amp up Allen Lazard against the Rams? Seems like they've limited him in snaps since he's came back from his core surgery.

Assuming Ramsey is on Davante Adams most of the time, I'll be curious when the Packers go three wide if Jamaal Williams takes Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling. I don't know what Aaron Rodgers will consider a favorable matchup, but he'll be watching it all closely.

Does the early time slot help the Rams a little with the weather? What's the difference between Jan. afternoon Lambeau and Jan. evening Lambeau?

Maybe a few degrees. The high is around 30 or low 30s on Saturday. With kickoff at 3:35, the temps will start dropping in the second half but I don't think they'll drop more than 6-8 degrees or so.

Mike, any indications that Ramsey will shadow Davante even in the slot? Hoping LaFleur won't be too cute and attacks early and often.

That's the question everyone's waiting to see, if Ramsey will take Adams when he's in the slot. There's no way to know for sure. The Packers will have a plan for both scenarios.

I notice Jaire Alexander seems to lock down whoever lines up on his side of the field during games, then late in the Bears matchup I noticed he was following Robinson even into the slot at times. Do you think they will have him trail the #1 receiver wherever they go more often moving forward?

I think that depends on the opposing offense and somewhat on the flow of the game at that point. Pettine knows he can ask Alexander to do anything, so he'll use him in whatever way makes the overall defense strongest.

I assume Jalen Ramsey will slow down Davante at least a little bit. If so, who do you think steps up big elsewhere? The Packers have struggled offensively when a team (Panthers comes to mind) limit Adams.

The Packers have taken advantage of what presents itself on offense. MVS can win a matchup deep, Lazard can do damage on shallow crosses if there's too much attention on Adams, and Robert Tonyan has 11 TD catches, so he's a major red-zone threat. We haven't seen the running backs catch much out of the backfield lately, but I would expect that to be a big part of the game plan too, especially if the Rams are hell-bent on taking Adams away.

Any word on Tyler Ervin or Raven Greene?

Neither has been activated from IR at this point.

McVay vs. LaFleur, do either of them have an advantage over the other, or does their familiarity cancel out?

I always feel like that cuts both ways. I thought it was interesting yesterday LaFleur admitted maybe he thought too much about the familiarity last year with Shanahan, Saleh and his brother. I think his message was you prep more for the team you see on the field, not so much the guys calling the plays.

Over/under for number of snaps for Damon Harrison?

I'd guess he plays at least 20, maybe more, this week, if the Rams try to run the ball as much as I think they're going to.

Would you say if we score 28-30 points against this defense, then we probably will win?

Yes. The Rams give up 18.5 per game. If the Packers top that by 10, I think that spells victory.

If the Packers win on Saturday, who would you root for on Sunday? My sense is NO has a slightly better offense but TB has a slightly better defense.

I honestly wouldn't have a rooting interest either way. I think the Buccaneers are a really hot team right now, but I'm not discounting the Saints. I just don't know what to make of them because they had an easy time with a Bears team that wasn't really playoff-caliber.

I know just making the playoffs is the goal every year and hope for some luck, but this year is the first time since 2011 I feel we have a really solid chance at the crown. I think we have played to our seeds pretty much other years, did you have high hopes ever in 2012-19?

I thought the '14 team was a really good one, but I knew going to Seattle would be a big chore. This is the Packers' best team since '14, by far, in my opinion.

Will we see more six-man fronts like in the Titans game? I would imagine that formula may work well again, tempting the Rams to throw on 1st and 2nd down with a middle-tier QB.

I'm not sure what Pettine has planned, but I would bet he's got different run-stopping packages to call on if the Rams get things going in that regard.

How much longer do the Packers have Jaire under contract?

Next year is the final year of Alexander's rookie deal, but they'll also have the fifth-year option, which I would assume they'd exercise this spring.

Did you have any predictions in the offseason that turned out to be true compared to other analysts who were dead wrong saying the Packers would take a downturn?

I thought all along the Packers were the team to beat in the NFC North. I didn't understand how anyone could see it differently. Beyond that, I really didn't know because I don't know other teams as closely. But I was confident the Packers were the best team in the division, and then after Week 1 at Minnesota I was sure of it.

Do you think LaFleur will attempt fewer of the run alert receiver screens this week, since the Seahawks had one picked off to the house last week against the Rams? We saw the difference a pick six makes on Rodgers and the Pack against Tampa earlier this season and I don't want us to have a playoff game pan out the same way.

Those run alerts are up to Rodgers based on how the corners are lining up outside. The pick-six was on a called WR screen by Seattle, I believe, not a run alert that was at the QB's discretion. At least that's how I saw it in real time.

Hey Mike, do you expect the Rams to start Wolford over Goff again, in case he is ready to go?

Well, I've been wondering if they'd go back to Wolford, if he's cleared to go, just because of that thumb of Goff's in the cold. But yesterday's estimated injury report for LA (they had a walk-through, not a full practice) listed Wolford as not participating and Goff as full. So at this point, it sure looks like Goff, but I still say you never know.

Will the play of Brady vs. Brees be the deciding factor?

Both those teams have good defenses and obviously HOF QBs. I think the Saints have the better running game, but not by a lot. It's hard not to see that game coming down to the last 2-3 minutes.

How do the Rams win this game?

They get Akers rolling and get a couple of turnovers. That's how they turn the tide.

Mike, Packers, racquetball, social media stance, The Little Drummer Boy…we gotta be brothers separated at birth. My birth certificate says I was born in Green Bay, WI. What does yours say?

Dubuque, IA.

If you could have one game from this season as a do-over, which would it be?

I don't understand how that's a relevant question when the Packers have the No. 1 seed. Winning another regular-season game would not have changed anything at this point. Tampa Bay still would have made the playoffs if the Packers had beaten them.

How do I get a job like yours? What'd you go to school for?

I majored in English and Spanish as an undergrad at Lawrence U. and then got a Masters in journalism from Northwestern.

While I would like both on the field often, who do you think gets more snaps against the Rams, Rashan Gary or Preston Smith?

I don't know. I would expect both to play plenty. Some of the decisions there will be situational.

We absolutely must not start the game like the Steelers did.

No one would want that. It's not a good recipe for success.

I was stunned to see that the Rams defense allowed just 281 yards per game. They haven't allowed 200+ yards passing in a game since November. This defense is formidable, even without turnovers. How can the Packers offense be different?

It has to stay balanced. You've got three different running backs to stay fresh in the backfield. Keep them honest against the run, which can keep Rodgers in rhythm. Then you pick a spot when you want to take a shot, max protect, deep drop, and see if something's there.

Who is the X-factor against the Rams on offense? Defense?

For some reason I've got a hunch about Lazard. No idea why. Defensively, I'll pick Darnell Savage.

I really don't expect the cold (especially the D) to bother the Rams. Snowing especially with an inch or two on the ground would be a different story. Any chance that's gonna happen Saturday?

Haven't heard anything to that effect. Yet.

Do you agree Pack has better QB, better running backs and better O-line? Doesn't that really tilt the field towards GB this weekend?

I take nothing away from Akers in the RB matchup, but I like the Packers' depth in the backfield better. The Packers are favored for a reason. They have to do what they do best. But this is the NFL. It's a funny-shaped ball that can take funny bounces. You have to bring your A game, and I think the Packers will.

The weather forecast for Saturday afternoon doesn't appear to be too daunting, does it? 30 degrees is manageable even for a warm weather team.

Yeah, it doesn't appear it's going to be as cold as it could be in mid-January around here.

How does Tonyan match up against the Rams LBs? I hear a bunch about Donald and Ramsey, but not so much from the LB core.

That's a great question, and I'm not familiar enough with LA's LBs to give you a good answer. A lot of opposing offenses have to keep a TE in to block against that front, I know that.

Is it Saturday yet?

Getting there.

Hey Mike, do you see A.J. Dillon taking on a bigger role here in the post season the way James Starks did in '10?

No. Starks took over a backfield that did not have a feature runner. The Packers have Jones and Williams. If Dillon gets in and gets the hot hand, then who knows, but Jones is still the No. 1 back in this offense.

Mike, do you load up against the run and dare Goff to beat you with his arm? I like our chances.

All I've seen when I watch the Rams his how efficient their passing offense is when they're running play-action, and how it can be rather ordinary in a straight drop-back game. That's why I keep saying Akers is the key.

With all the talk about the Rams defense vs the Packers Offense. Where do you see the Packers having an advantage when their defense is on the field?

I think the Packers can pressure the QB, but they have to stop the run and get them into those pass-rushing situations.

I know the Packers won following their playoff bye last year. The last two years however they lost their regular season matchup following the bye, including this year's blowout in Tampa. Any cause for concern in that regard?

The playoffs are always different from the regular season. Everyone remembers the Giants game nine years ago after the 15-1 regular season, but that's the only time the Packers have lost at home after a playoff bye.

Do you think there is any chance we get to keep Jones and Williams for next year? I really love both of them...

So does LaFleur, but we'll just have to see. It doesn't seem realistic to me, but no one is worried about that now. It's about the games in front of them.

I see this as a low scoring game that will be decided in the fourth quarter. I hope we get the ball last!

I think the Packers are hoping it's not a low-scoring game, but I know what you mean. You have to be prepared to go 60 minutes (maybe more) in the playoffs, and that goes for players and fans. It should be a good one. With that I'm going to sign off folks. Thanks for all the questions today. Take care, talk again next week. Best, Mike

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