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Mike's Mid-Week Chat: What's different about the Packers now?

Senior writer Mike Spofford answered questions in his weekly live chat


Hey everybody. Anything to talk about this week? All right, let's go.

Good Morning Mike. ML has talked about communication several times as needing to improve. Although we scored 21 points in the first half last week, it still seemed that plays were taking longer to get into Aaron Rodgers causing us to burn timeouts. Do you see this as a major issue heading into Sunday's game?

How the Packers handle the crowd noise will be a factor. There are a lot more challenges with communication, and taking the play clock down to the end, on the road. They've had their rough moments, but I thought things went well in Week 16 in Minnesota and they need to be on point like that again.

Mike, we always talk about the advantage the Packers have when a warm-weather team has to come play in Lambeau late in the year. Is there challenges when it's the other way around such as this weekend?

I don't think so. The Packers aren't necessarily used to the weather out there, but it's not like it's going to be 90 degrees or anything.

Good morning, The line of scrimmage is where playoff games are won and lost. How do they match up both ways this Sunday?

The 49ers won that battle hands down last time. The Packers will hopefully have Bulaga back this time, and the 49ers will be without Richburg and Jones in the middle of both lines. So there are some changes. GB's O-line also has taken a big step forward since that Week 12 trip out west. It was a turning point for the unit in some respects.

Additional lego footage has come in. The ruling on the field still stands as called.

Gotta love those Lego highlights. The yellow line was in the right place.

I seem to be in the minority regarding Tony Romo, but I just hate his commentary. Nobody else continually tries to predict the next play and I don't care whether he is a successful fortune teller. That is not the job requirement for other announcers. What is your opinion?

When I do listen to announcers, which is rare, I like Romo because he can explain things simply, and he sounds like a former QB sitting in a bar next to you telling you what he sees from the defense. I think he's refreshing compared to all the other cliches and platitudes you get from some of the other announcers.

The Seahawks offense was relagated to Sand Lot ball in the second half last week and Wilson almost pulled it off again. Do you think the defense is better playing against a more structured offense?

Wilson is in a league of his own when it comes to off-script, off-schedule, improv stuff. It's a totally different game playing anybody else. What Wilson was doing to the Packers he's done to pretty much every team, including the 49ers twice this year. He came an inch away from beating them both times.

We've heard plenty of proclamations that the Packers are better than they were the last time they went to San Francisco. What arguments do the 49ers have that they've improved too? Other than the 4th-quarter collapse against Atlanta, their results have been pretty impressive.

The 49ers are more tested. Look at that schedule they had to close the season, beginning with the first Seattle game and through the end. They played a lot of good teams and down-to-the-wire games. They had their ups and downs at crunch time, but they know what it takes when the game is on the line.

Two quotes from this week stick out to me so far - Allen Lazard saying we're not going into the game down 29 points, and Tramon Williams reminiscing about "going to everyone's house" to reach the Super Bowl to get his first ring. It seems this roster is mentally prepared to go into San Francisco and turn the tables. Are you getting that vibe as well?

I loved both of those comments as well. I think the Packers' heads are in the right place. Now the rest of the week is about focusing on the game plan and doing all the preparation necessary to go out and play their best. I still don't think the Packers have played their best game. The Niners probably did last week and will look to repeat it. If the Packers can find their top form for four quarters, hold onto your hats.

Do you see the Packers being able to contain Nick Bosa a bit more now that we don't have to rely on Alex Light?

It'll help to get Bryan Bulaga back, with Jared Veldheer backing him up, but the 49ers also have Dee Ford back as the other edge rusher opposite Bosa. Nothing's going to be easy.

Hi Mike. A few years ago, the Packers "dared" Russel Wilson to beat them in the NFC championship with his arm and forced a ton of interceptions. Could you see them taking a similar approach stacking the box vs Garrapolo?

The 49ers will look to do what they've done all year -- pound the run to set up play-action. I think Garoppolo can function just fine without play-action if he's forced to, but he's even more effective running play fakes, like most QBs. The Packers have to clamp down on the run early and take away some of the deception as best they can.

Could you see Green Bay taking a page out of Seattle's book and subbing in a 6th lineman (Veldheer) to try and run the ball?

That would be a pretty radical departure from what the Packers have done the bulk of the year, but a play or two in a certain package? Sure, nothing's off the table.

I think Aaron Jones was the unsung hero last week. He didn't get the yards but Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham was open because of Jones.

It was clear the Seahawks' game plan was to load up to stop Jones, but they didn't have the cover guys to handle Adams. The 49ers are a better, more well-rounded defense. They have the personnel to focus on Jones and Adams and make someone else beat them.

Jaire Alexander getting his third crack at sanders do you think seeing someone that many times In a season favors the cb or wr?

Who knows if Alexander will be on Sanders. Maybe he'll get Samuel more instead. We'll have to see.

The last meeting struck me the Pack didn't match the intensity of niners. I still think we match up well. Did you see the first meeting as more of a mental breakdown as opposed to Xs and Os?

It was everything. LaFleur criticized his own game plan, the Packers made some big mistakes early, and the defense started getting gashed for big plays after holding up fairly well in the earlygoing. The D got worn down because the offense provided no help. You have to play complementary football against the good teams and the Packers didn't do that the first time.

Is this matchup (Packers/9ers) really as one-sided as folks are predicting? We're talking about a 49ers team with the same record as the Pack and with some ugly wins/ugly losses on the year. Examples: 9-0 win over Redkins and an ugly loss to Atlanta. Thoughts?

The 49ers are not unbeatable. They looked unbeatable last week, but it's a week-to-week league. The Seahawks showed they're vulnerable, as did the Falcons. The Rams should have beaten them in Week 16. You show up and play and see who's better that day.

After seeing Marquez Valdes-Scantling get one or two short catches last week, I was wondering when LaFleur and Rodgers will try a deep shot to him again. How helpful would it be to make the 49ers at least think about that threat?

You want to make them think about everything, but I remember LaFleur saying before the first matchup this SF defense rarely gives up big plays. You can't force it. They make you execute all the way down the field, and the Packers have to be sharp enough to do that. Sure, take a shot here or there, but constantly trying for the hero play isn't going to work.

The bad news: I think the defense is going to have to keep us in the game. The good news: I think they can.

They certainly can. They did early in the first matchup, but the offense kept sending them back out there right away. Both sides have to do their part.

In the vikings game last week, i couldn't help notice how the 49ers were covering up the screen passes so well even though the DL was still charging aggressively downhill and pressuring cousins. How are they able to do both? Something has to be open doesn't it?

Great question. This 49ers defense is really fast. If something should be open on those plays, they'll find it on the film. But fast defenses can make it look like there are 12 or 13 guys out there.

Hi Mike! Hope you are doing great. What do you think is more important to our success, Aaron Jones 100+ Rushing or Davante 150+ receiving?

If Jones can actually reach or challenge the 100-yard mark on the ground, that'll bode really well for GB's offense. That'll make play-action, boots, etc., way more effective.

Jace Sternberger. First NFL touchdown this weekend. Book it.

His progress has been fun to watch. He's a feisty young player.

49ers fans seem a little more defensive about this game than opposing team fans usually are. Like, they legitimately are offended that we think we have a chance. The editorials from papers out west seem to have the same tone as well. Have you sensed that too?

Who cares?

Hey Mike I'm going to my second nfc championship game. And third game overall both time I've been we lost. Hopefully this time it will be different! I hope to see you at the pep rally this weekend

Be sure to stop by and say hi.

Who will get the assignment to limit Kittle's impact?

It'll have to be a collective effort. Pettine's MO is to always change up options and coverages and not let the opponent lock in on what you're doing. The Packers had some communication breakdowns in that first SF game on defense and that's another thing that's changed for the better for this team since.

This game will be won or lost in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Always is, but especially true Sunday.

Most definitely. I also think it'll be won or lost in the fourth quarter.

It's refreshing going into an important game like this as healthy as the Pack is and has been all year (knock on wood). I've been saying over the last 3+ seasons that I just wanted to see how deep we can go with a healthy roster.

Everyone has been wondering that. Other than this recent flu bug, the Packers have benefited from great health this season. They've taken advantage of it so far and it needs to continue, because you don't know when you're going to get this much good fortune in the health dept. again.

Mike, do you get in on Za'Darius Smith's "winner take all" game on the plane?

Ha, no. Most of the year we've taken two planes, so our dept. is not on the same plane. We have taken just one big plane for the longer flights, but I don't expect the hat to reach my seat.

Can we all pray that the refs let the players decide who wins this game

Good luck with that. Penalty-wise, last week's crew tried to do just that at Lambeau, but there were still officiating issues to deal with.

First GB pick-six this weekend?

We've all been waiting for it.

On Aaron Jones 2nd TD, I saw Jake Kumerow blocked J. Clowney for a second. Packers receivers might be the best blockers in the NFL.

He didn't have to do much, but he got the job done. That's an example of you never know how a play is going to unfold as the formation, presnap stuff, etc., all sort themselves out.

Who of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class were the biggest surprises snubs?

I was most disappointed Don Coryell didn't get in. His offense with the Chargers back when I was a kid changed football. He deserves his place in Canton.

PFF has Sherman rated as the #1 CB in the NFL. At 31 years old and a ruptured Achilles. He is amazing.

He's a superb player, and he's played in plenty of big games.

Speaking of refs, what do we know about who we got this weekend?

A lot of folks asking about John Hussey. I haven't had time to look anything up yet, so I apologize for that.

Play sound football in all three phases and win the turnover battle. Always a good recipe to win on the road.

Turnovers and red zone on both sides of the ball have been key for the Packers all season, and they rate better in those categories than the 49ers. Play to your strengths.

How do we get Lazard and Geronimo Allison more involved and open this week?

If Sherman is matched on Adams, then the other guys have to win their one-on-ones. Plain and simple.

Allen Lazard had a quiet day last Sunday. Do you think that was mostly due to his injury?

Well, he missed the whole second half. But he said Monday in the locker room he expects to be fine with his ankle.

Some of the throws Rogers coupled were reminiscent of MVP level where margin of error is 0. I think he is dialed in

He sure looked it vs. Seattle. Best collection of spot-on throws he's made in a single game all season. More of that and the Packers will be right there in the end.

Off topic - Is there an asterisk next to the 2017 and 2018 world series?

There should be. Or just left blank in the history books, in my opinion.

I'd love to hear people start identifying this team as finishers rather than winning ugly. Beat the Niners and maybe it'll gain traction.

I've been saying all year, and writing all year, about how the Packers have been the better team in the fourth quarter far more often than not. That's how you win games in this league. Give it whatever definition or term you want, but it's a winning formula. It's rare to win a game in the first three quarters in the NFL, the last trip to SF notwithstanding. That's the exception, not the rule. Stay in the game, give yourself a chance, and make the key plays. It's worked to the tune of 14-3.

A certain old codger in South Carolina picked the Packers to win this Sunday. Let's hope he's right!

Wow. I'm surprised to hear that. I owe him a phone call.

Members of the press filled the Lambeau Field media auditorium for Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur's Wednesday NFC Championship press conference.

Are the in-stadium replays from the TV broadcast? In other words, was Pete Carrol so upset about the review because he was looking at that yellow line?

I think so, yes. It's where the eyes and brain are trained to focus. Only when you step back do you see how off it was.

ML lamented that the Packers were outschemed by Shanahan in Week 12. How do ML and Pettine make sure that does not happen again given that Shanahan has worked extensively with both in the past.

You have to play to your strengths but find wrinkles to keep the opponent off-balance. It's not about drawing up all new stuff. It's about working from the concepts you do best, but then doing something a little different off of them.

Can I just say how good it feels for the Packers to be in this position after the last few seasons! What a job by Lafleur and this team to do the things they have this season. Regardless of what happns, job well done.

Absolutely, and I hope everyone is enjoying the ride. This sure beats the alternative.

Is the only NFL team website that has midweek chat? I can't imagine every fan base in the league has as much support as the Green Bay Packers

I'm pretty sure we're the only one that answers fan questions in a column six days a week. I know several others that do live chats like this one.

Roll out early, roll out often. Sure worked for the Rams and it used to be deadly for Rodgers

If Goff doesn't throw that pick-six late in the first half, the Rams might have won that game going away.

We are playing with house money most of the Talking Heads had us at 8 and 8 before the season. Will this help the players in playing a little less pressured this weekend?

Trust me, they couldn't care less about the talking heads, what they said before or what they're saying now. To a professional athlete, this is an opportunity, a huge opportunity. That's all they're focused on.

When watching the 49ers, especially against the Vikings, they always seem to be the more physical team. Delivering hits, being more aggressive. That was apparent in the first meeting as well. Do you think the Packers have what it takes to turn the tide when it comes to the physicality of the game?

Yes, I do. The Packers dominated the Vikings up front the same way the Niners did.

Seems like Kevin King gets a bad rap sometimes, but he has 5 interceptions and seems as tho always at a crucial time. It works for me !

He should have at least two or three more this year if he could hang on. Wilson's early overthrow Sunday should have been a pick. When a good QB makes a mistake like that, you have to capitalize, and the Packers will have to make Garoppolo pay for any mistakes.

Who is your X-factor for the pack this week?

One of the same ones I mentioned when the playoffs started -- Darnell Savage. I just feel like he's going to make a big play at some point.

Got to be in conversation of Coach if the Year

Absolutely, but the votes are already cast I believe. The playoffs are not supposed to factor into those awards.

Do you think forcing the game to be in Jimmy G's hand could be a successful approach?

I think it's the Packers' best chance, but it's easier said than done, and it guarantees nothing. He's a really good QB.

I was really shocked by the news on Kuechly last night. In your opinion, does he have the body of work to make it to Canton?

Great question. I'll have to look at it more. My initial reaction is yes.

Favorite Packers/Niners playoff moment? Has to be the scoop and score right?

Absolutely. That was the play that began the revival. With that, I've got to sign off and get downstairs for LaFleur's press conference. Thanks for all the participation today everybody. Take care and enjoy the game Sunday. Best, Mike

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