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Third-down defense needs to improve


Sean from Oconto Falls, WI

Can you explain the different outcomes that could have come out of the ending to the Steelers-Patriots game? I mean, first the refs botched Polamalu illegally punching the ball, and secondly, would it have mattered if the Steelers defender recovered it inbounds or out? Just seems like that one wasn't handled in the best way.

Based on what I saw, Troy Polamalu should've been penalized for illegally batting the ball, which would've resulted in a 10-yard penalty from the previous spot; Patriots' ball from there with eight seconds remaining. Apparently, illegal batting of the ball is not reviewable. Since the play occurred inside the two-minute warning, it was subject to the replay official's review, without challenge, and the review that was conducted was to determine whether or not the Steelers player recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown, not to determine whether or not Polamalu batted the ball.

Nathan from New Orleans, LA

I think the Rams are now forced to keep wearing their blue and yellow uniforms.

How could they ever decide not to wear those beautiful uniforms?

Steve from Springboro, OH

What would the ruling be if a receiver caught the ball five yards inbounds and a defender kept his feet off the ground and carried him out of bounds? There is no force-out rule anymore.

As soon as the defender is judged to be carrying the receiver, the play would be whistled dead and since the carry began in the field of play, a reception would result. For what you're describing to result in a non-catch, the receiver would have to land out of bounds as a result of initial impetus from the defender.

Zach from Woodstock, IL

How does the defense know which players need to be on the field? They can't wait for the offense to line up to run out onto the field.

It's something that's practiced during the week. Players' roles are designated according to the defensive packages in which they are to participate. If a player is in the nickel package, then he runs onto the field when the defensive coordinator or the assistant coach on the sideline who conveys the message from the defensive coordinator yells out, "Nickel." If the call is "Dime," then the players assigned to that package run onto the field. The defensive coordinator is making his calls according to down and distance and offensive personnel. He has to be quick at the switch; he doesn't have all Monday morning at the coffee machine to think about what he should do. He has pre-determined that when the opponent goes four-wide, the call is going to be "Dime." Down and distance gives him a pretty good idea of the personnel the offense will employ. Once the offense substitutes, the defense must be given reasonable time to do the same.

Steve from Ramsgate, England

Do you see the 49ers as a threat to the Packers for the top NFC spot? Their defense is pretty good and they can run the ball effectively, too.

A couple of years ago, I covered a game in Candlestick and I remember thinking to myself that the 49ers are ready to go. Yes, I think they're a threat. I think that's a talented team that can play the muscle game at playoff time. Has Jim Harbaugh reclaimed Alex Smith's career? The answer to that question will likely determine the 49ers' fate this season.

Larry from Hayward, WI

Can you make sure the Packers hydrate the couple of days before the Chargers game?

Hydration is very important in making these trips to the West Coast. Circadian rhythm is very important, too. I remember that a few years ago the Jaguars went to great lengths to hydrate and address their Circadian rhythm on a trip to Seattle. They went to Seattle on a Friday, to make sure they got their bodies on Pacific Time, and the plane had on it so many bottles of water that I felt as though we were on a peace mission. The orders were to hydrate during the flight – it was something about being at high altitudes for long periods of time – and guys were chugging water the whole way there. Well, I'm not sure if it was all that water that weighed them down, or something that went wrong with their Circadian rhythms, but they never woke up and unless the Seahawks just scored again, the final score is still 41-0. I can't help but wonder if they would've had a better chance had they flown out the night before and ate pepperoni pizza the whole way there.

Tim from Albuquerque, NM

Vic, what is the reason we see late flags from officials, especially on pass interference?

The official has already decided that pass-interference has been committed during the play and he is making sure he remains focused on the action so he might detect another infraction, should it be committed. He's got plenty of time to throw the flag for pass-interference; he doesn't want to divert his attention from the action and miss another violation, which could result in offsetting penalties. What's the rush?

Saad from Potsdam, NY

Undefeated or not, what do the Packers need for momentum to pick up for the postseason? Do they need to integrate more running into their offense to keep elite defenses honest?

I don't see anything wrong with their current momentum, but the Packers want to improve on defense and I genuinely believe they will.

Amy from Miami, FL

Over the last few years of watching and falling in love with the Packers, my husband has done a very good job of explaining the finer points of football to me. One question he can't seem to answer for me is why teams use motion before the snap. What is the general strategy/reasoning behind using motion before a play begins?

It's to effect change in the defense. Motion can drag a linebacker out of the box, which can aid the running game. Motion can subtract a blitzer from the pass-rush. It's a way of dictating to the defense and giving it something to think about and cause it to make adjustment. Show 'em one thing and then give 'em another. You don't want to let the defense dig in. They're trying to disguise their coverages; motion is a way of causing adjustment to those coverages. It's also a way of creating mismatches.

Dale from Alton, NH

Will Mike Neal be ready to play after the bye?

That seems to be the plan. We'll get an idea this week where that stands, based on Neal's participation or lack of participation in practice.

Jake from Wisconsin Rapids, WI

I know you're not a stats guy, as numbers can lie; however, after nearly half a season in the books, which stat do you see as needing improvement or staying steady in order for the Packers to continue their dominance?

The Packers are 26th in the league in third-down defense and that has to change; that won't work in the postseason. Getting off the field on third down is critical. The longer you allow the offense to stay on the field, the more yards you're going to allow and the more likely it is that you'll allow points to be scored, too. Improve third-down defense and you improve everything.

Terry from Junction City, WI

Referring to a previous comment: "On good days, I'll sit down and look at the field, and I always look at the spot at THE end zone. That's my point of reference for the Packers. It always lets me know I'm covering a football team, and I like that very much." Your comment is like a shibboleth; probably only real/old-time Packers fans know what you are talking about (which I like). With the extensive renovations to Lambeau, is the spot in the end zone still exactly THE spot in THE end zone?

Yes it is. The first time I covered a game in Lambeau Field, I asked an older gentleman in the press box, a guy I had no doubt knew the answer to my question: Which end zone was it? He pointed and said, "That one." It was the one I thought it would be, based on the TV view I remember, since the TV cameras are usually stationed on the same side of the field as the press box. There are those moments in history that are too special to ever be vague. Alan Ameche's plunge, Franco Harris' catch, "The Catch," and Bart Starr's sneak immediately come to mind.

Anthony from Hartley, IA

What defense of any era would you love to see Aaron Rodgers and the 2011 Green Bay offense take on?

I'd like to see this Packers offense play a series each against the 2000 Ravens, 1985 Bears and 1976 Steelers defenses, in the rules of their era and then in the rules of this era. That would be fun.

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