Mike's Mid-Week Chat: What should the Packers expect from the Steelers?

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

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris

Hey everybody, thanks for logging on. Go ahead and start sending in questions and I'll get started.

With the OL being new, would you expect quick passing to be the theme and would Randall Cobb play a bigger role then?

We'll see what the O-line looks like this week. Hard to say where Elgton Jenkins is at with his ankle. Cobb could certainly have a role in any quick passing, but not every game plan can be totally based on that because defenses will adjust. It's all about having options and counters.

Aaron Rodgers' heroics and the exhilarating finish on Sunday night masked the obvious failure of 3 long incompletions on the previous possession when, the game could have been secured with a 1st down or 2. Championship teams don't leave themselves down a point with 37 seconds left. Does this concern you as much as it does me?

Well, a first down or two with 7 minutes left in a 24-21 game wasn't going to secure the win, but it wasn't a good idea to get away from the run there and LaFleur admitted as much after the game. That said, on the third-down pass to Davante Adams, he was wide open and Rodgers just missed him. You could see by Rodgers' reaction after that play he was upset that opportunity got away.

Who will you be watching against the Steelers?

I want to see if the Packers' defensive line can play another game like it did out in SF. That was the unit's best effort so far this season and a great one to build on.

You mentioned last week that Packers have won the MVP 9 times. Favre 3?, Rodgers 3 and ? I'm guessing Hornung and Starr and?

Jim Taylor in '62.

Would you think that Eric Stokes overtakes Kevin King for starting role? He looked real good Sunday.

It sure looks like things are pointing in that direction but I don't want to speak out of turn regarding a coaching decision. However they align, the quartet of Jaire Alexander, Stokes, King and Chandon Sullivan should be a good one. Guys have to stay healthy, though.

As tired as LaFleur looked on Monday, aren't you a little glad you got to watch the game from 1265?

I think I got done working only about an hour before the plane landed, so it's not that much different for me as far as sleep goes.

With Tyler Lancaster out this week, who do you think will get the majority of his snaps? Do you think there will be much drop off at that spot?

I would expect T.J. Slaton to play more, and Heflin was active for the first time on game day last week, so we'll see if he's in the plans. I don't know any details on Lancaster, but it's too bad because he played his best game of the season so far and looks to be getting past that elbow injury.

I totally agree with run to set up the pass. However when the D also understands that and sells out to stop the run to begin the game isn't starting with some play action passes the wise decision? Effectively "pass to set up the run:?

It's all based on how the defense is reacting, and that's what Rodgers is so good at figuring out at the line. That's why he's given freedom to get the offense in the best possible play a lot of times.

Do you think AR12 is trying to have it both ways? Consider that the Packers have played two road games against teams with talented rosters but questions at QB. In one game the Packers lose overwhelmingly but that is called "just one game", while in the other the Packers win a thriller and that provides "legitimacy" to what the Packers are doing.

I think a win like that also provided legitimacy to how out of character the Week 1 performance was. Now they have to get things rolling.

What do you think are the biggest reasons for Pittsburgh's struggles early this season?

I can't say I've watched their games, but it seems the issues are up front, because they haven't been able to run the ball and Big Ben has been sacked eight times in three games. Numbers like that are unusual. Defensively, they aren't getting torched or anything.

Any other games you are interested in this week?

Seattle-SF is an important one in the NFC West but that'll be going on at the same time as GB's game. I'm also interested to see if Detroit goes into Chicago and gets Dan Campbell his first win. I know there's a lot of hype around Brady's return to New England, but everyone knows the Buccaneers are way better than the Patriots right now.

Does it surprise you that AJ Dillon only has 15 carries in 3 games? Why is he not on the field more in short yardage?

LaFleur doesn't seem to rotate the backs situationally, but more putting in Dillon for a series to give Aaron Jones a break on a certain possession. When Dillon has been in, they've gotten him the ball, both in the run and pass game. But Jones is the clear No. 1 back in this offense.

The Packers offense looks totally different when they stay committed to the run. Do you think they can run effectively against the Steelers this weekend?

I think that's a key question and a key to this game. Pittsburgh's run defense is pretty good. Almost always is.

Now that you're not traveling and watching road games in person how has that adversely affected the writing? Or do you think it has at all?

It's harder to do the live blog off of TV rather than being there in person, and I don't like not being there for the postgame press conferences. I can only watch the online streams and take notes. But I still put as much effort into the postgame stories. That doesn't change.

If a receiver catches the ball, gets hit and bobbles it, then regains possession further back, then the tackle is finished is the ball spotted where he first gets hit or where he regains possession? This appeared to happen in the second quarter deep in 49er territory on a third down. I thought we might challenge given the field position.

I wondered the same thing on that catch close to the marker. I thought the ball came loose and the receiver re-grabbed it. It would be spotted where possession is regained, not forward progress, if the video is viewed that way.

All NFL games are tough and there is no such thing as an "easy" win. But after the first 3 weeks, this schedule doesn't look as daunting as it did a month ago. All these teams look beatable. Thoughts? What say you? Dude WUT?

The whole offseason is spent looking at the schedule in a big-picture way. At this point, it really is just one week at a time. Every team changes/evolves over the season, plus injuries factor in, so you never know what you're getting until that week arrives.

The Packer D has given up more than 50% success on 3rd down and rank near the bottom. What do the coaches and players do pre-snap to remind everyone on defense exactly what/where down and distances are. We've witnessed times when they're playing to deep or too short. Down and distance are everything.

I don't think there's any lack of awareness on down and distance. They've had third-down opportunities, and some of them have gotten away because the pass rush wasn't there, or the coverage broke down. Shore up one or two more of those per game and things look a lot different on defense.

Hi Mike, great win Sunday. It really looked like the defense, and Darnell Savage in particular, turned up the intensity. He was flying around all night.

The Packers carried over the defensive intensity from the second half vs. Detroit to the start of the SF game, that's for sure. They were active and attacking, but also playing sound. It's really hard to do that for 4 quarters in this league, with so much geared toward offensive football. But as I said on Unscripted, I thought the defense took a big step forward in Week 3. Now let's see where the unit goes from here.

The Packers division appears to be the weakest one. Zimmer known for defense can't stop people, Bears can't generate any offense and the Lions...well...they are the Lions. Packers should be in good shape for the Division.

I wouldn't get too comfortable. Zimmer's defense might have turned a corner in the second half last week vs. Seattle. We shall see. But Minnesota is a couple of eyelashes from being 3-0. Detroit has competed like mad against good teams. The Bears have QB issues, but that defense can still keep them in games. It's awfully early.

The questions in the postgame news conferences about how much time the Packers offense needed got me thinking: a fun Pro Bowl event would be to have teams bid on how much time they need to execute a 2-minute drill. Fastest score gets first dibs on dodgeballs :)

Ha, like a Name That Tune style competition. "I can score in 32 seconds." "I can score in 28."

(Thanks for doing the chat - this is cman single coverage on another receiver across the field, read the play and ran 100 mph across the field to make that shocking catch. Did you see it live? Did it look like he was in man or was he zoning a little closer than it looked? One of the coolest INTs I've ever seen.

Jaire Alexander came from a long way away on that one, and that ball hung up there long enough for him to get it. It's part anticipation, to get an early break on the ball, and then the speed and athletic ability to make a play like that. Impressive.

Were any practice squad players suited up against the 49ers?

I don't recall any PS elevations, no.

I criticized Tyler Lancaster a few weeks ago, but ultimately he has improved and played good football. Any possibility he can play against Pittsburgh?

I don't know. I admit I haven't kept up on all the rules and protocols this year. Hopefully he's back soon.

Could the packers now sign Jace Sternberger if they wanted to?

I believe he joined Seattle's practice squad, so he's technically a free agent, but if the Packers wanted to sign him he'd also have to want to re-sign here. I can't speak to the desires of either party.

As we move through the next several weeks and the trade deadline looming, how active do you think the Packers will be assuming they are contending?

That might depend on the team's injury situation at the time.

Do you expect the travel policy to change at all throughout the season?

I don't know. I just do my job the way they tell me to.

I actually think Pittsburgh is a lot more evenly matched against us than others think. Our offensive is good, their defense is good. Their offense is middling, our defense is middling. What do you think?

It's two QBs who have accomplished a lot and could light up anybody at any time. I don't expect the Steelers to play a second straight clunker, just as I didn't expect the Packers to after Week 1.

Have you seen enough to be able to distinguish how the new defensive coordinator is doing things differently?

He's played more five-man fronts than Pettine did, and by moving King into the slot in Week 2, that was different. But it's not some wholesale change and I never thought it would be.

will TJ suit up for Pittsburgh this week?

We'll see what the injury report says at the end of the week. He did not play vs. Cincinnati last Sunday.

I struggle to understand how an offense as good as the packers can have such a difficult time converting so many 3rd or forth near the goal line. Same thing with 2 point conversion. I think LaFleur is an offensive genius, Rodgers, Adams, Jones, and others top weapons. Feels like the opposition are always better in these situations Why?

I guess I don't see it as some sort of chronic problem. They get some, they miss some. The fourth down near the goal line last week got messed up because the timing of the shotgun snap was off. It almost hit Cobb coming across as he went in motion. That shouldn't happen, but that play was doomed by the miscue no matter what they called.

Have you seen the tape of the long return against our special teams? If so, did we just lose gap discipline, or did someone fall, or did someone just lose this one on one, or other?

I haven't looked at it specifically, but I recall LaFleur saying on Monday it was essentially one guy getting out of his lane, which led to another guy trying to compensate for the lost lane integrity, and that opened it up. It was a significant breakdown, but the good thing was the kickoff returns after that were smothered inside the 20. LaFleur also said Allen Lazard volunteered to cover kicks after the long return. I firmly believe they're going to find the guys who can do it and not have guys who can't. The preseason was spent figuring out who would make the roster.

The Packers win if...?

C'mon now, I can't put spoilers on here. You'll have to wait for Final Thoughts.

If they win the toss, do they take the ball or defer? Given how they've emphasized fast starts.

Rodgers talked about how he and LaFleur have discussed taking the ball. They were going to do it at SF but the Niners won the toss and deferred, so they got their wish anyway. It'll still be a week-to-week decision, but we might see them take the ball first more often by choice.

What does Mason Crosby's pregame kicking routine look like? How does he test his field goal range?

He works his way back to find the distance he's comfortable making one, in both directions, and that info gets passed along to the coaches for in-game decisions. It's pretty much what all kickers do every pregame.

Of the 2nd and 3rd year players on the roster, who do you think has improved the most based on this limited sample size?

Jon Runyan might be the second-year guy who has improved the most so far, along with Garvin. Obviously Yosh Nijman too.

I like that "just do your job" mentality, the question now, what's our job?

Enjoy the games and stay informed, right? With that I'm going to call it a chat, folks. Thanks for the participation. I'll be back on the live blog Sunday and here again next Wednesday at 11 a.m. That should be the routine time now for a few weeks at least. Take care, Mike

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