Brian: 1. Earlier this season, Aaron Rodgers was getting sacked at an alarming rate. What changes have the Packers made to better protect him, and what, if anything, has Rodgers done to help avoid sacks?
Bill: A few things have led to Rodgers being sacked only eight times in the last five games after tasting the turf 41 times in the first nine games. First, they re-signed veteran Mark Tauscher at midseason. Tauscher missed the last month of last season with a torn ACL and he's really solidified things at right tackle. He hasn't been dominant but he knows what he's doing and rarely gets beaten in such as a way that Rodgers has no chance to escape. Second, veteran left tackle Chad Clifton is back after missing time twice with a sprained ankle. Not only is he playing but he's practicing, which is important for him and the continuity of the group. Third, third-down back Brandon Jackson has turned into an excellent blocker when the defense blitzes. And finally, Rodgers is throwing more quick-hitting passes. Put it together, and it's made a huge difference.
Brian: Seahawks fans are probably going to be a bit envious about how early, and how often, the Packers involve tight end Jermichael Finley in the offense. What can you tell us about him, and are the Packers really upset about how prominent his role in the offense now is?
TE Jermichael Finley.
Keith Srakocic/AP Images
Brian: The Packers' defense lost two veterans (Aaron Kampman, Al Harris) against San Francisco in Week 10. How have their replacements (Tramon Williams, Brad Jones) fared, and what's been different since those two entered the starting lineup?
Bill: Jones, a rookie seventh-round pick, has been tremendous in place of Kampman at left outside linebacker. Jones officially weighs 232 but he's held up remarkably well in the running game and he never runs himself out of a play. On Sunday against Pittsburgh, he had two sacks, and the Packers like his athleticism so he can drop into coverage — a prerequisite for a 3-4 outside linebacker. It's a different story at cornerback, where the problem isn't so much Williams as it is the guys who have to move up the depth chart. Jarrett Bush moved up from the rarely used fourth cornerback to the third corner. Considering teams run more three-receiver sets than anything these days, Bush is playing about 65 percent of the time. The Steelers exploited him for two big plays. Josh Bell has moved up from gameday inactive/special-teamer to fourth corner, and he gave up the winning touchdown by being slightly out of position.
Brian: Clay Matthews has been making a late-season surge towards the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, if not NFL Rookie of the Year, and B.J. Raji was a popular guy in Seattle before the draft. Has it been surprising that Matthews, the later of the two first-round picks, has been so good, so quickly, and hasn't Raji made a bigger splash?
LB Clay Matthews III.
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Brian: Despite last week's stomach-punching loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Packers appear headed for the postseason. How deep into the playoffs do you see this team going in January?
Bill: I hope this doesn't sound like I'm ducking the question, but I can see the Packers getting to the Super Bowl. I also can see them getting beaten soundly in the first playoff game. Look at the NFC playoff picture. You've got New Orleans destined to be the No. 1 seed. The Saints aren't playing their best ball and that's a franchise with a dreadful playoff history. The Vikings figure to be the No. 2 seed but have lost two of their last three and — sorry, Brett Favre fans — the quarterback has a lousy playoff history over the last decade. Honestly, I'm not a fan of either team in the playoffs, but playing in a dome is a huge edge. The Eagles might be the most dangerous team, but I'm not sure they have the receiver depth to exploit the Packers' weakness in the secondary. The Cardinals are an up-and-down team but their receiving depth would be a nightmare. Really, you can toss the six NFC playoff teams into a hat, pick a team and make a good case for it getting to the Super Bowl. Maybe because the Steelers game is fresh in my mind, I'd say they lose a shootout at Arizona or Philadelphia in the wild-card round.