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Packers No. 1 in NFL in sacks category


Patrick from Los Angeles, CA

What's the ratio between fans already freaking out and fans realizing the 49ers were just one game?

I'd say my inbox is about two to one freaking.

Peter from Toledo, OH

Vic, the league has figured out our secret sauce and has now officially caught up. Now we see if McCarthy can adjust to the new reality. It will be interesting.

Secret sauce is another way of saying a team has an identity. All good teams have an identity. The Packers' identity is that of a sophisticated, precision passing attack. As Lovie Smith said on Tuesday, that's not going to change. The Packers are going to play to that identity, but part of doing that involves protecting that identity. If your identity is that of a running team, you protect that identity by passing often enough and well enough to keep teams from loading the tackle box. If your identity is that of a passing team, you protect that identity by posing enough of a threat in the run game to keep teams from playing pass only, which means having their linemen ignore run and focusing only on rushing the quarterback, which can lead to needing fewer rushers to get to the quarterback, which can result in dropping more defenders into coverage. That's what happened against the Giants and the 49ers. They ignored the run, concentrated on the rush and got pressure with four, which allowed them to drop seven into coverage. The best way to block Jason Pierre-Paul and Aldon Smith is to make them play the run. If you're going to allow defenses to concentrate totally on stopping the pass, then you better be very, very good at giving your quarterback time to throw. He'll need it to wait for receivers to come open against max coverage.

Brad from Denver, CO

Vic, while I believe your assessment is correct that the road to the Super Bowl now goes through San Francisco, it doesn't mean that much based on recent history. The last two Super Bowl winners had combined regular-season records of 19-13 and a combined five postseason road wins. At first glance, home-field advantage doesn't seem to be the advantage it used to be. What do you feel has changed?

Nothing has changed; it's just that the hot teams at the end of the regular season have been wild-card teams in recent years. The Packers were not playing their best football when last season ended. Their running game and defense were at their lowest points of the season. The Packers were completely reliant on their passing attack, and that's not what you want heading into the championship round. Compare that to the previous year, when everything was clicking as the Packers headed into the postseason. That was the case with the Giants last season. When the team with home-field advantage for the postseason is the hot team at the end of the season, it's usually too much for the rest of the playoff field to overcome.

Paul from Rockton, IL

The first game showed that the starters have to play more in the preseason to get ready. What is the thought there?

I agree with you. I saw evidence in several games of teams being gassed in the second half. I doubt that coaches will change their preseason ways, however, because having players that are gassed is better than having players on injured reserve. The fear of injury is dominating today's game. Simply put, coaches are more afraid of injury than they are of losing a game. It's easier to overcome losing a game than it is to overcome losing key players.

Ryan from Etobicoke, Ontario

I was following the Jags-Vikings game on Sunday that went to OT. The Vikings hit a field goal to take the lead, then the Jags had a possession to match. I didn't think it was quite fair that the Jags had four downs to get a first, while Minnesota, on its opening drive, only had three, since they would have had to punt. After that, I decided I was not a fan of the new OT rules. Any thoughts?

I completely agree. I was against changing the overtime rules. I liked the previous format. All we've done is shift the coin toss unfairness factor from the team that gets the ball first to the team that gets the ball second. Where's the gain? I don't like rules with ifs in them.

Zach from Waukesha, WI

In the topic of the officials, while I would never go so far as to say they lost the game for Green Bay (I mean, six free points on a blown call for the punt return is hardly unfavorable), I think the overall quality, or lack thereof, is worth talking about. Don't you?

If a bad call directly changes the outcome of a game, then it must be acknowledged and discussed. I'm talking about a blown call that doesn't involve a lot of interpretation, as a block-in-the-back call would. I saw poor presentation and a lack of crispness in the performance of Sunday's crew, but I didn't see anything that changed the outcome of the game. I didn't see an Ed Hochuli, Phil Luckett or Rob Lytle moment. Are they complaining in San Francisco?

Nick from Aurora, IL

How do you feel about some national sports writers who say outrageous things just to be controversial? It makes fans question how much sports writers actually know about the game. Do you think these sports writers are hurting or helping the game?

I'm from the old school of NFL opinion toward the media: "Any ink is good ink. Write anything you want, just spell the name right." Seriously, that was the league's PR position when baseball was the national pastime and football was the college game. Back in those days, the NFL would've loved having national media saying outrageous things just to be controversial. These days, I think we spend too much time critiquing the media. Hey, if you don't like what a guy writes, don't read him. I hate the notion that reporters should be graded according to the quality of their questions. Press conferences aren't about the questions, they're about the answers. So, I would say I favor a free media that writes and says anything it pleases, because that's what makes America the greatest place in the world, and I would say the responsibility for controlling the media falls on the readers and viewers, because it's with their readership and viewership that they determine what is written and said.

Niklas from Cologne, Germany

Seems to me a lot of people tend to forget the Packers sacked Alex Smith four times with him only dropping back to throw 26 times. Sounds like a pretty good percentage.

The Packers are No. 1 in the league this week in sacks per pass play. They are also No. 6 in pass defense. The problem is they are No. 31 in rush defense. Houston, we have a new problem.

Alex from Rush City, MN

Vic, Dennis from Superior asked why the Packers put someone who is 5-10 to block the 63-yard field goal, but you failed to mention to him that it's illegal. It's like basketball, once the ball is coming down it can't be blocked. I learned that from Mike Pereira.

I failed to mention it because I knew someone would mention it the following day, which would allow for a deeper discussion on the topic of goaltending. Yep, that's what it's called. What's interesting about goaltending in football is that the rulebook isn't clear in how the violation should be assessed. It says only: "The referee could award three points for a palpably unfair act." It doesn't say will award or should award. The "could award" wording is rather ambiguous. I've never seen the penalty assessed. I wish the kick had been successfully goaltended.

Tim from Albuquerque, NM

Vic, as of last Friday, the Eagles had $21.4 million in cap room, the Packers $6.9 million, the 49ers were the league's lowest with $880,000. There were 13 teams with more cap room and 18 teams with less than the Packers. What does cap space tell you about a team?

In the Packers' case, it tells me they have carefully planned for an emergency fund; the cap room they've left for themselves should allow them to deal with injuries without having to re-structure contracts or cut players. In the Eagles' case, and knowing the Eagles' penchant for pre-paying, they've probably created the room on their cap for the purpose of signing a player or two to a long-term deal during the season. In the 49ers' case, their cap room would suggest that they spent some money in free agency they hadn't planned on spending, and they've created new plans for dealing with injuries during the season, should they have to add players. You need to know a team's history and cap tendencies to be able to read its room. The Packers are very conservative and responsible in the management of their cap.

Edwin from Colton, CA

Vic, I'm the first one to admit when the Packers lose to a good team and the 49ers were a pretty good team on Sunday. In Rodgers' words, "It's only one game." Let it go and let's get ready for the Bears. Your thoughts?

You're not going to silence panic or critics with words or logic. You silence them with wins. If the Packers win on Thursday, all will be the right with the world and the loss to the 49ers will have been greatly softened. I think you know what the flip side of that is.

Monica from Green Bay, WI

How has your audience evolved from first taking over the web work in Jacksonville, and even from the print days in Pittsburgh?

I'm not sure how the audience has evolved, because we didn't have nearly as much contact with the audience in my former lives. What I can tell you is that writing for a web world has caused me to evolve in ways I could've never imagined. In my print days, I would sit in the press box and study the game. I'd take notes on what defense was being played on what down and distance, or what offensive formation or audible was employed at a particular point in the game. The immediacy of the Internet and the now world we live in has caused me to have to think on the fly. As a result, I can't get to sleep at night after covering a game. My mind has been racing so fast all day that I can't turn it off when I go to bed.

Ryan from Norwich, UK

Would you agree that within the next 10 years the 4-3 will become pretty much defunct due to less variety in what it can offer in the pass rushing department?

Yeah, and I think the 3-4 is going away, too, because seven men in the box is going away. This is a passing game these days and defensive coordinators are replacing linebackers and linemen with defensive backs, and what might appear to be a 4-3 or 3-4 quickly morphs into something else when the ball is snapped. A 4-3 and a 3-4 are base defenses, and the percentage of downs those alignments are being used is steadily decreasing leaguewide.

Dustin from Reno, NV

Vic, why didn't Aaron throw the deep ball more in that loss to the 49ers?

Just about every time I checked, the 49ers were playing cover two, with two deep safeties and cornerbacks playing off the line of scrimmage. In addition, the linebackers were taking deep drops, just as the Giants did. The intermediate to deep passing lanes were jammed with defenders. On one occasion, Aaron Rodgers got a one-on-one look and correctly went deep, but the 49ers defender was step for step with the receiver and knocked the pass away. They won the one-on-one confrontations, and they had a good scheme, too. You have to be patient against that kind of scheme, and you have to be precision-like; you can't drop passes. I saw Tom Brady complete 26 of 28 passes in a playoff game against that kind of scheme. Just because you have to live underneath the coverage doesn't mean you can't win with that approach, but it demands precision and patience. I think the Packers lacked a little of each on Sunday.

Joe from Clio, MI

Why can't officials share the blame for a loss? They do not affect a play when they get a call right, but they do affect it when they get it wrong. Don't make excuses for losing? Don't make excuses for bad officiating.

How do you know it was bad officiating? Did you review the calls? Are you an expert on the subject? I'm not. I read that replacement officials had an 85 percent correct batting average on review calls this past weekend. The calls were upheld 85 percent of the time. That's pretty good. This is the way it is and sitting in a pool of tears and whining and crying about bad calls isn't going to do anything except give me one of those ulcers Ray has, and I sure don't want one of those.

Paul from De Pere, WI

When you compare the Bears to the 49ers, do the Bears have the same personnel to stop the run with seven and leave safeties deep? Will this next contest measure our improvement in addressing the issues we uncovered against the 49ers?

The Bears love to play cover two, which requires stopping the run with seven. Your other question I can't answer; the Packers have to answer that one.

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