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Mike's Mid-Week Chat: What's the biggest matchup vs. the Vikings?

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

DE Danielle Hunter
DE Danielle Hunter

Hey everybody. Thanks for logging on today. Plenty to talk about, right? Let's go.

Hi Mike. What's the most important match-up in the game?

I think it's GB's offensive line against Minnesota's defensive front. Those pass rushers have a huge edge with the noise and the surface in that stadium. That's just a fact of life. Run the ball to get play-action going to slow down the pass rush, and keep on point with communication on stunts and twists, etc.

Mike, I'm sensing a lot of confidence here in the Twin Cities. What is the feel in WI heading into this game?

I think there's a combination of excitement and apprehension amongst Packers fans. GB is 11-3 and has a chance to win the division and get in great playoff position. But the Packers have played a couple of real clunkers on the road in the second half of the season while Minnesota is unbeaten at home this year. By the time the game gets here, the emotions will just be tee it up and play.

Is Marquez Valdes-Scantling able to put that first pass behind him and move on?

He has to. The refrain heard over and over for years around here is being ready when your opportunity comes and to make the most of it. MVS has to get back to doing that. His opportunities have been fewer lately, but the only way to get more is to make the ones you get count.

There was a question in the inbox about the Vikings path to the playoffs. Is there a scenario that the Vikings miss the playoffs altogether?

Yes. If they lose to the Packers and Bears and the Rams win twice, the Rams will be in as a wild card.

Hi Mike. What would you say are the most plausible explanations for the offense's inconsistency? We have some young players, but we also have plenty of veterans, and I'm not sure I buy that they're still trying to get used to a new scheme almost a full season in.

To me it's simply inconsistency among individual players, and that brings down the unit as a whole. A missed block, or a bad decision by the QB, or a dropped pass ... any one of those can kill a drive. It's why Matt LaFleur constantly preaches the 1/11th thing. Every player has to do his part on every play.

Mike, what do you make of the Packers defensive Pro Bowl snub?

I don't get too worried about it. Za'Darius Smith deserves to be a Pro Bowler this year, but he'll probably get it next year if he keeps this up, because this qualifies as his breakout season. Similar scenario for Preston Smith. The biggest Pro Bowl snub was Bryan Bulaga not even making any alternate lists. That's ridiculous given the season he's had.

Mike, I'm really getting tired of the crowd who are upset in the way the Packers have gotten to 11-3 - not winning pretty enough. Is this a large contingent of fans that write into II, or a minority? Let me remind those fans that GB has a shot at 13 wins this year and they won a total of 13 the last two years. LET'S ENJOY WINNING

I consider it a fairly split group, and I think it's understandable. There's nothing wrong with being 11-3. There's also truth to the fact that the way the Packers have looked in some games won't cut it in January. There's validity to both positions.

I saw a stat that showed the Packers receivers are No. 1 in the league in separation, yet Aaron Rodgers seems to be holding onto the ball longer than ever. When I watch other teams, I see QBs throwing more contested balls and getting the ball out of their hands quickly. Is something broken? If so how do we fix it?

I don't know what to make of random stats like receiver separation. Does it account for the times the QB is under pressure? For when certain receivers are later in the progression of the play? There are a lot of variables that can't be quantified by numbers like that in my opinion.

Time for Geronimo Allison and Jake Kumerow to become difference makers as WR2 and WR3?

Allen Lazard, too. All three of those guys are good blockers in the running game, and they've shown they can make some plays. Allison has had a few more drops than anyone would care for, but he also played in big games as a rookie in 2016, so he's been on these stages before. As I said with MVS, it's all about being ready and cashing in when it's your turn.

Hi Mike, greetings from Italy! Monday night the Viking could be already playoff bound with a Rams loss. Would it be better for us?

No way. The Vikings would still be playing for the division title and a shot at a home game in the playoffs, as opposed to settling for the wild card and going on the road. Also, a loss by the 49ers to the Rams could help GB.

Mike, what's your favorite Christmas Gift you've ever received??

When I was in sixth grade I got a tabletop hockey game, like the one in the arcade with the big bubble dome over it that always had Team USA vs. USSR. It was a smaller, more rudimentary version of that game, no electronic components, but I loved it.

I'd argue that this is a much bigger game for Green Bay than for Minnesota, given the seeding implications. Minnesota seems poised for the 6th seed regardless of outcome, whereas Green Bay has a bye at stake. That being said, I think we all know Minnesota will be approaching this as a playoff game at this point in the season. Is that a fair assumption?

That's how I see it. There's also another scenario I came across today that's pretty interesting -- if the Vikings win and finish 12-4, but the Packers beat the Lions to win the division and get the 3 seed, and the 49ers lose to Seattle in Week 17, Minnesota gets the 5 and San Francisco is the 6.

Can we get to Cousins?

I think so, but the Packers will have to stop that running game first. I know Cook is banged up, but he's having a whale of a year.

It looks like we have 2 weapons in Aaron Jones and Davante Adams that defenses must defend. Most successful teams have 3 to make it difficult to cover. Who is the 3rd likely to step up the rest of the way for the Packers to go far in the playoffs

Bongo! Welcome back, my friend. I think it's Lazard. I think his size/speed combination is different than the other possibilities, and he's come up big in a couple of games now.

If Cook can't go for the Vikings, does that make the D's task much easier?

Mattison is no slouch, and Boone had a solid game last week. But it sounds like Cook is going to play.

I recall AR saying that the new offense is still a work in progress and that there are certain plays or checks that haven't been used yet or only run a few times. How much do you think those concepts can impact the rest of the season, either positively or negatively?

It goes with what I've been saying for the past couple of weeks -- there's another level for this team to find, and offensive efficiency and explosion will define it. Will they find it? I don't know, but it's there for them and I think Rodgers and LaFleur believe that, too.

Do you think Aaron Rodgers conservative play has hindered this offense? Rodgers not trusting his wide receivers and not making quicker throws inhibiting the offense and LaFleur's play calling to get in any rhythm.

As I said before, I think there's plenty of blame to go around when the offense stalls. It's not all on Rodgers, though we've all seen him play better. Same for the guys up front and the receivers.

Hi Mike! The Packers are coming off back-to-back 6-win seasons, particularly due to Rodgers' injuries. I believe that's the reason MLF is not in the discussion for coach of the year, which is a shame. But knowing we're a win away from matching the combined wins from the last two years, and playing for a potential 1st seed, this season could not be more of a success. Hope many feel the same way, ugly wins or not.

LaFleur deserves a ton of credit for what he's done this year. So does Gutekunst with a major turnover of the roster at key positions that has produced immediate dividends. But there are always numerous candidates for those Coach or Executive of the year awards. I think they deserve to be in the mix, but nobody's a slam dunk.

Could it be that the Packers' good health at this point and "winning ugly" are related? That is, seems to me that sometimes when they are ahead, they take their foot off the gas a little, which is why they aren't blowing teams out but maybe also why they've avoided some injuries.

Look, I'm not picking on you, but this "foot off the gas" line is garbage. It's not about approach or attitude, it's execution. The Packers were in position for a field goal to make it a two-score game against the Bears, and they called a pass on third-and-4. The sack knocked them out of FG range. That's taking the foot off the gas? C'mon. LaFleur is an aggressive coach. Not every play call works. But he's not backing off, believe me.

Mike, if you had to pick one player that must "win their matchup" in order for the Packers to win on Monday, who would you pick?

Whoever is lined up across from Danielle Hunter, which I think will be Bulaga. I think Hunter has been the toughest player on Minnesota's defense to handle this season, and that's saying something, because they have a lot of top-flight defenders.

The Packers did a great job of defending the play action roll out in week 2 with a DE tracking Cousins. I see the Vikings continue to use this and teams do not defend it. That has to be a focal point, correct?

No doubt. The Packers played those play-action rollouts really well back in Week 2, and those were the exact plays that allowed the Vikings to make that big second-half rally vs. Denver a few weeks back. Those plays buy time for Cousins to get out in space and let downfield routes develop. Given how the Packers defended those in September, I expect the Vikings to have some counters off of those looks/formations.

Do you think Kenny Clark got snubbed? He's playing as well as I have ever seen him.

Clark is really coming on strong at the end of the year, but he hasn't had one of those full seasons where he's been in the spotlight the whole time like he is now. I think he was battling through some nicks and bruises earlier this year, and now he's healthy and really letting it rip. He's also getting more single blocks with the way Pettine has moved Za'Darius around and lined him up on the interior to draw attention and distract the offense.

It's looking like a mighty fine year to be a No. 5 seed.

Yeah, but the Rams thought going into Dallas last week was just what they needed too. You never know in this league.

Is Clark in his fifth year option?

Next year he'll be playing under his fifth-year option unless an extension is agreed to.

There was an interesting comment on the TV broadcast during the Bears game: Pettine's plan is to defend the pass first and only focus on the run if they are really getting hurt by it. That has to be a monumental shift for someone like Pettine who has been around a long time.

He talked about that almost from the day he arrived in GB. The Packers were having trouble against the run earlier this season and they've shored that up a bit, because it was really hindering the rest of the defense. If struggles against the run have a big impact on other things, you have to take care of it. But Pettine is not going to put his back end in a compromising position for the sake of stopping 5-yard carries.

Good morning Mike and thanks. I like the Packers sitting at 11 - 3. I like the suddenness with which they have been able to score at times. Like most I don't like the inability to move the ball at other times. Last week, after Dean Lowry's interception I was really expecting a quick TD. Here's hoping the entire team is in sync this Monday night in Minnesota.

I said it earlier this week, I think the Packers have to play their best game of the season to win this one. They're capable, they've been on the verge, but the letdowns we've seen at times during the last few victories will make it extremely difficult to beat the Vikings on the road.

Hey Mike, think we may start seeing more two rb sets with both Jones and Jamaal Williams ? Both are good pass catchers

That's a game plan thing for LaFleur. The offensive concepts they focus on can change week to week depending on the opponent. I can't speak to how he thinks it'll be best to attack Minnesota's defense.

Mike, I am shocked. In the Inbox this morning did you just look past the Lions, assuming we would win and thus get a bye barring we beat Minnesota? I never thought I would see that day that you would make assume victories in order to look so far down the road.

I didn't assume anything. I expect the Packers to beat the Lions in Week 17. That does go against my mantra of no expectations, but I do have expectations for that game.

A recent thread suggesting division alignment be dropped entirely has emerged. This sounds like a step toward the NBA postseason paradigm and away from the NCAA's March Madness one. Do we really want to remove drama from the game? Isn't it one of the primary ingredients that make is so irresistible to follow? I, for one, am excited to see how the NFC East winner hosting a wild-card game affects the rest of the bracket. It wouldn't be possible without the current division alignment and scheduling algorithm.

Anomalies happen, but by and large I think the NFL's playoff system and structure works really well. I'd hate to see it change, frankly.

No one is talking about him, but I think Darnell Savage played well and will an important piece in packers defense for playoffs.

You know he's kicking himself for missing that pick at the end of the first half last week. If that's a sign he's on the verge of a high-impact play or two, that could change things defensively.

Danielle Hunter's stat lines the last two weeks: 13 tackles, 4 sacks, two forces fumbles (one returned for a TD). He needs to be contained.

I believe I addressed Hunter already.

If the Packers touched that last fumble on Sunday and the Bears then recovered it in the end zone would it have been a score? I understand if you fumble it forward under two minutes the same player has to recover it to maintain possession but what happens if there is an exchange of possession on that play?

Touching and exchange of possession are two different things. If the Packers never actually had the ball, the Bears player who fumbled it would have to recover it. If the Packers actually got the ball and fumbled it again themselves, then all bets are off.

How awesome was Julio's walk-off TD on Sunday?

What a crazy ending to that game. First the Falcons think they have a touchdown, and replay takes it away. Then the Niners think they've stopped them at the goal line, but replay rules it a touchdown. All correct calls, in my opinion, but just a bizarre sequence.

I don't think my earlier comment came out as I meant it. It didn't mean the coaching staff is not being aggressive enough in play calling. I meant more that the players are conserving their energies for when they are really needed rather than going 110% on every play. And I meant that as a compliment.

Fair enough, but I don't think that's it, either. I thought the Bears' defensive front asserted itself and picked up its game in the fourth quarter on Sunday, and the Packers didn't quite match it. Chicago was playing for its season, and that defense is no slouch. I know the Packers' O-linemen weren't happy with how that game finished. They all said so. I don't think they'd say that if their goal was to conserve energy.

How many Packer fans do you anticipate in attendance Monday night?

There's always a smattering of them in Minnesota, but I expect the tickets were a little harder to come by for this one.

Hey Mike do you think we will see much of the 3 tight end

I don't rule anything out, but again, that's a week-to-week decision for LaFleur based on his game plan for that specific opponent.

I would really love to see playoff games played at Lambeau in the snow, where our RB Duo could prove their worth to the NFL.

I thought LaFleur's comment Monday said it all -- the Packers have to try to get as many playoff games at home as possible. They have an advantage here and now is the time to maximize on it.

Mike, I think you made a great point earlier this year: had the Packers traded for Khalil Mack, they likely would not have had the Draft capital or Cap flexibility to get Rashan Gary, Savage, both Smith's and Adrian Amos. Mack is great, but let's ask Chicago if they would trade him for those 5 players. I think we all know the answer. How can we not be happy with that end result?

It certainly worked out for the Packers in the end. Sounds like they were in on Mack at the time, but I think last season proved the roster was farther away than just one premier edge rusher from contending for the playoffs.

What changes have to be made to improve the second half play of the team? It seems like everything is given in the first half, and the second half they are too gassed to make a play.

It goes back to complementary football. The Packers' defense wore down in the fourth quarter against the Bears, but it didn't help that the offense was punting the ball five straight times. The offense can help the defense immensely in those late-game situations and limit how much fatigue sets in.

Let's just pray to the cheese gods that the stupid viking horn stays relatively silent on Monday night. I think that would mean good things for the Pack... And, Man I hate that horn.

That and that really loud Led Zeppelin song. They're trademarks of Minnesota home games.

Hi Mike, forgive my ranting, but I'm tired of all the complaining about winning ugly. Sure, it's frustrating to watch the Packers struggle through a game, but once the clock hits 0:00 and the Packers have more points than their opponent, why does it matter? Each game is its own 60-minute entity. Looking good in one game doesn't automatically translate to a win the next game. Did the Saints jump ahead of the Packers in the standings because they won by 4 scores and Brees was lights out? No. Their W looks exactly the same as the Packers' W over the Bears. Just win the games.

There's plenty to be said for that, but I also get the skepticism and nervousness when the last really big game the Packers played on the road was in San Francisco, and it was a disaster. The Packers are looking for a more consistent level of play and haven't found it. That's just the truth.

I honestly believe winning this game Monday night can catapult the Packers to a Super Bowl. (it can put them 1 home win from the NFCC game.) Just beat the Vikings!!

The outside narrative and perceptions surrounding this team would change dramatically with a win over the Vikings. There's no doubt about that.

Which Zeppelin song do they play?

I think it's called Immigrant Song.

There is so much skepticism and people picking apart the team. I would like to take a moment to praise the changes the front office, coaching, and team as a whole has made. To make it this far, be having these kind of conversations with a first-year head coach, second year of Pettine's defense, and a change in personal makes me proud to be a Packers fan.

I've got no qualms with that, and we'll leave that as the last word for today. Gotta run. Thanks for all the participation everyone. Enjoy the big game Monday night. I'm not sure about next week's chat with Christmas on Wednesday, but we'll see how the week unfolds. Take care, Mike

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