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What's with the run-the-ball mania?


Al from Corvallis, OR

I've always wondered what qualities make someone a good safety. I figure it's more than just someone who's not fast enough to play corner. What qualities do the best safeties have, and how do they use them to excel at the position?

Aside from the obvious skills required for any player to be successful, safeties need to be smart and instinctive. They need to be able to take a peek into the backfield and know exactly what the play is. They need to be able to think for the other defensive backs on the field. They need to be able to bait a quarterback into throwing in a particular direction. They need to be good tacklers and willing to come up and support against the run, and they need to be able to play "centerfield" and have the hands to catch the ball, not just defend against the pass.

Don from Richmond, KY

I agree that players, not plays, usually make the difference. Considering the more even talent distribution in today's NFL, do you consider coaching to be any more important now than in the past?

No, I don't. Coaches have always had to be leaders. As far as the strategic aspect of the game, most of the schemes that are employed in today's game were designed decades ago. Tom Landry created the 4-3 in the 1950s. Bud Wilkinson invented the 3-4 in the 1940s. Paul Brown, Sid Gillman and Bill Walsh made offensive innovations that are playbook staples today. Johnny Unitas "invented" and perfected the two-minute drill. Lombardi gave us "run to daylight." Bud Carson invented "cover two" in the early '70s. Here's what's more important about today's game: us. We have a much greater need to feel superior to the past than the coaches, players and fans did in the past.

George from Mineral Point, WI

I'm afraid the lawsuits being brought against the NFL will ultimately bring the league to its knees. Bet the lawyers are really licking their chops. Hockey is a pretty rough sport but you don't hear of these problems. What say you?

It's a worrisome time for football at all levels. The NFL is the target of targets. If it gets brought to its knees, football on all levels will suffer, and hockey better buckle up, too. I even saw a national network report recently on concussions in soccer. This might be remembered as the year of the concussion.

Kellen from Long Beach, CA

Most passing yards, game: 554, Norm Van Brocklin, Sept. 28, 1951. Does the all-time record from 1951 finally get broken this year?

Matt Flynn and Matt Stafford combined for 1,000 yards last season. The only thing protecting the record is mercy. No coach is going to keep throwing the ball if he's up by 30 points, so you need a game such as last year's Lions-Packers finale, and then the issue becomes time and chances. Look at it this way: Had Stafford completed his final drive in that game, he would've broken Van Brocklin's record by three yards. Yeah, I think it'll happen soon.

Koigi from Lynchburg, VA

Spain vs. Italy was a good game. Germany beat Portugal and my Dutch boys got beat by Denmark. Good football weekend. I mean, soccer.

How about that goal, huh? That was great.

Alex from Denver, CO

Don't the Packers still need a running back from free agency? Ryan Grant is moving on and the team still hasn't found an elusive, or at least a powerful, franchise-type runner. There are some pretty great names floating out there, but the Packers don't even seem to be in the game. What are they seeing in the guys they have, that I am not?


Jason from Summerville, SC

Why is it when a QB is sacked, it doesn't count as negative rushing yards for him, especially when he is scrambling?

Because the intent of the play was to pass the ball.

Trenton from Osseo, WI

Do you think James Starks can have a 1,000-yard rushing season this year?

The guy I saw in Week 2 at Carolina is clearly capable of being a feature running back. The guy I saw the following week in Chicago left me wondering who the guy was I saw the previous week. Can Starks be that Week 2 back every week? I think the Packers believe he can.

Cody from Marinette, WI

Hey, Vic, I want to know how you feel about this: If the Packers ran the ball more, I think it would make Rodgers that much better. Play action?

Yeah, a strong running game makes play action more effective, but I don't understand this new-found need to run the ball. Aaron Rodgers threw 45 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. He led the league with an incredible 122.5 passer rating. He's the NFL MVP. Where's the need for more effectiveness? Are we just trying to invent subject matter as we head into the "dead zone" days? What do you think my inbox would look like the day after a game in which the Packers ran the ball 35 times for 100 yards and lost by a point? Do you think fans might be critical of the play-calling? Hey, I love a strong running game, but I'm not going to beat the drum while covering a team that moves the ball up and down the field as though it's playing against air. I see no problems on offense. The defense needs some fixing and if that happens, look out.

Chazz from San Antonio, TX

I was wondering how teams talk to players about the end of their careers. For example, what are the Packers privately saying to Donald Driver? He wants to play one or two more years, but the team has several replacements on the roster right now. This is a delicate topic because no one wants to push him out the door, but he won't play forever.

They tell them the truth. These are men. These are professional football players, coaches and executives. They've long since accepted that it's a tough game for tough guys and if a GM and head coach believed a guy was over the hill, they'd tell him that. I've covered great players who've been told. It was done sensitively and the player was given an opportunity to step down as he pleased. Most elected a retirement press conference, but I covered some guys that asked to be cut in training camp so they could get health benefits for another year. This is professional football, not "Queen for a Day."

Jered from Baton Rouge, LA

What is your favorite all-time sports movie?

I love "Field of Dreams" and "The Natural," but there's a special moment in "Cinderella Man" that resonates. It's that moment when "Braddock" steps back from his opponent in the ring and thinks of the hard times he had to overcome during the Depression. The little smile on his face that follows lets us know that Braddock is a different fighter now. He's been hardened by hard times. That moment, that smile on his face is a metaphor for all of the players that are products of hard times.

Kyler from Anderson, CA

Vic, wow, are you a hypocrite, because a few months back I said why didn't the Packers keep the back shoulder going and your response was, "When someone does something well for a long time, people figure out how to stop it." Well, that's contradictory to the whole "great teams don't take what you give them, they take what they want" mantra, so what is your sarcastic remark for that? I'd love to hear it because the Packers are a top-five team, so they should have taken what they wanted and utilized the back shoulder, right?

There were teams that stopped the Packers sweep, but the Packers didn't stop running it. I covered games in which teams stopped the Steelers trap, but they never stopped running it. The Chiefs and Giants took away the back-shoulder fade, but the Packers won't stop throwing it. When somebody stops your bread-and-butter play, you find out why and fix it. This isn't a video game. Success isn't programmed, it's achieved. Sometimes the other guy wins the one-on-one, and you have to challenge yourself to get better. Maybe he saw something in the route that tipped him to what it was going to be, and now you have to show the next guy you face something different. If you do something long enough, people will figure out how to stop it. That's why teams must always grow. If you're not getting better, you're getting worse, because the competition is getting better. Growth, however, doesn't mean abandoning what you do best because it's not working now. Growth means improving it.

Jon from San Diego, CA

Vic, I agree with you that the NFL is trying to make the game high-scoring and high-yardage to appeal to the majority of fans. I believe this is going to have the opposite effect they wanted soon. Already this year, we saw how teams favored a heavy defensive draft. I foresee the defense-wins-championships view making a strong comeback. How do you feel about this?

I think you're swimming upstream.

Jeff from Seattle, WA

During the season, do you ever experience burnout? What techniques do you use to deal with it?

It hasn't been a problem for me. The playoffs have always been a carrot I've chased. Covering a team out of contention can be tough, but I can honestly say that covering a football game has always been something that's excited me, even in the worst of years. There's something about going to the ballpark that makes me smile inside.

Steve from New Richmond, WI

I was wondering if you've noticed if the Saturday/Rodgers combo is working out well?

I haven't seen a fumbled exchange in practice, if that's what you mean.

Ryan from Fort Collins, CO

Having an elite QB, CB, LT and pass rusher on the team is enough to guarantee success in the NFL. Do you agree?

I do. If you have elite players at each of the four premium positions, you should be able to find enough role players at the other positions to be a Super Bowl contender.

Charles from Statham, GA

I read an article on a first-round draft pick, a quarterback, and it said he looks and acts like a "franchise" quarterback. How would you define a "franchise" quarterback?

He has unmistakable talent. His measurables are that of a prototype quarterback. He can make all of the throws. He never takes his eyes from downfield. Playing football appears to be easy for him to do. He's natural in his grasp of the game. His teammates respond to him.

Dale from Kettering, OH

Martians? Otis Sistrunk is coming? On that topic, who are the best non-college players you can remember?

I can hear Cosell now, "Otis Sistrunk, from the University of Mars." The best non-college players I can remember are Cookie Gilchrist and "Big Daddy" Lipscomb. Some of the old-time scouts think Gilchrist might've been better than Jim Brown. Lipscomb was physically dominant. He took games over. Had his young life not been so tragic, and had he not met with such a tragic fate so early in life, and had he been able to go to college and acquire the development he needed coming into the league, I think he might've gone down in history as the greatest defensive lineman ever.

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