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What's the proper run-pass balance?


Justin from Brooklyn, NY

Vic, have you noticed that the replacement refs are allowing more late-hit, unnecessary-roughness and defenseless-receiver calls slide? I've appreciated these replacement referees just letting the players play football. One play that comes to mind was in the Sunday night game. Alex Smith's first-down run in the fourth quarter (where he got the bloody nose). What are your thoughts on these non-calls?

What I've noticed is a preconceived distrust of the replacement officials' ability. I think we're pre-judging them. I think we're looking for something to criticize and we're bound and determined we're going to find it because it gives us all an excuse we can use for losing, if we need it. Again, I believe the greatest failure of the replacement officials is in the referee's presentation to the fans. The explanations are bulky. Clearly, the referees are not familiar with NFL language. I'm hearing college-type explanations. I saw one poor guy signal in the wrong direction after a lengthy dissertation that probably left him wondering why he agreed to do this. I commend the coaches for the restraint they're showing, but I'm seeing an increase in examples of players trying to show these guys up. They're begging for fouls, which is further inciting fans to whine and cry about the officiating. Have they cost anybody a game through the first two weeks?

Owen from Tampa, FL

I would not consider myself to be an old-school football fan, and I have been understanding of the NFL's rule changes to improve player safety; however, I am confused about the negative reaction to the effort shown on the last play of the Buccaneers-Giants game this weekend. I thought the Bucs did exactly what they should do: Try to make a play. Can you explain to me what is wrong with playing until the final whistle blows?

It was over the top. If I had been Tom Coughlin, there would've been no postgame handshake.

Sam from Highland, IL

Vic, being from a younger generation, I don't have quite the appreciation for ground-and-pound football, as you do. That being said, I think watching the 49ers helps me understand. It is so entertaining to watch them stuff it down the opposing team's throat and completely dominate the game with their hard-hitting defense (as long as it's not at the Packers' expense). I think I would have enjoyed old-school football.

I watched three games yesterday, as presented to me by local TV: Ravens-Eagles, Jets-Steelers, Lions-49ers. The Ravens, Steelers and 49ers, of course, are teams that want to play the ground-and-pound game, and all three would've won their games had the Eagles not rallied on their final drive of the game. Most impressively, the Steelers and 49ers had to execute long, sustained touchdown drives at the ends of their games to clinch victory. The Steelers held the ball for more than 10 minutes in their touchdown drive; the 49ers milked more than six minutes off the clock in theirs. I thought that kind of football was dead, and I'm glad to see it isn't and I tip my hat to both of those teams for trying to be something more than a seven-on-seven drill. Be that as it may, I don't think that kind of football can win championships. The challenge in today's game is to find a way to be good on defense with a pass-happy offense. It's a difficult thing to do, but I think that's the challenge of the contemporary game: up tempo on offense, rock-ribbed on defense. They tend not to go hand in hand.

Sara from Davis, CA

What will we see next Monday, Vic, the team from the first game or the team from the second game?

My expectation on defense is that there will be ups and downs early in the season, and a steadying of performance in the second half of the season. Offensively, I think Cedric Benson is going to settle in to be a productive runner for the Packers. What I want to see now is the passing game return to the prolific performance on which we had come to depend week in and week out last season, before the loss in Kansas City. The passing game is the Packers' calling card. That's what's going to win for this team on a consistent basis. The dropped passes have to stop. They're killing drives.

Nick from Conneaut, OH

Vic, watching the Seahawks-Cowboys game yesterday, Seattle is a different team at home. Can you talk about some of the difficulties playing in Seattle presents?

Teams I've covered are 1-7 in games I've covered in Seattle, and some of those teams were of a very high order. I don't know exactly why it's so difficult to win there, but I'm led to believe it has something to do with circadian rhythm. That's a theory Jim Mora advanced when he was the coach of the Seahawks, who have to fly long distances to play a lot of their road games. Circadian rhythm refers to a person's body clock, and crossing time zones is said to upset the body clock. All of the teams I covered, of course, were coming from the Eastern time zone, so that doesn't apply to the Packers. Whatever it is, I think it's real. I've always thought going to Seattle had a Lewis and Clark quality to it. No trip in the league feels more like a road trip than a trip to Seattle. I've covered teams that have gone to Seattle two days ahead of the game, and they got hammered. I covered a team that went out late the day before the game, and it got hammered, too. I've covered games in the Kingdome, Husky Stadium and CenturyLink Field; the lone win I covered was at the Kingdome. I once spent four days in Seattle because the team I was covering flew there two days ahead of the game and then got fogged in after the game. Lewis and Clark could've gotten home faster. Just once more, I would like to cover a win in Seattle. Maybe this will be it.

Mike from North Haven, CT

Vic, I know Dom Capers is a pretty brilliant defensive coordinator and he's been very successful for a long time, and I also know it's players, not plays that determine success or failure, but that Bears game looked different. We got pressure with limited blitzing and, in turn, limited risk. Why can't this happen more often in Capers' scheme?

Sometimes the other guys win. You have to win the one-on-ones. Against the 49ers, the Packers didn't; against the Bears, they did. It's not the scheme, it's the execution of the scheme.

Adam from Washington, MO

Years ago, did players plead for flags and look for them as often as they do today? I just feel that after any missed pass or defensive breakup, the offensive player looks around almost expecting there to be some yellow on the field.

You're right, and they didn't do that years ago, and I have the feeling they're doing it more to taunt these replacement officials. If I was a replacement official, I might go off; let 'em know who's boss and start flagging everybody for unsportsmanlike conduct. The new insanity is this walk-over-me thing. Are they really that thin-skinned that they can't restrain themselves for the sake of the team? Once we get done with this player safety thing, I'd like to see the league turn its attention to game conduct.

Anthony from Baraboo, WI

Why did so many home teams wear their away jerseys on Sunday?

They wanted to make sure they wouldn't get hot, so they scheduled themselves to wear their white jerseys. Those decisions are made back in the spring, so there's no way of knowing if it's going to be hot or not. This has long been a debate. The league did a scientific study years ago that proved color had nothing to do with temperature, but the doubters remain in full force. I don't know what the truth is, but I can tell you this: If you wear a white shirt in Florida, you're much more likely to be covered in bugs than if you wear a black shirt. I'll take the heat and leave the bugs for somebody who wants to stay cool on a 99-degree day. How do you do that?

Tyler from Ottawa, ON

I have yet to hear Nick Perry's name at all since the start of the season. What are you hearing around the team about this year's first-round pick and why he's been largely invisible thus far?

I'm not hearing anything, but I can tell you what I've seen. He's come off the ball hard and has quickly moved his man back toward the quarterback. The next hurdle for Perry is to finish his rush, and that means becoming proficient enough in his technique that he can close that gap between where he is and where he has to go.

Richard from Gaithersburg, MD

Vic, I wonder if you'd address a certain elephant in the room, namely Jermichael Finley's inability to hold onto the football in critical situations. I know Ted Thompson and Coach McCarthy have put a lot of investment into this player, but when exactly is enough enough?

Not after Week 2 of the season.

Andrew from West Chester, PA

I understand that some semblance of a running game is important, and I agree that Benson adds a physical, knock-em-on-their-butt attitude that can be healthy, but I'm not sure I want us running the ball 23 times a game like we did on Thursday. It's not our identity and not what our personnel is best suited for. What number of carries do you feel is the appropriate balance between making them respect the run and maximizing the chances Rodgers has to do his thing?

The Packers legitimately ran the ball 25 times. By my count, 36 plays were intended to be pass attempts. That's a 59-41 percent pass-run ratio, and that's a good balance for this team. The 49ers were right around 50-50 in their win over the Packers, and that's true balance, which is what the 49ers are seeking, but that's not Packers football. What I don't want to see is the Packers' 84-16 pass-run ratio in the 49ers game. That's not a winning ratio for any team.

Robert from Terre Haute, IN

Explain to me how reviewing plays for penalties works. Aaron saw 12 men on the field and the Packers challenged that call and were right, which ended up converting a first down. Why can't we review for pass interference or offside, intentional grounding or roughing the passer, etc.

The rules determine what is and what isn't reviewable. These plays are reviewable: scoring plays, completions/incompletions/interceptions, runner in or out of bounds, recovery of loose ball in or out of bounds, touching of a forward pass by an ineligible receiver, touching of a forward pass by a defensive player, quarterback forward pass or fumble, illegal forward pass beyond line of scrimmage, illegal forward pass after change of possession, forward or backward pass thrown from behind line of scrimmage, down or not down by contact, spotting of the ball. There are a few others, too, but those are the main ones. Pass interference is not reviewable and neither are field goal or try attempts that cross above either upright without touching anything.

Bill from Pittsburgh, PA

Vic, were you surprised with how Jay Cutler reacted following the one sack where after he yelled at Webb heading off the field? In my mind, that's not the way for the team captain to be acting.

I'm from the school in which the quarterback always praises his offensive linemen for the protection he received, even when the quarterback is sacked 10 times. On those days, he should blame himself for not getting rid of the ball more quickly. The theory is that you should want the men protecting you to want to protect you. Quarterbacks should be tough guys, too; it breeds toughness within the team.

Bart from San Diego, CA

Nice interview with Starr. He's the reason I became a Packers fan when I was a little boy. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

It's one of the highlights of my career. The question I wanted him to bite on was what if he hadn't scored? I think it's one of the most intriguing questions in pro football history. What if the Cowboys had stopped him? Would the Lombardi Trophy bear another name? Would the "Ice Bowl" be the major event in NFL history it is? Would Lombardi have left Green Bay for Washington on the heels of a loss in that game? Would the Cowboys have beaten the Raiders in Super Bowl II? To what degree has Bart Starr's game-winning touchdown in the "Ice Bowl" impacted the Packers franchise? Would its fan base be as large today as it is? I'm not sure we fully appreciate the impact of Starr's decision to call and execute that play. Johnny Unitas' role in the 1958 NFL title game might make him the most important player in NFL history, but Starr's role in the "Ice Bowl" might be every bit as important. Clearly, that game and that play is an obsession of mine. Even after having lived here, when I think of Green Bay I think of that play.

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