Paul Imig’s Oct. 30 Packers mailbag

This week's Packers mailbag includes a barrage of questions about Green Bay's struggling defense -- namely, the porous run defense.

Rogelio Solis/Rogelio Solis/Associated Press

It’s time for this week’s edition of Packers Mailbag. The mailbag will return after the bye, look for your opportunity to submit questions after Green Bay’s next game. Nov. 9 vs. Chicago.

On to this week’s questions and answers …

Question: Is it time to give mike McCarthy a random drug test? An early on side kick that failed and going for it on 4th down while on our own end of the field and turning it over in downs put this game out of reach. — Ben Spencer

Question: Do you think mm is in panic mode or what. Team not prepared against the top teams. On side kick, should have punted 4th and 1. Capers defense sucks, week to week. I just don’t think we have the talent to compete against the top teams. We need free agency help but won’t go get it. And I don’t want to hear about injuries, everybody has it. If we make the playoffs we are a one and done team. Hope I am wrong, but it does not look good. – Lynn, Rockford, Ill.

Answer: Those were certainly questionable decisions at the time. And, of course, in hindsight, given that neither of those two situations worked for the Packers, it makes it easier to question. My criticism of the way McCarthy managed the game was that he seemed to be playing like a 10-point underdog. Considering Green Bay was 5-2 and the Saints were 2-4 (and desperate for a win), the Packers likely would’ve been better off just playing their game and forcing New Orleans to try that risky stuff.

Q: Lets face it, without Rodgers at his best the Packers are an average team at best. We still can’t stop the run and that will not change. So who is to blame for our poor run defense, the players or management who drafted them? – Scott, Hudsonville

Q: will the lack of defense stopping the run be a season long problem? or can this be fixed with the personnel they have? Will this cost them as the weather gets colder down the stretch. – Vern, Fall Creek

Q: Why does this team continually struggle to stop the run? Is it the inside linebackers? or the defense as a whole? – Karl, Eau Claire

Q: Can the run defense be fixed? How can they fix the tackling problem if they don’t tackle in practice? Is the offense on this team a better defense? (out score the opponents) – Robert, Altoona

Q: Can the run defense get any better? This has been a big problem for a few years now, what are the biggest issues in this area aside from poor tackling? or is this the best they can be with the talent they have? Is it poor coaching or poor player execution or both? – Mark, Hallie

Q: If the Packers fail to correct the run defense will Capers be on the hot seat? or is this more on the players not the coaches? – Jim, Osseo

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A: Certainly there is blame to go around to each party. The front office and coaching staff didn’t plan on B.J. Raji being out all season or on Datone Jones missing three games (and counting). Letroy Guion has stepped up in recent weeks after a rough start, while Mike Pennel and Luther Robinson have done as well as two undrafted rookies could have been reasonably expected to perform. Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers have not been good enough against the run on the edges, and the trio of inside linebackers haven’t done enough in their roles, either.

Q: Talk me off the ledge. We keep hearing how improved our defense is, and when is the last time one team in the same season never forced a punt in 2 of their first 8 games? We are just plain awful on defense! Is there any hope that we can beat the good teams with the kind of defense we play? Or does our offense have to play flawless every time? – Mary, Michigan

A: Green Bay did stop New Orleans on a fourth down play, which is better than forcing a punt. In the second half of the Packers’ Week 4 game in Chicago, the Bears didn’t punt because Green Bay’s defense had two interceptions and forced a turnover on downs. Again, those are better results than forcing a punt. How’d I do in talking you off the ledge, Mary? The Packers’ pass defense has been mostly good, but the run defense is ranked as the worst in the NFL. It’s possible, of course, that Green Bay’s defense wins a game (the defense deserved to win Week 3 in Detroit), but this is a team that will more often than not need Aaron Rodgers and the offense to carry it to victories.

Q: Paul, I don’t want to sound like the kind of person that furiously calls for the collective heads of Ted Thompson and Dom Capers after every Green Bay loss, but then I ran across this quote by Capers following the thumping by the Saints in prime time on Sunday: "I’ve seen us through the first half of the season play pretty good run defense, so I feel like we can… You look at last night, you might question it a little bit." Perhaps it’s just me, but the Defensive Coordinator of an NFL team feeling "pretty good" about his team’s play that has never been better than 30th place, and is currently dead last has surely lost his competitive fire, and probably doesn’t belong on the Packers’ coaching staff. Am I wrong? – Chad, Salt Lake City

A: I don’t see that as a lack of competitive fire, but it’s interesting that someone interprets it that way. As Capers said in that quote, questioning the run defense after the Saints game doesn’t require much analysis, as the Packers made Mark Ingram (who only had one 100-yard game in his first 3 1/2 NFL seasons) look like an All-Pro. Capers has remained confident about his run defense throughout most parts of this season, but it’s difficult to justify such positivity when ranking last in the NFL.

Q: Is this a playoff caliber team? Will inside linebacker be a top priority in the off season? – Steve, Duluth

A: Yes, it is a playoff team. Don’t let the loss to the Saints distort your view of the Packers too much. Even if Green Bay loses three more games this season, it’d still be a 10-6 record, which would likely be good enough for a playoff berth. If things continue in the second half of the season in a similar way to what happened in the first eight games, 10-6 seems like a worst-case scenario for the Packers. Now, how far can they get into the postseason if certain aspects (primarily the run defense) don’t improve? Probably not as far as they want.

And yes, it’s difficult to imagine inside linebacker not being the top priority for Green Bay this offseason.

Q: Will Eddie Lacy gain over 1000 yds this season? – Walter, Beloit

A: Eddie Lacy is at 428 rushing yards at the midpoint of the season, which has him on pace for 848 yards. But Lacy is trending in the right direction after a rough stretch in the first four games. He’s only averaging 13 carries per game, though. And, if it continues at that rate, Lacy would need to average 5.5 yards per rushing attempt in the second half of the season to finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards. Averaging 5.5 yards per carry is extremely unlikely, meaning Lacy will need the ball more than 13 times per game to reach 1,000 yards this season.

Q: Will the Packers win their division? – Chuck, Ft. Atkinson

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A: Well, the Lions are certainly in better position to win the NFC North right now. Detroit is 6-2 and owns a win over Green Bay. It also makes it easy to think the Lions will keep their success going considering their defense is one of the best in the NFL. The division could very well come down to the Week 17 rematch, this time at Lambeau Field.

Q: With the way the defense has been playing, would it be worth trying Clay Matthews at inside LB? How they are using him now isn’t working. Are the defensive problems physical or technical? – Lawson, Glenwood City

A: Taking away Matthews as a pass-rusher off the edge takes away his best skill. If I ran the defense, I wouldn’t try to fix the worst aspect of it by moving one of the best players to a different spot. Capers is clearly searching for answers at inside linebacker, though, using Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington all in the starting lineup this season. There’s a lot that needs to improve at that position, and Matthews needs to be better in the second half of the season than he was in the first, but joining those two parts doesn’t seem like the way to go.

Q: Paul you said Wed. on the Bill Michaels show that the Packers won’t face a top 12 rushing offense the rest of the season (great segment by the way) Other than not allowing these teams to run all over them, how will they know if they have truly solved their problems before facing the better teams in the playoffs? What offseason changes need to be made to fix the problem? – Louie, Chippewa Falls

A: Thanks, Louie. The Packers won’t know if they’ve fixed the run defense until their first (hypothetical) playoff game, or perhaps even after that if they face a lesser rushing offense in that game. Shut down DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys on the ground, then they’d know they’re OK. But if I knew how to fix the Packers run defense this offseason, I’d be in the front office. It definitely won’t be an easy fix and will take more than just one or two minor changes.

Q: I’m sure 90% of your questions this week, Paul, are about the defense so I’m going to go in an entirely different direction and just remind everyone that Matt Flynn is the best back-up Mike McCarthy can come up with. Scary as hell and it should tell us a lot about the mind set we have in this coaching staff. What did he have to lose playing Scott Tolzein? – B. Gailbreath, Madison

Q: Is it time to give Scott Tolzien a chance at backup? Matt Flynn didn’t seem to generate much offense when he came in, or is that because he gets limited reps during the week? Are both Flynn and Tolzien close in comparison or does Flynn get the edge with the knowledge of the offense? – Leroy, Eau Claire

A: Matt Flynn hasn’t had to play in anything other than garbage time this season, but he’s certainly not played well in those situations. McCarthy is obviously very confident in Flynn. He has to be in order to justify the decision to choose Flynn over Scott Tolzien as the top backup based on what the two of them did in preseason and training camp. It would likely take more than just a poor performance by Flynn when a game is out of reach to convince McCarthy to go with Tolzien.

** And that’s all for this week. As always, keep sending questions in and we’ll do this again in two weeks. **

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