Sunday, January 30, 2011
XLV: Yes, the Packers love playing indoors
By Kevin Seifert
What follows is some unfiltered Super Bowl XLV truth. Go ahead, rub your eyes. Shed your historic stereotypes and recognize this unmistakable reality: The offense that plays in the NFL's coldest outdoor stadium is at its best when locked up in the sterile conditions of a dome.
To be sure, the Packers have produced big numbers in all venues since quarterback Aaron Rodgers took over as their starter in 2008. But even on that scale, their performance in 12 indoor games over that span has been unreal. It provides a substantial subtext for Super Bowl XLV, which will be played on the newest generation of artificial turf and with the roof closed at Cowboys Stadium.
The charts below provide the details of what Jennings and Rodgers, in particular, have done indoors since the start of 2008. Here is a snippet:
The Packers have averaged 31.8 points in those 12 games. That figure jumps to 33.7 if you discard a 3-point performance this season in Week 14 at Detroit's Ford Field, where Rodgers departed in the second quarter after suffering a concussion.
Greg Jennings has used the word "smile" multiple times when describing the Packers' play indoors.
They have exceeded 40 points in both of their indoor postseason games, scoring 45 points last year against the Arizona Cardinals and 48 earlier this month against the Atlanta Falcons.
Rodgers has thrown 26 touchdowns against five interceptions in those 12 games en route to a 111.1 passer rating.
Jennings has at least 100 receiving yards in seven of the 12 games, including three of the four in 2010.
Overall, the Packers are 6-6 in those games, but it would be hard to blame the offense for many of the losses. It has produced at least 27 points in nine of the 12 games.
It's only fair to point out the Packers will face one of the NFL's top defenses in the Super Bowl; the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed the lowest point total in the NFL this season (232) and are holding opponents to an average of 207 yards per game in the playoffs. (In their only dome game of 2010, the Steelers gave up 305 passing yards to New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in a 20-10 loss.)
Asked last week about his clear affinity for playing indoors, Jennings used the word "smile" two more times in what was a 100-word answer.
Greg Jennings In Domes (2010)
"I mean, you go from playing in Chicago in January, late January, to Dallas and they close you inside a dome," Jennings said. "You can't do anything but smile. Obviously the surface is going to be perfect. The atmosphere is going to be unmatched.
"You can just smile. It's going to be exciting. Obviously we play well inside. But in a game like this, game of this magnitude, it [wouldn't] matter if we had to play in the park. Guys are going to bring their A-game and guys are going to come well prepared."
Perhaps. But it's clear the Packers are drawing a deep level of confidence from their recent performances in similar conditions. Of course, I would imagine that most offensive skill players would choose an indoor track over the unpredictability of weather and grass field conditions. But the Packers have demonstrated an obvious and special aptitude for it.
The explanation isn't complicated, said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.
"It's just better conditions to let athletes and speed really come out," Williamson said. "Considering that they play in Green Bay, it is a bit odd that they are constructed the way they are on offense. But they have been extremely fortunate at the quarterback position, so you build around that guy. There are obviously more variables in the pass game versus the run game, and if you can take weather out of that equation, I just think that helps the precision of it all."
I've heard Rodgers asked twice about domes in the past few weeks. Both times he smiled and muttered something about perfect weather and the opportunity to wear his preferred turf shoes. I suppose it would have been uncouth for him to tell the raw truth: We have a timing-based passing offense that requires precision and rewards both speed and accuracy. Between my well-honed arm and Jennings' near-perfect fundamentals, we have an ideal pairing in a game played on a solid footing.
Upon further investigation, however, Rodgers wasn't joking about the shoe part. For his entire career, he has worn Nike "Destroyers" during practice and in all indoor games. (Rodgers broke his left foot in 2006.)
"They're just real comfortable," he said. "Anytime I can, I like to wear them."
Long-range weather forecasts are calling for scattered showers and a high of 58 degrees in the Dallas area for next Sunday, but the NFL long ago decided to close the retractable roof at Cowboys Stadium to provide a "singular focus" on the game, said league spokesman Brian McCarthy. That decision brought smiles to the Packers' faces. The team from the Frozen Tundra is getting its dream scenario: A Super Bowl on Pristine Turf.