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What's the next level for the Packers?

Half-line drills at the root of this team’s identity change


David from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, how do you feel about benching an obviously talented back for fumbling issues?

Fumbling can ruin a back. I've seen it happen that a guy couldn't stop fumbling. It's best to get him out of there and fix the problem in practice, rather than letting it snowball and become traumatic. In the 2012 training camp, Alex Green went through such a problem. He even started fumbling the ball in ball-security drills. Fumbling nearly ended Tiki Barber's career. Johnathan Franklin has to overcome his fumbleitis. How would he have benefited from staying in the game on Sunday, especially if he had fumbled again? What happened to him in Cincinnati takes a toll. When your opponent sees a guy having trouble holding onto the ball, they go for the strip.

Jacob from New Bremen, OH

Vic, are the Vikings going to be better off with Josh Freeman? They paid him good money, but it's going to take some time for him to settle into a new offense. Wondering your thoughts on this move for a division rival.

He's a talented guy. My instinct is to believe he makes them better, but I don't know if that can happen right away.

Steve from Cincinnati, OH

If McCarthy is going to continue to defer, he cannot let what transpired at the end of the half occur again. Not only is he denying having the ball at the beginning of the game, but he allowed the Lions to have one more possession than the Packers. The result completely defeats his purpose of deferring. There's a fine line between aggressive and foolish, and after this strategy backfired, he really needs to learn.

I understand what you're saying because I'm one of those guys that would've allowed the Lions to kill the clock, but I think your words are a little too strong. Mike McCarthy was expressing belief in his defense, which had yet to allow a score in the game. The coach is aggressive. He happens to be, by far, the most aggressive coach I have ever covered. If I cover football for another 40 years, I don't think I'll ever see anything approach the aggressiveness of that fourth-and-26 fake-field goal play the Packers used to score a touchdown against the Bears last season, but I didn't get any complaints to "Ask Vic" the next day. Everybody loves that kind of stuff when it works, and is harshly critical when it fails. If I did a defer-or-take-the-ball poll in "Ask Vic," it would be split 50-50. Does it really matter when you get the ball? Here's how you guarantee that whatever you decide will be right: When you get the ball, score; when you kick, stop them. The Packers and Lions each ran 64 plays from scrimmage yesterday. That's all that matters.

Cory from Brandon, MB

Are Packers fans the most emotionally tormented souls in all the NFL? We start getting on a roll and feeling good, and then the injuries start to pile up. We start marching the ball down the field and then succumb to horrendous officiating. Are we really this victimized, or merely playing the part?

Playing the part. Hey, the Jaguars traded their left tackle last week so they could move the second pick of the draft into the left tackle position. He broke his leg and he's out for the rest of the season, and now the Jaguars have no left tackle. Woe is me has no place in football.

Sam from Tempe, AZ

Vic, I feel like this is a good team about to become a great team.

I think that's the next level to which Mike McCarthy was referring in his postgame remarks, but going from the good level to the great level isn't accomplished with one step, and it doesn't do any good to become a great team in October. It only counts if you're a great team in January.

Nick from Hollandale, WI

So how many more 100-yard rushing performers, or 99 for that matter, will we need for teams to start respecting our run game?

You'll know it when you see it. It usually requires one of two things to happen. Either your opponents see that you have a 4-4-4 mentality and they have to crowd the line of scrimmage and stop one of those 4-yard gains, or you have a back that can take it to the house. Defenses fear a pounding ball-control game and a home-run back. I don't think the Packers will ever become a pounding ball-control offense, so I would say they need to break some long runs. Eddie Lacy broke one yesterday. It was called back, but it'll be on the tape for future opponents to see.

Jocelyn from Crawfordsville, IN

The Packers also happen to be fifth in rush yards allowed per game. I remember some crazy old guy saying how running the ball makes your run defense improve because you practice against it.

That's why they did all those half-line drills in training camp. That's when this team began to forge a new identity. When you run those half-line drills and nine-on-sevens, you're not just practicing running the ball, you're practicing stopping the run. I knew this summer, in training camp, that this would be a different team this year, and it's not by mistake, it's by intent. All those fights? They were good for this team. It needed some of that. Yes, I believe this is a good team that can go to that other level. This is going to be fun to watch.

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