Sun, 29 Nov 2020

A tight NFC race is why these early-season wins are so valuable Wes Hodkiewicz

Pete from Chippewa Falls, WI

Seems like the bye week factored into the decisions to sit out Davante Adams and Kenny Clark an extra game. Would the upcoming short week factor into a decision to be similarly extra cautious with Aaron Jones? Given the short turnaround time to face a tough SF team next Thursday night, would the Packers sit Jones against the Vikings on Sunday so that he will be 100% for SF on Thursday?

I don't think so. If Jones really is 100% or something close to it, he'll play against Minnesota. I've heard of teams that'll hold back injured players coming out of a Sunday game before a Thursday night matchup, but never to make sure he's ready for TNF. The Packers want to avoid a needless setback with a player they need to win a championship. Call it caution but that plan obviously worked with Clark and Adams. Soft-tissue injuries are tricky, and some folks cannot see the forest for the trees, but you gotta think long term.

Steve from Palm Springs, FL

Hi Wes and Mike, first I hope you and your families are well. My prediction this week is Marquez Valdes-Scantling will start his incline in this league: Two touchdowns and 100 yards. Who do you like for a great game this week? Go Pack Go.

Valdes-Scantling is a good pick because I'm sure the Vikings will do everything in their power to contain Davante Adams after what he did against them in Week 1. The guy to watch is Jamaal Williams, especially after Jones sat out of practice again on Wednesday. Williams can do it all and he's the type of back who gets better the more he touches the ball.

Patrick from Oronoco, MN

Looks like the Vikings' secondary will be depleted with one player on the COVID list and Mike Hughes is hampered with a neck injury. Do you expect a repeat of the first week's passing success?

Not necessarily. Every game is a new game, but there undoubtedly will be an opportunity created by the presence of Adams - whether it's the extra attention he'll command from Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris or the opportunities Adams can create in one-on-one situations. It's not just what Davante Adams does on the field...it's how the defense must react to him when he's out there.

David from Roswell, GA

Oren Burks is now an OLB? Seems undersized, has he bulked up?

Burks isn't as undersized as you might think at 6-3, 233. Jamari Lattimore played outside linebacker for Green Bay at sub-230. The Packers have pretty much only deployed Burks in the dime defense, as well, so there's a little more grey area there for linebackers than in base or run nickel.

Dana from Eau Claire, WI

What are the Vikings' biggest strengths? I know it's been a surprising first six games for them but they still seem to have talent.

They sure do. Everyone wants to talk about that loss to the Falcons but this team also went tit for tat with Seattle, too. Alexander Mattison ran for 112 yards that day and the defense kept Russell Wilson and Seattle's offense on lockdown in the first half. As the Lions proved in last year's finale, you throw the records out the window with any NFC North matchup.

Tom from Douglassville, PA

Who do you see as our biggest competition in the NFC?

Based on the first seven weeks, I'd say the Packers, Buccaneers and NFC West have gained some early separation but there are threats abound in this conference. I predict it's going to be a very tight race for playoff berths. That's why these early-season wins are so valuable.

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

What is the biggest difference between the Week 1 matchup and this Sunday?

The emergence of Justin Jefferson. He's put some explosive plays on film and that visual has helped lighten the load for the Vikings' other skill-position players. To me, the Packers' pass rush needs to bring its A-game and make life as uncomfortable as possible for Kirk Cousins from the get-go.

Reese from Hays, KS

Is this the deepest Packers team you have ever covered? There have been numerous teams I have thought the Packers had SB potential in their starters but were always one or two injuries away from being average or at least very vulnerable. This year we have already survived injuries to vital players/positions that would have crippled past Packers teams and we haven't really missed a beat (Adams, Jones, David Bakhtiari, Clark, Kevin King). For the first time in years, I haven't gone into panic mode as injuries mount.

Either this one or 2014. That team didn't have to tap into its reserves the way the 2020 club has needed to early on. Ask me again after the season.

Celia from Cudahy, WI

If Kamal Martin, Krys Barnes, and Christian Kirksey are all healthy and active this weekend, is there any chance Kirksey doesn't get the start?

The only thing better than hypothetical questions are hypothetical questions with a hypothetical premise. I don't know, Celia. Wednesday was Kirksey's first practice back. The Packers have 21 days to activate him back to the 53. Martin, for example, practiced for two weeks before returning to face the Texans.

Gary from Sheboygan, WI

Guys, the practice squad used to be a place to develop or hide young inexperienced players for future use on the team. With the ability to bring up a player or two situationally each week, are we seeing more experienced players on the practice squad to take advantage of the new rules?

Somewhat. At least 10 of a team's 16 practice-squad players must be rookies or first-year players who haven't been on an NFL active roster for more than nine games in a season. Four more can be veteran exemptions with no more than two accrued seasons. This year, two others also can have unlimited experience. Billy Winn falls into the last category. The Packers kept him on the practice squad for a month, allowing him to catch up on the playbook, before being signed to the 53 last weekend. As I've said before, I hope that provision is here to stay.

Gavin from Salt Lake, City, UT

Are a QB's progressions set in stone for a given play or is it more fluid than that depending on opponent and game situation?

There's always a first read (and a hot read) built into plays but pre-snap adjustments can affect that. Unless it's like a free play, I think most QBs know where their eyes are going once the ball is snapped.

Matt from London, UK

Like many others, I've been impressed with Montravius Adams this season. When he was drafted in 2017, I remember seeing a quote from a scout that went something like this: "If he's coachable, he could be a Pro Bowler in three years. If he's not coachable, he could be out of the league in three years." Well, three years later, he seems to be somewhere in between but moving in the right direction. How much more upside do you think he has if he continues to improve his technique?

Adams is such an interesting case study because he is in his fourth season but still only 25. And he's definitely coachable. He ranks among the most affable and easiest-going players I've covered. Like I said before, I truly believe it's as simple as Adams staying on the field. Because when he plays, Adams improves.

Paul from Saint Paul, MN

The next two opponents are very good at running the ball. I noticed that all the defensive linemen against Houston doing a good job defending the run. Was the rotation of D-linemen the same in the Houston game than other games this season?

I would argue defensive line is probably the most improved position on either side of the ball for the Packers over the first two months of the season. Getting Kenny Clark back is a big part of that, but Kingsley Keke and Adams both stepped up in his absence. With Tyler Lancaster back at practice Wednesday, I like how that rotation is shaping up.

Mike from Algoma, WI

While I, too, would like to see more from the receivers not No. 17, I thought Equanimeous St. Brown made an impact on special teams (...which is nice).

St. Brown showed a lot of effort as a gunner. That's a promising step. Like Montravius Adams, I want to see him stay healthy, practicing and putting one foot in front of the other.

Charlie from Waukesha, WI

Speaking of great offense. The following popped up in my Facebook memories: "Packers-Vikings Oct. 27, 2013. Wow." "The Packers didn't commit a turnover, they didn't punt and they converted 13-of-18 third-down opportunities. Of the five "failures," they went on to convert on fourth down twice. On the other three, they kicked field goals. Indeed, the Packers scored on their first seven possessions. On their eighth, quarterback Aaron Rodgers kneeled twice to end the game."

The Packers controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes in that game and finished with nearly 500 total yards. The October game against the Vikings that always springs to mind for me is from 2014, though. The Packers were up 42-0 after three quarters and I already was working on my game story for the Press-Gazette. Sheer dominance.

Keith from Wallace, ID

I don't think a lot of us realize how little difference there is in the talent in a draft between the 20th pick and the 80th pick, or the 10th pick and the 30th pick. These are all extremely athletic and talented players. Do you agree?

To some extent. The players who get picked in the first round either test off the charts or possess measurables that align with proven production in college. The further you go in a draft, the more questions there are in regards to a player's long-term upside.

Sandy from Green Bay, WI

It's always great to observe the camaraderie among the players, and I believe that bond can indeed affect performance on the field. Player personalities and efforts no doubt drive the connections, but isn't it also important that the coaching staff and other team personnel create a locker-room dynamic that encourages and supports the cohesiveness on and off the field?

Yes.

Scott from Noblesville, IN

Realizing both II, and before that, Ask Vic, frequently downplayed "extra motivation" compared to constant, steady, professionalism. However, have you experienced interviews and conversations with players as they're experiencing "trade rumors"? Specifically, one wonders about either the "something extra to prove" chip on the shoulder or the "mind is elsewhere" of Harrison Smith on Sunday. It seems to me such a special player with either of those extremes could be a major factor in the game.

No.

Dave from Bentonville, AR

It would seem from afar that home field means less this year with fewer fans, if any, in attendance. Do you know the home-team winning percentage this season compared to recent seasons?

The stats agree with you. Home teams are only 53-51 through the first seven weeks of the season. That being said, I still think home-field advantage exists in this unique year. Think about it - you have these 53-man rosters flying across the country and then being boarded up in a hotel until game time. That's taxing, especially as the season wears on.

Larry from Cumming, GA

Green Bay has only played one good defense and that was a blowout loss. Are we making too much of their 5-1 record?

One good defense? According to whom? The Larry from Cumming, GA, defensive rankings? Again, I don't care if you're talking about the Packers, Bears or Lions. Wins are all that matter and records are a reflection of wins. It all comes out in the wash over a 16-game season.

Bill from Bloomfield Hills, MI

The Robert Tonyan last name story reminded me of a couple athlete gags from the 1960s and 1970s. Gene Tenace of the A's, at his first World Series, telling a reporter he was French and his name was pronounced "te-No-shea" and Frank Ryan, the Browns QB posing for a reporter's photos as if he was left-handed. Have you ever fallen for player pulling your leg about something during your career? Are you sure about the Tun-yin, lol?

Tonyan's family confirmed the proper pronunciation. He's just too nice of a guy to say anything. I don't have any good stories of a player pulling my leg other than the time I asked Tramon Williams if he had two seconds (for an interview). Tramon looked at his watch, counted two seconds and then walked towards the shower. After taking a few steps away, Tramon turned back with a playful smile on his face and asked what I needed.

Joseph from Salt Lake City, UT

What would you deem the Packers' best interest regarding the 'Hawks-Niners game? A Seahawks loss could give us cushion for the one seed provided we do our job on Sunday, but do we want SF to keep their momentum rolling into Thursday? A Niners loss might divert more film time on Monday to cleaning up than preparing for the Pack, but might also add fuel to their fire. Either way we need to be ready for their best, but I'm curious what your Insider take is.

If I'm a Packers fan, I'm rooting for a hotly contested game that drains San Francisco. A lopsided decision either way enables the 49ers to hold players out in the second half. I still pull for San Francisco, if I'm you. Maybe you guys will disagree but I've never been a big believer in momentum in the NFL. Teams vary so much week-to-week. The Packers can't do anything about the Seahawks but they do control their own destiny against San Francisco. A 49ers win Sunday and a Packers win Thursday helps put Green Bay in the driver's seat in the conference.

Cindy from Oshkosh, WI

How concerned should we be for our players that Houston has closed its facility due to a player testing positive for COVID-19?

It's something to be mindful of but the Packers have had all negative tests so far this week. They've been in communication with the league and were given the green light to practice Wednesday.

Bette from Chamberlain, SD

Do you get tested daily for COVID?

Correct.

Mike from Chamberlain, SD

Do you get tested daily for COVID?

Ask Bette.

Elliot from Hopkins, MN

Not implying we should make any trades but if we trade for Player X who is owed $3 million over the rest of the season, would that mean we would have $3 million less to spend on our own players for next season?

Well, if you go out for dinner instead of eating at home, you have to pay the bill. At least, that's what my papa taught me.

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