Mike's Mid-Week Chat: What are the Packers' biggest challenges this week?

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

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

Hey everybody, thanks for logging on today. Let's go ahead and get started.

With as many players injured but nearly healed is it reasonable to hope to get them back faster than we lose them?

I'm not quite sure how to answer that. It's just incredible the injuries just won't stop with this team, the most significant new one being Billy Turner of course. It was good to hear LaFleur express hope on Monday that Turner isn't out for the season. We'll take it week by week with him, just like so many others.

Hi Mike. I know this has been asked (but not exactly answered) in II, but is Tyler Ervin playing in the NFL this season? If not, is he a possible pickup for the Pack. I know he returned kickoffs, but I'm not sure about punts. Your thoughts?

To my knowledge, Ervin is available, but I have no idea if the Packers have any interest in tracking him down.

That will be one awkward assistant coach meeting later this week with Maurice Drayton. Reporters have a job to do. But I also understand not beating a man while he's down.

Mo is a professional. The reporters will be, too.

Hi Mike,

Just win out...

Not needing any more help with four games to go is a heck of a good spot to be in. It's all in the Packers' hands now.

I saw a stat that said the Ravens defense is allowing less than 20 points/game over the last five games. What have they been doing well and what can the Packers offense exploit?

I can't say I've watched a lot of their games or anything, but they've always been a very sound defensive team. They had some rough games early, but the defense has settled in and kept them in every game of late. On the road, against a team fighting for a division title, this will be a big test for the Packers' offense, which has been pretty good of late minus the first quarter the other night.

What's Marquez Valdes-Scantling's role in the offense now? Can he be both a possession receiver and a deep threat?

Yes, and I think he has been.

I hope we see 23 ramp up at practice this week. I'm so excited to see what this secondary can potentially be

I think we all are. We just hope for no setbacks for Jaire Alexander and he continues making progress, whether that means returning this week or next or whenever.

I think we end up facing Lamar but he won't be 100%. Should the Packers D force him into running early to see how his ankle responds?

I'm not sure how you force a QB to run, but that's not a chance I'd take. I still think the strategy is to hem him in the pocket as best as possible and make him throw the ball from there.

Are Jaire and Za'Darius Smith back at practice??

Alexander was back last week. No on Za'Darius to this point. Practice today is in a couple of hours, so we'll see.

I've noticed that we keep getting off to slow starts offensively and defensively like in the Bears game. This feels like something we need to fix going into the playoffs when we won't necessarily be able to climb out of the deficits. Any idea why these slow starts are happening?

The offense is definitely starting slow a lot more than it has in the past. I can't help but think Aaron Rodgers not being able to practice has something to do with it. It's harder to get a feel for what will allow the QB to settle in when he's not taking the reps during the week. I didn't think the defense got off to a slow start last week at all. It forced a punt on the first possession and then gave up a FG on the second when the Bears started across midfield thanks to a 34-yard punt return.

What does the TT sticker on the packers helmet, say in its entirety?

It has 1953-2021 under the TT to represent his life.

Mike, Amari Rodgers seems like he is letting the ball play him rather than going after it. Do you think that is is or was the wind really bad Sunday evening? The way he tried to catch it on the muff looked like it really fooled him.

To my knowledge the winds were not a big factor on Sunday night, at least they didn't appear to be during pregame and early on. I don't know if that changed as the game continued. Whatever the case, the ball has to be caught. No excuses.

The Ravens are away & a division leader, the Vikings beat us a few weeks ago, the Lions have a history as a trap game, why is no one mentioning the Browns, they have won some big games this year and could be a tough matchup, have you looked at them, any thoughts

There's a lot in the news about the Browns right now with their Covid situation and playing this Saturday, but they'll have a full week, not a short one, to prep for the Packers. As I said in Inbox this morning, the Packers' remaining schedule is full of landmines. No doubt about it.

Can you think of any other heads up game changing plays like Rasul on the muffed punt that wouldn't show up on any stat sheets? How often does that happen?

It's pretty rare. That penalty was possibly a game-saver for the Packers. It's a horrible special-teams mistake by the Bears and the only one they really made.

For the rest of the season, Spoff has become the Packers Special Teams Coach. What changes would you immediately make?

First of all, I'm no coach and don't have any answers without totally guessing. I liked LaFleur's thoughts Monday of using some veteran players in specific spots to try to shore things up. At this point, I'd prefer to simply minimize the risk of anything going wrong in that phase the rest of the season, but I don't know how realistic that is.

Hey Mike, how much blame for special teams legitimately falls on coaching? I can see FG blocking schemes, coverage designs, etc., but can you really coach "stay in your lane!' on coverage, "don't fumble" on returns, "don't kick out of bounds", and "know where the sideline is on KO returns"? Seems like most of this is mental breakdowns, and I'm not sure that's entirely coachable.

One thing of many I learned from covering McCarthy is that coaches have two jobs -- to teach and demand. They have to teach it right, and they have to demand accountability. There are countless ways to get that done, and the job has to get done. That's really all that matters.

I feel that the third quarter has been this team's strength this season. Do you agree?

Statistically, yes. Last year, the second quarter was the Packers' best, and this year they've scored the most points in that quarter again. But in the third quarter, the differential is plus-60 -- 88-28. They've only allowed 28 points in the third quarter in 13 games. That's pretty good.

Did you see Justin Tucker's latest onside-kick technique (aim at the nearest player and ricochet back off him)? Will the Ravens try to exploit us with it? (Only half joking...)

I was watching the end of that Ravens-Browns game, and it was incredible -- right before the onside, the announcers said the Ravens hadn't had a successful onside kick since 2001, and Tucker had never had one. Then bam, they get one. There were only four successful onside kicks all season until last week's games, and then the number doubled. Just weird.

It felt like the slow start to the Bears game was not running enough, has there been any sign of 'establish the ground game' being a focus, or is it that the defenses are playing the run and Aaron switches out

I couldn't say. The first two possessions Sunday night included two sacks and a botched handoff exchange. You're not going to be running the ball when that happens. Once the offense settled in, they ran the ball pretty well, and the commitment showed up on that fourth-quarter TD drive.

Shout out to the grounds crew that had Lambeau field looking beautiful and green.

When Wes and I went out into the bowl on Friday to shoot Final Thoughts, both of us mentioned right away how amazing the field looked. It was impressive. The Christmas-New Year's games coming up will be the first time since the preseason the field will be used in back-to-back weeks, so I'm sure that'll be a big challenge for Allen Johnson and his crew, but they've handled it many times before.

It feels like last game the Packers used AJ Dillon as the featured back and then sprinkled Jones in when it felt like they needed a chunk play. Is this due to Aaron Jones still getting healthy or something to expect moving forward?

I think it just had to do with which run concepts they felt would be more successful vs. the Bears' fronts. The process could change week to week, depending on the opponent.

Is help on the way for the offensive line?

We'll see if David Bakhtiari and/or Josh Myers can come back at some point. I'm not sure where else help can be found at this point if needed. Maybe there's another Jared Veldheer type out there somewhere, but that's not the case on a regular basis in this league.

Hey Mike,

Is there sound with the WYMM?

No, the all-22 film has no sound.

Mike, if you didn't already address, this, does activating Juwann Winfree indicate Equanimeous St. Brown or Taylor will be out for a while?

Not necessarily "a while," I really don't know. But it indicates they need a reinforcement right now and it's an opportunity for him to seize. I remember him being a bit up and down during the Cardinals game when he played previously.

Hello, Mike! The finger issue has forced Rodgers to start more plays from the shotgun instead of under center. Do you think that it slows down the running game a little bit? The backs apparently get to the line of scrimmage more powerfully when the play starts with the QB under center.

I assume you mean toe issue. I don't know. A lot of folks ask this about running out of shotgun, and maybe there's something to it, but it's also easier for Rodgers to check to a different play -- run to pass or pass to run -- when he's in shotgun to get the offense out of a bad look based on the defense.

Is it just me or is it exciting the Packers are sitting at 10-3 with the #1 seed in mid December and I still don't feel like they've played a complete game yet?

I agree, I don't think this team has played its best game yet. The Rams game was probably close, but the defense still gave up two huge explosive plays for TDs and the offense left a few points out there. Keep plugging away and we'll see if it all comes together at the right time.

Do you guys have to do II next Friday/Saturday even though it's Christmas? Maybe get a couple eggnogs in you beforehand. I can't imagine having to work Christmas Eve night/Christmas Morning.

We'll still post columns next Friday and Saturday mornings, but maybe they'll be a tad shorter, fewer questions.

Hey Mike, do you think the NFL will ever return to having unique Super Bowl logos? Kind of a bummer its a stock logo now.

I agree. I always thought the annual logo, which incorporated some flavor of the location, was a cool thing. It made the apparel/memorabilia from a given Super Bowl really special. But I don't see them changing course now.

It looked to me on the kickoff out of bounds by Mason that the plan was to try and pin them by the sideline. Unfortunately it went out of bounds. Mason has done that numerous times with success but it looked to me like he got a weird bounce. Did you think that was the plan looking at it live?

From what LaFleur said, he was trying to directional kick and just mis-hit it a little bit. It happens. If the coverage were better, they wouldn't have to try to be so precise on the kick itself.

What's the current choice of beer this week?

I stocked up on a few good holiday ones in the home fridge. I'm pacing myself.

Which of our rookies has been the biggest positive surprise so far this year? Myers was expected to start, but I think Stokes has exceeded all reasonable expectations. Ditto Newman. T.J. Slaton has been a contributor in the rotation sooner than predicted.

I'd say Eric Stokes has made the biggest impact, but Myers was headed that way before getting hurt. Royce Newman and Slaton are both playing better as the year has worn on, showing the development you hope for. It was telling that LaFleur said the Bears game was Newman's best of the season by far.

Which of the final four teams we face pose the biggest threat to the Pack? And why?

Right now I say the Ravens, assuming Lamar Jackson plays. It's a road game against a team trying to get out of a little bit of a rut offensively. The Vikings and Browns games won't be easy by any means, but they're at home and that always makes you feel better.

Not a question. Just wanted to say WYMM is my favorite watch/read every week. Keep up the good work Mike.

Thanks. I went a little overboard this week with the number of clips, so I owe it to my production help to cut back one of these weeks. Co-worker Joidon handles the tech side of that piece and I'm very grateful for her efforts.

Mike, could you review the rules for onside kicks? Can the receiving team just refuse to touch the ball until it stops bouncing?

Sure, if the ball doesn't go 10 yards, there's no risk. But once it goes 10 yards, it's live whether it's been touched or not.

Whats worse, your QB having a broken pinky toe, or a high ankle sprain?

Well, word from Baltimore is Jackson does not have a high ankle sprain, more a garden variety type that isn't severe at all. He didn't practice today, from what I heard, but I think they're hoping he'll be able to play Sunday. I have no idea which is worse. The pinky toe doesn't seem to affect Rodgers' play at all, but it sure sounds like it hurts when the game is over.

How has the crowd been at home games? I imagine fans are relishing the chance to attend games again

I think it's been pretty good. LaFleur is on the sideline waving his arms to get the crowd amped up when the Packers are on defense a lot. I would say the Bears game seemed a little more tame. I thought the Seattle and LA games, the crowd really brought it.

How much difference/how important is homefield advantage this year with fans compared to last year without?

I think it's huge. The intensity of playoff games is unmatched, and that goes for the crowd, too. That was definitely missing last year.

Am I the only one that gets the feeling we won't see DB on the field until opening day, 2022? Sure hope I'm wrong.

I hope you're wrong too, and I'm sure he does as well. LaFleur said Monday he was hoping Bakhtiari would be out at practice this week, so that would be a good start.

Will P2P be simpler for you to write this week? Take care of business, and maybe if we're lucky the Saints buy us some margin for error?

Yeah, it's pretty simple. It's all about cheering for teams that can give the Packers a hedge in this tight race.

Since the Ravens beat the Packers 23-0 four years ago, now would be a fine time for the Packers to have that "complete game". Do you concur, Doctor?

That game four years ago has zero bearing on this one. Brett Hundley was totally overmatched against Baltimore's D.

I know we don't talk about Rashan Gary last week, but I just wanna say that Gary is a great player for the Packers. I see a lot of pressure he put vs Chicago and they also doubled him a lot too. We just can afford to lose him.

I saw a stat this morning that the Packers have the fourth-highest number of QB pressures across the league. Gary is a huge part of that. He affects games whether the traditional stats show it or not.

That goofy ball makes this game even more interesting

Always does.

"Home Fridge" - does that imply there's a "Work Fridge"?

Ha, just wanted to clarify I'm not bringing beer to work, that's all.

I don't know about Eagles, but I doubt Panthers, Raiders, Texans, and Cardinals each have 4 corners that are better than Douglas. Good for GB.

It's funny how this league works sometimes. He wasn't a known commodity to most of those teams, and the Packers never would have signed him either if not for Alexander's injury. It has worked out better than anyone could have expected. Credit to him.

Is Mason Crosby fixed?

I sure hope so. It actually helps that PATs are 33 yards, because it's more like a real FG and those have helped work through the issues, I think.

Hi Mike - Not a football question, but as a loyal Packers Unscripted podcast listener, I noticed this week's episode had new ads that were randomly interspersed throughout, often cutting off you or Wes in the middle of a sentence... was that a one time thing, or is there any way those can be timed more intentionally? Btw, I really love the podcast, live blog, and all the content you guys do! Thank you!

Might have just been a glitch in the post-production. We'll definitely take a look. Thanks for letting us know.

Back in my day it was just a sprained ankle.. So whats the difference between a high ankle and a regular one?

Location of the sprained ligaments. Generally speaking, the higher up on the leg the sprain is, the longer it can take to recover fully.

Spoff. With all these injuries to the Pack this year, what was your worst sports injury?

I had a greenstick fracture of my fibula my sophomore year in college. Happened playing volleyball just a week or so before indoor baseball practice started in the winter. Luckily -- though much to my mother's chagrin -- it was misdiagnosed by the trainers and I just rehabbed and practiced like it was a high ankle sprain. After 6 weeks, it was still hurting something fierce after every practice, so I finally went for an X-ray. The doc walked back in the room with the film and just laughed at me. Said the bone was cracked the whole time, but it was healing fine and should be good in 2 more weeks. I didn't have to miss a game that spring.

With Ravens signing another QB today, does that sound like they think Jackson won't be ready to play Sunday?

They're protecting themselves in case, as any team would.

Loved your comment this morning about Wes' desk. That so fits his personality.

He laughed out loud when he read it.

I flew halfway across the country for that 23-0 Ravens game. It was a doozy. 5 turnovers, Kenny Clark got hurt on a cheap shot from the center Jensen. It was a tough day

Yeah, I've pretty much blocked that game from my memory as best I can. It wasn't fun to write about or talk about for a week, either.

Mike, you seem like a competitive guy, did you talk a lot of trash in your athletic career?

Ha, talk trash? No. Not my style. Other guys on teams I played on were in charge of that.

Have you and Wes been bombarded with the "Nevermore" puns yet? You know it's coming....

Yours is the first reference. I'm sure it won't be the last.

Not hearing Stokes name, and not seeing him in a lot of highlights sure is reminiscent of Jaire's rookie year. I try to watch him play, but because of the camera angles, and low volume of passes his way it is tough to get a read on him. Can you compare how his rookie campaign stacks up to Alexander's?

That's a tough one. That '18 season went so south for the Packers I wasn't as focused on Alexander as I was on the big picture. I recall his rookie season being fine, some ups and downs, but in '19 was when he really started to show, like, whoa, this dude's really good.

Mike, didn't Rasul Douglas credit Gray for telling him to how to watch film and then, when you see it, attack it, or something to that effect? Sounds like that was a big difference for him.

It was, and he has mentioned how Gray showed him a few extra details about how to watch film. But Gray tells all his guys that, really -- trust what you see and go for it. If you're wrong, you live to play another play. If you're right, one big play can make up for 5 completions against you.

Mike...what's on your Christmas list? I think I'd like to send you something for all that you do for us...something, really nice...

Great reference there. Classic.

How severe is the Covid in the Green Bay general population?

I don't know any specific stats, but I heard a news report recently that the local hospitals have very few open beds due to Covid cases.

I loved your Monday comment about a "poem about soccer". Laughed all day at that one.

That one was put on a tee for me.

Spoff. You're clearly a talented and hardworking writer with immense football knowledge, how come you've never pursued something with a major network/outlet? I don't want you to leave but fans would eat up your stuff on a national level!

I appreciate the kind words, but I'm not sure I'm cut out for it, TBH. This is a great place to be, and both my kids are out of the house now, but all this time they've been within an hour or three of both sets of grandparents, so everything worked out. And I've got a great bunch of people I work with here, and I know it's not like that everywhere. I'm also glad I have a wife who puts up with all the ridiculous hours and crazy schedule from August to January every year.

In ref to the upcoming Raven's game specifically...(aside from special teams) what do you assess to be Green Bay's biggest strength and weakness?

I think the biggest challenge aside from getting ST squared away for this game will be running the ball against this Ravens D. Teams don't often run it very well against them, and this Packers offense is at its best when it is working through Jones and Dillon, in my opinion. Defensively, it's about containing Jackson and covering Andrews. He's a beast of a TE who's having a big year.

Michael, I always enjoy the photos that accompany your chats/stories...all decked out in Packers gear. Does the Pro Shop outfit you? I would think their sales see a nice bump around your promotion of the product

Yeah, they give us gear annually to outfit us for Unscripted and other videos. Can't complain.

Mike, was Crosby asked about whether he was trying to get kicks out of the endzone, or doing the corner around the 5 yard line the goal on kickoffs ?

No, we haven't had a chance to talk to Crosby for quite a while. He's spoken with the media twice I think in the regular season. Another drawback to not having locker room access, but it is what it is.

And now I know what a "greenstick fracture" is. Ouch!

Yeah, I don't recommend it.

We're lucky to have you, Mike. I enjoy your work (and Wes') so much more than the national hot take artists

Appreciate that, and with that, I'm going to call it a chat. Wow, I went a full hour today. Thanks for all the questions everybody, and take care. I'll be live blogging Sunday's game and I'll be back next week on here as well. Best, Mike.

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