Paul Imig’s Oct. 17 Packers mailbag

Here are all of the answers to this week’s questions in the latest edition of Packers Mailbag:

Q: The Packers rank in the top 5 in all categories except passing yards against, which I think I read they were ranked 22nd. (Note: Actually ranked 28th.) The secondary of the Packers as a group is terrible.  They can’t tackle. They were outrun by a TE on one play on Sunday. They looked confused, slow and sluggish against the Ravens.  Do you think the Packers can win it all with this group?

— Daniel Crawford, Kalamazoo
A: The biggest concern with Green Bay’s secondary right now is having only two interceptions, which ties them for 28th in the NFL. Only one team (the New York Jets) has one interception, so the Packers are dangerously close to last place in the league in this category. Compared to the 10 interceptions that the NFL-leading Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills each have and it’s clear how big the discrepancy currently is. Turnovers change everything.
So, while Green Bay definitely needs to improve its pass defense, adding to the interception total would make a big difference.
And, though the Packers’ numbers are poor as a pass defense, Sam Shields is an emerging No. 1 type of cornerback, Davon House is solid on the outside and Micah Hyde played really well in nickel packages against Baltimore. I think they have the players to make the necessary improvements.
Q: Tramon Williams is an absolute liability when it comes to tackling.  He won’t engage with his shoulder and tries to arm tackle everything.  There is no way he is back next year with Sam Shields becoming the #1 corner and demanding a long term extension as well.  Jerron McMillian is another guy that needs to improve or he is gone.  He is lost in coverage and gave up the 4 and 21 to Baltimore.  When is Chris Banjo going to get some more pt?
— Dan K, Madison
Q: Tramon Williams has become a liability now. Looks to me like he just can’t / won’t tackle. Is it time to move on with some of the younger guys?
— Jim Cockcroft, La Habra, California
A: I don’t think the Packers are going to bench Tramon Williams anytime soon. Williams did have a play in Baltimore where he allowed a stiff arm to take him out of making the tackle, which cost Green Bay at least 20 additional yards.
Williams has been fine this season so far. Overall, he hasn’t been good, but he hasn’t been a negative contributor. However, the same is true of Davon House and Micah Hyde, who have had their moments but also haven’t been consistent enough to justify a major shakeup in the secondary rotation that involves Williams’ role declining. Perhaps Casey Hayward’s return could change that. 
Q: What do you think about benching Jerron McMillian when/if Casey Hayward comes back? McMillian has regressed noticeably from last year throughout the preseason and regular season, he has not tackled well and he rivals Jarrett Bush as having virtually no instincts when the ball is in the air down after down.  I can’t even see him in the dime defense any longer.
— Lou, Kohler, WI
A: To wrap this question into the two above it, yes, it’s impossible to ignore McMillian’s struggles in coverage. McMillian came into the NFL with the reputation of a safety who was a willing tackler and big hitter but needed a lot of work in coverage. Well, 18 months since the Packers drafted him, it’s the same story.
With Chris Banjo continuing to prove himself worthy of playing time and with Hayward returning soon, I think McMillian’s playing time could be drastically reduced in the coming weeks.
Q: As the injuries mount and guys are stepping up to fill in quite impressively, my biggest concern is what to do when our backups are depleted. I’m totally impressed at how seamless (for the most part) the reserves have been. It’s a testament to the organization to not only have the talent on hand but the players being coached up enough to keep the team competitive enough to play with anybody! My biggest concern is running out of players to plug in since we haven’t hit the halfway point of the season.
What criteria is needed to decide who gets first choice of players off of another teams practice squad?
— Bill S. Manitowoc
A: It’s good timing for this question because the Packers reportedly tried to sign Denver Broncos practice squad wide receiver Tavarres King this week, while Green Bay lost its own practice squad receiver Charles Johnson to the Cleveland Browns.
Any player on any team’s practice squad can be signed by any other team to its active roster. So, when the Browns contacted Johnson, it’s up to Johnson whether he wants to sign with Cleveland or stay with the Packers’ practice squad. Or, Johnson can tell Green Bay that the Browns want to sign him and then see if the Packers offer up an active roster spot. That is reportedly what happened with King this week, that when the Broncos found out that King was offered an active roster job in Green Bay, Denver then “matched it” by signing King to their own active roster.
Another example of this was late in the 2011 season when the Buffalo Bills tried to sign quarterback Graham Harrell off the Packers’ practice squad, but instead of losing Harrell then, Green Bay promoted him to its active roster.
I hope that makes sense.
Q: With Cobb out, will Green Bay try to get another receiver by trade or off the practice squad?
— Jim
Q: With Cobb out indefinitely, and unknown time with Jones, is there any chance they will look at re-signing Donald Driver considering the kind of shape he keeps himself in?
— Jim Easton, Wisconsin Rapids, WI

Q: Who do the Packers go to if Cobb’s and Jones’ injuries are serious?
— Robert, Beloit, WI
A: With Cobb placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, he can’t play in a game again until Week 15 at Dallas. James Jones’ injury isn’t nearly as bad, and while it’s possible that he misses this weekend’s game against Cleveland, it won’t keep him out long.
The Packers called up practice squad receiver Myles White to the active roster, which is the move that I expected them to make. As much as some fans would have loved to see Donald Driver play again, I never thought a return was going to happen. Also, while some general managers might have explored trades for receivers like New York’s Hakeem Nicks or Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, Ted Thompson is not that general manager. Draft and develop isn’t a catchy phrase for Thompson, it’s how he insists on building Green Bay’s roster. That’s why it was Myles White’s turn.
Q: Do you think Aaron Rodgers may be feeling pressure to live up to his big contract?  I felt on one occasion against the Ravens he should have run for an easy first down rather attempt a difficult on the run throw to J-Mike.  It wasn’t a typical A-Rod decision.
— Mike Barbiaux

Q: Do you think the money has gone to Rodgers head? I know you’re going to say the injuries in the game to the wideouts was the real problem, but he was stinking it up before that.
— Elroy, De Pere, WI

Q: Let’s face it: Rodgers is having a down year (for him). The unreal pinpoint accuracy and timing is just not there. I trust he will come around because we are going to need the unconscious in-the-zone Rodgers to go deep in the playoffs. My question is, do you think the new emphasis on the running game is throwing off Rodgers’ ability to “get into a groove”?
— Mike, Saranac Lake
A: Aaron Rodgers is a former NFL MVP, a Super Bowl champion and signed the richest per-year contract ever. That means Rodgers has raised the bar for himself to potentially unreachable levels, at least unreachable on a consistent basis. So, with Rodgers now having three games in a row in which he’s only thrown one touchdown pass, it is alarming. 
As for how the Packers’ greatly improved running game has affected Rodgers, it should only help him. It’s strange that Green Bay has become such a good running team while Rodgers has struggled (by his standards). But no, having a good rushing attack should definitely not hinder Rodgers from getting into a groove.
As far as how his contract is playing into this, I don’t think it is at all. It’s not about the money “going to his head,” but expectations have justifiably been raised due to his past success. When Rodgers doesn’t reach his previous record-setting marks (which he hasn’t been), it’s fair to question what’s going on. But I don’t believe the answer has anything to do with his contract.

Q: Can’t help but watch this “new” Packers offense and wonder if McCarthy has any idea how to use their rushing weapons. The Ravens game started out like gangbusters w/ Lacy bursting out of the gates and then nothing. Same old same old. I really have to question McCarthy’s play calling. Anybody could call Rodgers pass, Rodgers pass, Rodgers pass, but he (McCarthy) seems disoriented w/ a more complex offense and it’s too bad because these guys could be very very good. Any thoughts?
— Bill Gailbreath, Madison
A: It’s certainly true that Lacy’s biggest runs in Baltimore were early in the game, but keep in mind that his performance late in the game helped the Packers ice their victory. Discussions about McCarthy’s play-calling have become a hot topic in recent weeks, but as it pertains to the running game, it’s difficult to find much fault. Green Bay has finished no better than 20th in NFL rankings as a rushing offense since 2009. This season, the Packers are ranked third in yards per carry and fifth in rushing yards per game. The key for McCarthy and Green Bay’s offense is getting Rodgers to play at an elite level at the same time that the Packers are running the ball well, and those two haven’t overlapped yet.
Q: Even though the Pack has a top 5 rushing offense, why doesn’t McCarthy look to run more on 3rd and short? They will need to convert more 3rd-and-shorts to get where they want to be this year.
— Chris, Atlanta
A: Through five games this season, the Packers are ranked 15th in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage (37.9 percent). For comparison purposes, Denver is No. 1 at 57.5 percent and Jacksonville is last at 29.9 percent. So, Green Bay has been average on third downs.
However, yes, I agree and have found it strange when the Packers have gone for shot plays down the field instead of just trying to pick up the first down with a running play. Perhaps with the lack of success Green Bay has had in this area so far that McCarthy and Rodgers will take a different approach and run it more on third-and-short.
Q: How can the Packers continue to give up third and fourth and longs?  Over the years it seems we have surrendered impossible first downs / TDs that have led to heart-breaking losses. Although this time the Pack won, this game should have never come down to the last seconds as it did. Your thoughts?
— Bob, Denver
A: Obviously what happened on Baltimore’s fourth-and-21 play was unacceptable, and it was mostly the fault of McMillian. However, the Packers are ranked 9th in the NFL this season as a defense in getting a stop on third down. That’s quite good. 
Q: With Nick Perry having 2 good games at ROLB now, I think the Packers, for at least the rest of this year should keep him there, and when Matthews returns, have him play LOLB.  Matthews is going to be limited to some extent when he returns.  He’ll have to play w/ a club on his hand. — Do you think it might be best to keep Matthews at LOLB beyond this year?  When Matthews played LOLB during the SB season he still excelled, while Perry seems like much more of a pass rusher when at ROLB. — Bottom line is Perry seems to play much better on the right side, while Matthews has shown he will excel no matter where he plays?  So far the results speak for themselves.
— Stroh, AZ
A: Perry admitted this season that yes, he’s more comfortable rushing from the right side. Now that Perry is out for at least one game (and perhaps longer) and Matthews won’t be back for a few more weeks, the Packers have time to ponder this situation. But I would agree that it seems best to put Perry where he’s most effective (the right side) and assume that Matthews can be productive rushing from anywhere on the field.
Q: Update on Datone Jones please.  Did we make a mistake in taking him first round?  You would think per our depleted LB and shifting our D-line that Datone’s name would be making game stats, press, etc..
Thanks Paul and keep up the great job in covering the “Pack.”
— Dave R, Valley City, ND
A: It’s far too early to say whether the Packers made a mistake in drafting Datone Jones in the first round. Based on what he showed early in training camp, I thought Jones was going to be an instant-impact performer. So, from that standpoint, he’s been an early disappointment. But look at how effective Nick Perry was in recent games this season before his foot injury. That could be Jones next season, or perhaps even later this season. With Green Bay’s stacked defensive line and so many of them currently outperforming Jones, he may not get a lot of opportunities to prove himself until next season.
** Thanks for the questions this week. We’ll do it again next Thursday (Oct. 24) by dissecting the Packers-Browns game and looking ahead to the Packers traveling to Minnesota to face the Vikings in Week 8. **

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