LB Clay Matthews

Tom from Waukesha, WI

You said teams at the top have spent some years at the top of the draft acquiring their key players. The Packers have spent the majority of the last decade at the bottom of the first round, yet, they’re still a perennial contender. Is this simply because Ted Thompson is that good at what he does?

That’s part of it. It also helps that they’ve transitioned at quarterback from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, and they were lucky to get Rodgers late in the first round. Never underestimate the value of being lucky. The Packers, however, took advantage of being high in the draft a few times in recent years. They were high in the draft in 2006 when they made A.J. Hawk the fifth overall pick, and then used their position in the second round to trade back and pick Greg Jennings. They were high in the draft in 2009 when they made B.J. Raji the ninth overall pick, and then used their position in the second round to trade into the first round and pick Clay Matthews. Ted Thompson is the best draft-day trader I’ve covered. Everybody needs a little time at the top.

Bob from Annandale, MN

How tough is it to go to Denver and play in the high altitude?

It must be difficult because a lot of attention has been dedicated to it through the years. There was a theory that the altitude didn’t get to you until you were in Denver for 24 hours, so teams started flying into Denver late the day before the game, but the league didn’t like that – they wanted teams at their destinations early enough the previous day to guard against travel problems. Outside the visitors’ locker room door in Denver, positioned so it’s the first thing you see when you leave the locker room, the exact altitude of the field is painted on the wall, to remind players of the rigors of playing at a mile high in the air.

Todd from St. Paul, MN

Vic, seriously, what, if anything, can our interior linemen do to stop Detroit’s defensive line?

I’m going to assume you won’t be satisfied by the answer, “Block them.” I’m going to assume you want me to provide some scheme suggestions. OK, here are a few: Run some draws to try and catch them up the field. Get them moving sideways with some stretch plays. Cut-block them to create some hesitation in their charge. Most of all, make them play the run. If you’re one-dimensional and they can pin their ears back, it could be a long day.

James from LaPorte, CO

Do college sports make money for universities or lose money?

Football and basketball are money-makers in the big schools. They support the other varsity sports. When it’s all said and done, however, even the biggest of the big schools don’t make anywhere near what the big research schools make in research grants. That’s where the big money is, in academics. Hey, Maryland’s and Rutgers’ athletic departments are in dire financial straits, and they have company.

Mark from Dodgeville, MI

The Ravens trade for a 26-year-old, quality LT and only have to give up third-day picks. Did the rest of the league, including Ted, miss a prime opportunity to snag Monroe? Even though he will be a free agent after the season, you can never have enough quality OL.

I’ve been writing it and saying it for years and it never seems to sink in: Picks, not players. It’s been that way for all the years I’ve covered the NFL. Draft picks are treated as pieces of gold. That’s not to say trades for players don’t work, it’s just to say that they are the exception to the rule. Fans always overrate the value of players. Frankly, I think teams need to change their thinking on this subject because the salary cap, in my opinion, is making players more attractive to acquire in trades. Eugene Monroe’s proration, for example, stays in Jacksonville, so the Ravens are effectively renting a premium-position player for 12 games. It’s like renting a house – no mortgage, no closing costs, insurance costs, taxes, etc. At the end of the season, they can give it up and leave the “house,” or try to buy it.

Shon from West Fargo, ND

Please educate me, Vic. It appears some versions of no-huddle offenses in the NFL work, while others don’t. Why are Peyton Manning’s and Tom Brady’s versions so successful, while Chip Kelly’s version is easier for a defense to overcome? What’s the key difference?

Manning and Brady have better plays.

Bernabe from Monterrey, Mexico

Vic, I was reading an article about Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the greatest managers in football soccer history, and he mentioned exactly what you believe, in the youth movement. It’s an interesting interview and he talks about what made him a good manager. Maybe you want to give it a read, because I love both sports and it’s amazing how alike they are in several areas, like players, not plays, and replacement, not maintenance.

May I use my hands to turn the pages?

QB Brett Favre

Ben from Hudson, WI

I know you weren’t covering the Packers when he was playing, but what is your fondest memory of Brett Favre?

It’s probably his first start, which I had the distinction of having covered. He was sensational that day. I also have another fond memory of Favre, but it’s not for football. I’m a grass-cutting maniac. I’m obsessed with it. It’s been that way since I was a little kid and the neighbor squealed on me to my parents that I was trying to start the lawnmower. Something about lawnmowers excite me. When I walk into a lawn and garden center, I always go right to the lawnmowers. Well, I needed a new lawnmower a few years ago and I saw this advertisement with Favre’s picture on it, and above his picture it said, “Live to mow.” That went right to my heart and I bought the lawnmower. I guess the old gunslinger and I have something in common. I feel the connection.

Ryan from Fredericton, NB

Vic, another player other than the center can snap the ball? Can any position on the line of scrimmage snap the ball?

Yes. It’s a trick play that is easily defeated by calling a timeout. It’s a way of creating an unbalanced line without moving the personnel, only the ball as it relates to the personnel, so the defense has to be on its toes. If the defense hesitates, it can get caught with too few defenders to one side of the formation. I’ve seen it used on the goal line.

Paul from Monroe, MI

I guess I’m one of these people who misconstrued the coin toss, probably because my understanding of the game was shaped largely by TV announcers. I thought it had one moving part: kick or receive. Then the team not winning the coin toss took its turn (to kick or receive) with the second half. But now you say there are multiple moving parts and it is not as clear a choice. OK, what happens at the beginning of the second half? Any more choices?

The choices are the same, except you can’t defer your choice. Kick, receive or defend a goal; those are the choices. Paul, don’t feel bad. My inbox is jammed with letters such as yours. The coin toss process is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the game of football, and the NFL worsened the situation when it added “defer” to the options.

Jim from Brooklyn, NY

Vic, Mike Pereira said the NFL may adapt a new rule about blood. Last week J.J. Watt cut the upper part of his nose and made quite a scene on TV. I know I should change my culture and embrace change, but as the NFL tries to change its brand, the image of players with blood streaming down their faces will likely become extinct makes me sad. Maybe I watched too many NFL Films as a kid.

We need more rules and less blood.

Ben from New Orleans, LA

Is the Levi Brown trade an example of the Steelers patching with castoffs or clinging or trying to make their old team relevant one more time? That’s an awfully expensive castoff.

It’s none of that. It’s survival. You can’t play without a left tackle, at least not without subjecting your quarterback, who is all over your cap, to career-threatening abuse. You owe it to him as an expression of humaneness to provide somebody who might provide even a momentary obstacle to your opponents’ blindside pass rush. Ben Roethlisberger was fortunate to have begun his career playing behind a great offensive line, but he’s spent the last seven seasons of his career playing behind mush. I’ve never seen a quarterback take the pounding Roethlisberger has. If he wasn’t built like an oak tree, he wouldn’t still be playing. You gotta get the big guys early. How many times have I written that? How do you get the big guys early when you’re always drafting late?

Michael from Madison, WI

Man, what an edge Coach McCarthy had in Wednesday’s press conference.

I loved it.

Mark from Sheboygan Falls, WI

Vic, did you ever get to cover a game at County Stadium, and what did you think of it?

I covered one there in 1975. It was a baseball park. It kind of reminded me of covering a game at Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota.

Ben from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, overall, I totally agree with your philosophy of staying young, but why don’t you think the Packers operate a little more like the Patriots?

Nobody, including the Patriots, want to operate that way. Chuck Noll said “You don’t build through the waiver wire,” and the Patriots’ original dynasty was built through the draft. Years and years of winning and drafting near the bottom of the order and having to reward their core players with bigger contracts have forced the Patriots to do what they’re doing, which is to say finding players on the street and in cheap free agency, etc. Bill Belichick does more with less than any coach I have ever known. He’s the great patcher. The Packers haven’t reached the point, yet, of having to do that, but if they stay at the top of the standings for as long as the Patriots have, the Packers will probably have to do some patching, too. They did a good job of it in 2010.

Ryan from Greenfield, WI

Can you explain the one-point safety? I remember seeing it once in a college game.

It’s called a try safety. During a try, the placekick holder fumbles. A defender kicks, bats or muffs the loose ball and it goes out of bounds behind the goal line. Award one point to the offense. Remember, the defense cannot score during a try.

Lions DT Ndamukong Suh

Dennis from Plymouth, MN

Vic, the Lions stunt their defensive tackles. Can this create running lanes between the tackles, potentially allowing for big gains on the ground?

It sure can. Stunting defensive tackles is a scheme based on an old-time defensive strategy known as “cross hands.” It was the foundation of George Perles’ “stunt 4-3” creation. “Cross hands” is very good at creating penetration and disruption. It can take over a game if the offense can’t get those guys blocked, but “cross hands” can also get a defense creased by splitting those tackles and getting a hat on the middle linebacker. That’s the problem with “cross hands.” Perles remedied that problem by turning one of his defensive tackles sideways over the guard and center. He created a “cross hands” look without the risk of getting creased. The “stunt 4-3” also kept the blockers off the middle linebacker and allowed him to scrape to the ball. The Lions are very active up front and Nick Fairley got a lot of stats against the Packers last year, but Ndamukong Suh is what makes the Lions’ “cross hands” version work because Suh holds the point. Watch Suh on Sunday. By the way, don’t forget to send your questions to “Ask Vic Halftime” on Sunday, during the first half of the game.

Daniel from Houston, TX

Vic, your explanation of why you would choose to kick at the beginning of each half is not good enough to keep the rule. Let’s get rid of it. There’s one less rule we have to worry about.

I like the intrigue, especially as it pertains to weather conditions. It’s not a difficult rule to understand. Hey, if we can know all the right plays to call, can’t we learn what to do on the coin toss?


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