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You better be able to play in the cold


Steven from Irving, TX

During the interview Michael Irvin did with Aaron Rodgers, Aaron said he felt the Packers were flying under the radar. I found it funny that the Packers' own quarterback felt the same way that a lot of fans did. Now Michael was quick to point out that the Packers are in no way flying under the radar, which I also liked since I've read it in your column that they are not flying under the radar. I guess it has to be true; two different sources have said with conviction the same thing.

I had a delightful lunch conversation with Michael Irvin last week. He charmed me. If he says the Packers aren't flying under the radar, then I'm sure of it. I'm glad we got this settled because this had been bothering me.

Derek from Madison, WI

You talked about Steelers-Raiders "Holy Wars" of the '70s. Can you explain why this term is used to describe that rivalry and go into detail about how those games changed you?

They had a six-year run and they had taken on the look of the Crusades. They changed me in that they elicited in me emotions that challenged my role as a reporter. I didn't like what I was feeling and it bothered me. The "criminal element" trial was the final straw. At that point, I forced myself to care less. I forced myself to just sit, watch, report, go home. I've never covered anything like those games. They were too intense, too violent to enjoy.

Chris from Chico, CA

How do you feel Tebow played when he took over against the Chargers? I would have liked to see him play more against the Packers.

I wouldn't worry about that.

Ryan from London, England

Someone sent in a question to the television network that shows Sunday Night Football on this side of the pond and he asked, "What is easier, a dome team to play in the open or an open-air team to go play in a dome?" The television analyst didn't have an answer and I wondered what you thought.

It's easier for an open-air team to play in a dome than it is for a dome team to play in open air, depending on the weather circumstances. Here's why: Dome teams tend to build their teams with the idea in mind that they play in a dome. Let's say, for example, you're a dome team that plays in the NFC South. Right away, you know that no fewer than nine of your games every year are going to be played in a dome. At least one other game, at Tampa, will likely be played in warm weather. Does your quarterback have to have a strong arm? No. He won't often face icy winds or have to deal with heavy, wet footballs, until he gets to the playoffs and has to play outdoors in the Northeast or Midwest. Then it becomes a problem, but not if you have homefield advantage you can ride all the way to the Super Bowl, which is exactly what the Colts and Saints did two years ago. Dome teams are built to play in domes and open-air teams are built to play in the elements, and a team built to play in the elements can play in a dome and not have its style compromised, but dome teams playing in the elements often have to change their personality in the postseason.

Brett from Rochester, MN

I was very intrigued to see the Packers put Newhouse at LT and Sherrod at RT after Clifton got injured during the Falcons game. My understanding from reading many pundits' takes on Sherrod was that he was a left tackle only, and not suited to the right side. Do you have any idea why the Packers chose to play those players at those positions?

If you can play left tackle, you can play right tackle and either guard position. There's an old saying: Left tackles go to right tackle and right tackles go to guard. The Packers have five guys that can and have played left tackle, and that's a luxury no other team I've ever covered has enjoyed. Marshall Newhouse was moved to left tackle because that's the premier pass-blocking position and he had already developed a feel for the pace of the game, whereas Derek Sherrod was coming into the game cold and needed some time to get into the flow.

Brian from Dothan, AL

Vic, in regards to your comment on the fact that Russell Wilson lacks size: I was a student at Wisconsin the year Drew Brees, as a senior at Purdue, came into Camp Randall and almost beat the Badgers. He had the same knock on him coming out of college but I distinctly remember thinking he'd do well in the NFL because of his velocity and accuracy with the ball. He seems to have done well considering the fact that he is "too small to play in the NFL." At what point do the pro scouts stop looking at a player's size and instead concentrate on his ability to perform on the field and his leadership qualities?

You've named an undersized quarterback that is successful. Now, quickly, name five more. Brian, Brees is the exception, not the rule, and if you routinely draft exceptions to the rule, the odds are going to catch up to you. Hey, the guy was a second-round pick. What's the problem here? The scouts evaluated him, took note of his lack of size and average-at-best arm strength, and then drafted him in the second round, despite his measurables. So what did they do wrong?

Bruce from Fishers, IN

I see a lot of similarities between the Steelers organization of the '70s and the present-day Packers. Both have stable management teams that excel at identifying talented players. Both have excellent coaching staffs that excel at developing talent, establishing a winning culture and creating a family atmosphere. The Packers certainly seem capable of making the same kind of championship run the Steelers did, as evidenced by player comments from earlier in the season. You are familiar with both organizations. Is this comparison valid?

Yes, it is, but that's where the comparison stops. The Steelers of the '70s were the antithesis of the present-day Packers. The Steelers of the '70s were a defensive-minded, trap-blocking, sledgehammer football team. On defense, they played "Cover Two" behind a 4-3 front that seldom blitzed. The rules did not provide for "defenseless receivers" back then and, with those two safeties sitting in the middle of the field, receivers being sent over the middle felt a lot of anxiety. On offense, they pounded the ball with Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, and when Terry Bradshaw threw the ball, he threw it deep to Lynn Swan and John Stallworth. Bradshaw didn't bother with checkdowns or underneath stuff. The Steelers were the symbol of that decade, much as the present-day Packers are the symbol of this decade. These Packers are a scheme team. They beat you with play-calling and the execution of it. They use the run in an ancillary way. They throw the ball all over the field and they are currently completing 72 percent of their passes, and that's the big difference between football today and football in the '70s. In the '70s, anything over 50 percent was good. The games of the '70s and of today are so radically different from each other, that I don't think a team from either decade could win in the other decade. That's why I resist comparisons; the game has changed that much.

Pat from Allendale, NJ

Why are so many run plays being called when the Packers' strength is clearly passing the ball? I know your previous responses are "like to keep the defense honest," but it seems like even when the run plays aren't working, they keep running the ball. I just feel like they could throw the ball a bit more and leave the scoring to Rodgers and not Crosby.

You sound like a stats guy, so let's take a look at the stats, beginning with 15 consecutive passes in Sunday night's game. What if the Packers ran the ball 15 consecutive times? Yeah. Through five weeks, the NFL average for rushing attempts is 126.4 per team. The Packers have run the ball 125 times. The NFL average for passing attempts is 168.4. The Packers have thrown the ball 181 times. That means the Packers are throwing the ball 59 percent of the time, which doesn't take into account the times Aaron Rodgers has scrambled out of pass formation. A team that throws the ball 59 percent of the time is clearly a passing team.

Daniel from Evanston, IL

Does a pass attempt on a two-point try count toward a quarterback's passing statistics?

No, conversion attempts are untimed downs and are not included in the statistics for that game.

William from Jacksonville, FL

So, a portion of the fan base has gone from worrying about the pass-defense to worrying about going undefeated. Any chance you could predict the next area of focus for these tortured souls?

I'm getting some concern for Jermichael Finley's contract status. As I look into my crystal ball, I see a big game for Finley, followed by an explosion of worry.

Jeff from Cottage Grove, MN

Is this Packers squad, perhaps, the deepest at the skill positions that the NFL has seen since the salary cap/free agency era of the early '90s?

I think the Packers are a feature back away from being that team. No team in that period has had a receiving corps this deep, but I view offenses per the QB/WR/RB trio, and it would be difficult not to acknowledge the Peyton Manning/Marvin Harrison/Edgerrin James 1-2-3 punch.

Robert from Monroe, MI

In regards to the running game, why does a 10-yard run feel better than a pass play that gains the same amount of yards?

Because you whipped them. You sunk your pads into the defense and you moved them. You won the battle of the hitting and it feels great, and the more you do it the better you feel and the worse your opponent feels and at some point his flagging ego might force him to quit. That's what the old game was all about: imposing your will on your opponent. The reason that style of football won't succeed today is because throwing the ball is too easy to do. You can't spend half the game wearing down your opponent with the running game while your opponent's offense is building a lead with its passing game. It is what it is. This is an era for people that enjoy the passing game.

Dan from Columbus, OH

Why do the offense's play-calls sound so complicated? Why not just label the plays by a number instead of using all that jargon?

It didn't used to be that way. Holes were numbered; even numbers were usually to the right and odd numbers to the left. "Wing right nine counter" was a "Wing T" play in which the wingback lined up to the right and took an inside handoff on a play counter to the flow and the wingback was to run at the nine hole, which was outside the left end. "T Four Power" was a "T Formation" play in which the left halfback followed the right halfback and the fullback into the four hole. The Packers of the '60s used such nomenclature, except they numbered the running lanes even to the left and odd to the right, which was probably just to confuse any opponent that thought it had stolen the Packers' play-calls. The Packers sweep to the right was "49" and to the left it was "28." It probably meant the four back through the nine hole and the two back through the eight hole. That's just a guess. The point is that's how simple the jargon was back then. Today's offenses are so much more sophisticated. All of their advanced jargon refers to formations, adjustments, line calls, variations and build-ins. I covered a quarterback named Bubby Brister. He was a real character and a joy to cover because he was such good copy. I was interviewing him with a couple of other reporters in training camp and we asked him about competing for the starting quarterback job. He pointed at our notebooks and said, "Write it down, I'm the man." Beautiful! Anyhow, he was really struggling at understanding Joe Walton's offense and its mountain of terminology. After one game, I asked Bubby to give us an example of the terminology that was troubling him and he came forth with a play-call that provided TV with a five-second sound bite that left the room laughing and his coach, no doubt, furious. Coaches love to strategize. I've never known a playbook to get smaller.

Eric from Foster City, CA

With more and more emphasis on the passing game in the NFL, do you think that will change the games we see in November, December and January? Cold-weather games usually favor the team that runs well, but the best teams right now are the ones that have great passing offenses.

Here's the problem with an offense that's one dimensional: You go to Green Bay or New England in January, the wind is howling and the snow is blowing and a 5-yard completion becomes difficult. Now what are you gonna do? All of a sudden, a whole season of setting records with the passing game is meaningless because the thing you need to do to get to the Super Bowl, is the thing you can't do.

Mike from Saint Paul, MN

What do you think about the fan/player mentality of going 19-0 vs. the adversity of last year?

I think Mike McCarthy offered one of the best answers on dealing with pressure I've ever heard. In yesterday's "Tuesdays with McCarthy," he was asked about having to deal with the stress of being undefeated. His answer is beautiful: "The game of football doesn't really cause me any stress. It's the things surrounding the game that cause stress as a head coach." In other words, he goes about his business each week of preparing for the next game, he and his players put everything they have into winning that game, and then win or lose they quickly move on to the next challenge. That's not stressful, that's enjoyable because he's a football man and that's what football men enjoy doing. The stress only enters if you allow yourself to worry about the outcome and what the public reaction to it might be. That's why players and coaches tend to tune out the media; it's not something that can help them, only increase their anxiety. We're here for the fans, to aid their enjoyment of the game by providing information and a forum for debate and entertainment. If doing that causes you stress, too much stress, then I suggest you do what Coach McCarthy does: Prepare for the next game, watch it and then win or lose move on to the next one. What else can you do?

Mark from Fort Walton Beach, FL

I just read a story about the Packers selling stock again. Do you have any details on when the sale will happen and how much each share will be? More importantly, how will it be sold if there are more buyers than shares to sell?

Here's an official update.

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